When I raced my first marathon in Europe (Kitzalpbike, 2007), at the start of a long working holiday, I was soon asked if I had raced the Crocodile Trophy. Even though this was less than ten years ago, at the time there was no appeal for me. Long, hot days on corrugated terrain – I’d seen the coverage on SBS and in magazines – why would I want to do that? I was far more interested in riding marathons in the Alps of Austria, Switzerland, Italy – and France if I had to.
One year later, I was back in Austria, between races. I was joined by a friend who had just come over via the BC Bike Race, and his bike was in need of repair. He had done the Crocodile Trophy the previous year. His bike was fixed that day at the local Austrian bike shop, with parts taken from a bike on the floor and machined to fit. Doing the Crocodile Trophy really means something in Austria.
As years passed, whenever I was racing in another country, I’d be asked – have you done the Crocodile Trophy? In 2011, the opportunity came – Justin Morris thought it would be good for his profile if he raced it, so along with Graeme Arnott we put a 3 person team in, to see if we could support Justin to be the first type 1 diabetic to finish ‘the Croc’. He came 5th in Elite, Graeme came 4th overall and won the Master’s jersey, and we won the Team Classification. We raced about 1300km through torrential rains, over huge mountains, through rainforest, over mountain passes at 1200m, along corrugated roads, and in bulldust.
That year was perhaps the turning point for the race. A 190km day followed by 170km one week into the race was deemed “a bit much” by Austrian/Australian Martin Wisata. Along with his wife Juliane, they had started to help the organisation promote the race in Australia, due to their experience with their own Rocky Trail Entertainment company and the race series’ they ran.
In 2012, the race took on more rough terrain, with a slightly more compact loop. The start was an XC race at Smithfield, and the route took in some great smaller trails and technical (trust me) 4WD routes in the north. About 300km shorter and 9 days – it may have been even tougher than 2012! But the concept was there.
In 2013 the distances were wound back again, and the race spent more time on the Atherton Tablelands. With the development of trails nearby, there was enough purpose built MTB trail for a dedicated stage there, plus more on the local trails used by the 4 wheeler club. Aussie MTBer Mark Frendo won, along with Liesbeth Hessens.
The route was tailored again for 2014, and now seems just about perfect. With the same XC first stage in the jungle at Smithfield, the iconic 2nd stage through rainforest and farmlands onto the tablelands over the Great Dividing Range, and three days of riding on the trails in and around Atherton, it’s a mountain biker’s delight. The race heads more into the outback from there, for just a brief time on rough 4WD trails and bush singletrack, before racing on the dirtroads and trails back north to Sunbury Coffee plantation and then onto Wetherby Cattle Station – for the final downhill time trial on the Bump Track. Off the range and to the resort town of Port Douglas, from bushy scrub through the rainforest to the edge of the Great Barrier Reef. This final day alone has some of the most variety!
So how do I prepare?
The days of seeing riders with small aerobars attached to their bike are gone, as are the numbers of Euro road pro’s ready to launch into their off-season with a good tropical hit out, and partying with the backpackers in Cairns.
To survive the modern Croc you need a good level of fitness and capable bike handling ability. What’s that mean? You should be able to competitively (in your category) ride a 4hr lap based enduro, or 4-5hr marathon, and be comfortable riding your bike most days of the week. Be comfortable sitting in a bunch of riders on the road, and understand the nuances of a small bunch of riders. Know how to work well in the wind, understand when to work together, and when not to. Being welcome in a small bunch of riders due to your nous and reliability, might get you to the end of a long stage a little more easily one day.
While the trails at Smithfield and Atherton are purpose built mountain bike trails, your ability to carve a berm only applies in those two locations. Practice riding remote trails, be they singletrack, doubletrack or animal track. Being able to scan the trail ahead and ride it efficiently is a much needed skill for the Crocodile Trophy, especially getting you and your bike through in one piece.
Although you do need to clock some kilometres up to get through the 800km or so of the race, don’t forget the rest of the work off the bike too. Keep your core strong, and your back. 9 days of mountain biking takes some pretty serious upper body fitness too. You don’t need to work on a body builder’s physique, but being able to hold your bars on a long, rutted descent at the end of a long day keeps you together for the next day. The most important thing in a stage race is making sure you and your bike can do it again tomorrow.
Depending where you are coming from, be ready for more climbing than you expect. Days 2-5 have a lot of climbing compared to the rest of the stages, and while the climbs aren’t ‘alpine’ length, they’re longer than most Australian racers will be used to. This counts for the descents too!
What’s the terrain like?
Expect everything, as a lot will depend on the weather. Smithfield could be tacky red dirt, or a dusty version of the same. Roots will be slippery in the wet, or fine in the dry.
The climb over the ranges on stage 2 has a lot of sealed road climbing at first, before some insanely steep service trails away from Lake Morris. Your lowest gear is probably barely low enough. The next kilometres can be rutted out from rain, or graded with gravel – it just depends what the maintenance cycle is.
Atherton is typically dry and rocky, and once out of the park be ready for dark brown mud, sand, or red fertile soil. The terrain towards Irvinebank and beyond is very dry, with sand, loose rock and dust. This type of terrain remains until you’re closer to the coast again, as more red dirt and trees arrive on the way to Wetherby station. Rocks are typically sharp, so run strong tyres. Flat tyres have sent some very fit riders crazy, and have certainly cost some very high finishes.
The real theme here is variety. You cover about 800km, and go through many different areas of Tropical North Queensland. You need to be ready to adapt, and your training needs to be specific. Best of all though, it’s a great way to explore Tropical North Queensland. I’d race it every year if I could!
Check out our coming posts on bike setup, and eating through the Crocodile Trophy. If you need more details head the the Crocodile Trophy page.