It’s Wednesday, and the 2016 Crocodile Trophy has been going for four days, and racers are into the 5th day. So far we can see that the Swiss Bull, Urs Huber, is super strong, but Belgian Sebastien Carabin is marking him when he can. The women’s race has been up and down, with the mountain bike strengths of Alice Pirard being tempered by the huge motor of van Vleuten.
Stage Two – Cairns to Atherton
Urs Huber crossed the line in Atherton as the winner of Stage 2 of the 2016 Crocodile Trophy. Sebastien Carabin was over in second (+3:50min) and the Austrian Manuel Pliem in third. The Dutch Olympic road racer Annemik van Vleuten wins the elite women’s category ahead of Alice Pirard (BEL) in second (+28:45min) and Ruth Corset from Australia (+44:37min).
The word used most often by the riders arriving at the finish at Atherton’s Coombra Station was ‘brutal’. The Crocodile Trophy lived up to its reputation as the “hardest mountain bike stage race” on earth. Today’s stage started with neutral ride out of Cairns towards the escarpment where the official start gun went and riders started the first tough climb towards Copperlode Dam. Then the elevation profile was full of steep pinches and hills – 2500vm were to cover in the one day. The final stretch after the last feedzone took even the elite riders well over an hour – strong headwinds making it very difficult to keep up a rhythm.
The front group were riding at a breakneck pace – according to Manuel Bliem who placed in third, they were riding at 600 Watts on the first climb, pushing really hard. Urs Huber and Sebastien Carabin in the leader’s jersey were able to get away though, riding together until just before the finish when Huber attacked, won the stage and is now the new race leader.
Of Carabin today’s stage winner Urs Huber said that he had raced a clever race, staying with him all day. “I was able to get away with about 5km to go. Today was really long and hot and the headwind in the end was really tough”, he admitted.
Sebastien Carabin said, “It was difficult, but I knew I had to ride with Urs, but he was stronger than me and was in front most of the time. The first climb was so tough and then it was very hilly and really, today was 10km too long for me. We were together all day, but then he attacked at the last climb and I couldn’t hang on. Then I just tried to finish as fast as I could, but was already very tired. It will be tough to recover from today.”
The Dutch Olympic rider was adamant to be at the Crocodile Trophy to enjoy new places in Australia, the home country of her team, in the saddle of her bike, claiming yesterday, “This is my vacation after a tough season back home.” But today her endurance skill definitely played in her favour.
“Today didn’t feel like a vacation, because I suffered a lot, but still, I enjoyed the ride. The first part of riding in the peloton together was the best to just follow the guys up on top of the first hill, when it got really steep I just tried to keep my own pace – it was a bit better for me, not as scary as yesterday technically, but it’s good for me to develop my mountain bike skills a bit. I don’t mind it. I like riding with the others, like Lincoln (Carolan) today, I’m here to have a ride together with people so that’s what I enjoyed most.”
Organiser Gerhard Schoenbacher said that he didn’t expect this stage to be so hard on his riders, “It is about 25km longer than in recent years, because we rode directly to Coombra Station instead of staying overnight at Lake Tinaroo. It seems that exactly that part of the stage was what hurt most racers the most, but we’ll look after them tonight and make sure they recover well.” He added that a small group of racers would be picked up at the last feedzone as the risk of them riding into the darkness and missing the cut-off time would be too high. “They will still be in the race”, he added and that they would be able to continue in their respective classifications with a small time penalty.
A day for pure mountain bikers at the Crocodile Trophy
Stage three in the Atherton Mountain Bike Park was Australian-style racing at its best: singletrack, berms, tight corners and rocky terrain and the Crocodile Trophy field was impressed.
The cross-country specialist Sebastien Carabin and race leader Urs Huber rode together for most of the race until Huber had bad luck when a branch got stuck in his back wheel. Carabin overtook the Swiss rider and in break-neck style descended into the finish, winning by 1:11min. Urs Huber still holds onto the leader jersey and leads the general classification by 1:37min ahead of today’s stage winner Carabin.
After three stages, in the women’s elite division, Annemiek van Vleuten is still our race leader by 4:09min, coming into the finish in second behind today’s winner, Alice Pirard who was beaming with excitement after racing in Atherton. Sarah Kaehler (AUS) comes in third. Ruth Corset had bad luck as well – four flats in a row.
“Today suited me really well, beautiful singletrails and perfect for a cross-country specialist like me!” said Carabin. “In the beginning I couldn’t pass Urs Huber at all. But on the last lap he had a problem, when a tree branch got stuck in his wheel, so that’s when I was able to pass him. I waited for him to get going again and then attacked with about 10km to go.”
“I knew today was going to be a good stage for him [Carabin], that’s why i wanted to get into the singletrail in first, which I did. From there I was able to control the race for a long time, but at the last descent I got a branch into my gear shifter at the back, so I had to stop. Sebastien passed me and took quite some risks on the descent to get away. I didn’t want crash or risk another mechanical, so I descended more carefully, so I’m ok with the second place. ” Huber siad of the third stage. “The long stages will suit me better, but generally I think the overall length of the race will play in my favour. I think Carabin had some advantages today with his fully [full suspension bike], I think, otherwise technically I’m equally strong. But the track today was quite rough, so he had a good set up. I have more experience when it comes to the Crocodile Trophy, I know when to pace myself, when to be careful – the gap is very small now, but I’m still relatively relaxed about it. Carabin gained some time today, but had to risk a lot for it – and if that doesn’t work out, your whole week might be over. That’s why my motto is, stay cool and it will work out.”
Alice Pirard had a fantastic day on the bike, and was buzzing at the finish, “Today was a wonderland – it was a dream! It was singletrack paradise, the whole time technical stuff, berms, roots, rock gardens, exactly what I love. It was real mountain biking today! I pushed hard from the beginning, so I had a good rhythm just like in cross-country racing, I think I have quite a good gap. It’s really nice to have a second stage win. Also, Sebastien is my team mate, so it’s really cool for our team that we both won the stage again and on the same day.”
Race leader Annemiek van Vleuten enjoyed the day, despite the challenges, “That was quite technical today, a great track and real mountain biking! Now I know why so many Australians love mountain biking!” – van Vleuten holds the overall women’s lead.
Huber chalks up another Crocodile Trophy stage win on Stage 4
The fourth stage was a marathon through the Herberton State Forest with a start and finish in Atherton. Urs Huber defended his leader jersey against a persistent Sebastien Carabin and only 3.1 seconds separated them at the finish. Bas Peters was third (+5:23′) ahead of Michiel van Aelbroeck (+7:27′) and the Austrian Matthias Grick (+11:37′).
In the women’s Annemiek van Vleuten had been leading for the majority of the day, but unfortunately took a wrong turn on the course and lost a lot of time. She is now safely back at the finish. The first woman across the line was the Belgian Alice Pirard in 4h44:59.0 ahead of the Australian Ruth Corset and the two amateur women Anita Narula (AUS) and Joanne Koy (AUS). Sarah Kaehler (AUS) is the third elite woman to finish, as fifth woman overall.
“The stage was not too difficult but got a bit tight at the 35km mark when I had a flat tyre. Bas Peters just flew past me and Sebastien Carabin went with him. I had to bridge the gap which was about a minute and managed to do so right before the flat part in the middle of the stage. Well, I think it wasn’t very fair to attack when I had the mechanical, which I told them. Then I had another flat tyre and they waited for me, which I thought was very sportsman-like. Towards the finish Sebastien and I were equally strong, we didn’t attack each other anymore and I was actually happy after two flats to being able to stay with him. I was able to claim the stage in a finish sprint.” Huber clearly likes to throw his weight around at the Croc, and while his point on not attacking when others have a mechanical is valid, it’s by no means a rule.
Bas Peters from the Netherlands had a far better day today, and some good luck. “I had at two stages flat tyres on the first two stages, but today I had finally good luck and I thought I will go for it. So I tried to follow the two guys, but the last 15km I couldn´t follow them anymore. So I try to survived for the third place and that went out quite well. I succeeded. I wanted to try for the podium in the GC, but because of the two flat tyres I have no more chance for the podium. So I will try to get again on the podium for a stage win and try to enjoy the Crocodile Trophy. It is an event I always wanted to do because I did all the big MTB events before accept this one, so I thought this year I will ride it. And I have to enjoy it now. As coming from cross-country I normally prefer the technical stages but I can handle everything.”
Pirard was surprised by the absence of van Vleuten, but was grateful for getting through. “For me it was a hard day, I was kind of in survival mode because I’m getting tired… just surviving in the forest. I did enjoy the last singletrack downhill though, that was really nice. We’ll see. The next stages coming up are all really fast and rolling, which doesn’t suit me generally, because I like the technical stages, but well, I’m so tired and in survival mode right now.”
OVERALL RESULTS AFTER 4 STAGES:
1. #11 Urs HUBER (Team Bulls) / SUI / 12h49:51.1
2. #1 Sebastien CARABIN (merida wallonie-Vojo Mag) / BEL / 12h51:31.8+1:40.7
3. #4 Michiel VAN AELBROECK (WMTB.be) / BEL / 13h36:20.6+46:29.5
4. #3 Bas PETERS (MijnBadLiv/Giant offroad team) / NED / 13h40:26.6+50:35.5
5. #10 Manuel PLIEM (Team KTM-RAD.SPORT.SZENE) / AUT / 13h45:04.4+55:13.3
Elite Women – preliminary:
1. #21 Alice PIRARD (Merida-Wallonie MTB Team) / BEL / 17h02:43.7
2. #22 Annemiek VAN VLEUTEN (Orica-AIS / Scott) / NED / 18h17:05.4+1h14:21.7
3. #25 Ruth CORSET / AUS / 18h19:37.6+1h16:53.9
4. #23 Sarah KAEHLER (Astute Financial Racing Team) / AUS / 19h57:30.5+2h54:46.8