Waking on the blustery shores of Lake Tinaroo today was pretty special. The Crocodile Trophy is many things – but it’s often known for the wrong things. Much commentary online has been made about yesterday’s stage and a mistake with course marking – where vehicles couldn’t access the middle section of the course. Few of those people making comments have raced the Crocodile Trophy, or understand the isolation of some of the regions the race traverses. Similarly, many people draw their own conclusions from the race, based on imagery from the late 90s. I don’t think they would appreciate the variety of places the race takes you. And Lake Tinaroo is just one surprise.
Entering Stage 3 of the Crocodile Trophy
We had a relaxed start time of 9am today, and rolled neutral out of the start to below the dam wall, where the UCI commissaire opened the gate on the service trail next to the aqueduct, and it was game on. While the aqueduct is obviously flat – the service trail is not. Soon enough we were string out, with tired legs trying to find a rhythm above 80rpm.
In the end it was Cyclist magazine’s Alex Malone who made the first move, and in time the selection was Bouchard, l’Esperance, Sintsov, Dekker and Malone. Sintsov blew his hub up out of a creek crossing, and l’Esperance forced a move on the climb out of the creek, which Bouchard followed. Malone chase but Dekker wouldn’t assist, until the Dutch ex-pro happily hit Malone on the flat and rode across to the Canadians.
The route stayed flat for near on 20km, into a building headwind with little respite. The Atherton ranges grew in the distance. Most riders could see a group infront, but with little hope of joining it.
We crossed into Atherton mountain bike park via farmland trails, and steep, loose climbs. There was some walking.
It was a real shame to bypass the trail network of Atherton, and it seems so short-sighted of the Atherton MTB Club to pull their support of the Crocodile Trophy at the last minute. Being completely open – I don’t know the full details. But they’ve missed the opportunity to have their trails broadcast to the world, and not just people who live an hour or two away and will visit for a club event. The Crocodile Trophy has a reach through key cycling countries that many just do not understand.
Back to the route – we joined the road that hooks around the back of Mt Baldy – part of the route we used to take to Irvinebank, and also part of the 2013 XCM National Championships. So it’s pretty rad, some up and down and a long descent down a rutted firetrail. It goes on for a lot longer than I remembered, and I did what I could to keep leading lady Haley Smith in sight. The 50km feedzone at the bottom was a welcome relief, but anyone who thought we’d done the hard part was wrong.
Crossing the road, we went straight up a climb, and this is where people’s races started to change. Alex Malone said he paid for his early energy expenditure. It was steep, people walked, some ground it out, threatening to blow their freehub – or knees – up.
And this was the theme for much of the next 30km. But only thinking of steep climbs would do the terrain a disservice. The route tracks beautiful country into Herberton Range National Park. A lot of the second half of today was spent riding on ridge lines above 1000m, in either open forest or through rainforest. If you weren’t riding with anyone else the chances of seeing many people were very low. As one rider remarked this morning, yesterday he rode for one hour without seeing anyone – which would be impossible in Europe.
Such long time alone allows for some introspection. And although I was never truly alone today (until I was dropped by Haley Smith and Peter Lister with 10km to go) there was still a lot of opportunity to think out there. Why suffer? Why travel to do it? Why spend a week away from my wife? Why keep hitting my head against the wall in what is probably my 21st marathon stage race?
Because it’s an opportunity to learn about yourself, about other people, and how we react under duress. It amplifies the highs, and the lows, and creates a greater intrinsic reward when we achieve our goals or just finish the day. Everyone I’ve seen at the finish was happy to get through today. Just about everyone underestimated the difficulty of the stage, and camp is pretty quiet save for the epic 90s dance playlist coming out of the kitchen here at the Tepon Equestrian centre. Beers are being ordered, dinner is cooking, kids are practicing wheelies around the campsite and people are talking, interacting, and learning more about each other. This is why you do events like this – to meet people, challenge yourself, and find out more about what makes you – and others – tick.
Bouchard sprinted l’Esperance for the win today. They had a huge gap on Erik Dekker, and it was carnage from there on. Haley Smith rode to a super strong 13th place overall. You can find the full stage results online.
Up next at the Crocodile Trophy
After the 100km, 2800m effort of today, tomorrow we track to Skybury Coffee. Everyone can upgrade their coffee for their Aeropress (there’s quite a number around) and have a milkshake on the balcony. We just have to naviagte the 122km and 1450m climbing first. Most of the climbing falls in the first half, so it’s likely there will be big splits of talent early on.