With a cooler than expected finish at Tepon after Stage 3, much of the Crocodile Trophy camp slept to the sound of rain on their tent – unless they had the hotel option of course. It doesn’t rain that much in that area, but with such a heavy rain system sitting off the coast plenty is still making it over the range. It’s not enough to make mud, it just covers you with grit.
Riding into stage 4 of the Crocodile Trophy
We had a neutral start today down the road, and the variety of clothing was a good barometer of what people’s thoughts were on the weather. Some ran bibs and jersey, others had a jacket, or vest and armwarmers – one guy even had knee warmers on. It wasn’t cold. but with 122km and 1450m to tackle it could be a really long day if the rain didn’t clear.
The group broke up once the motorbike cleared us to race and we hit a lumpy climb after a hard right hand turn. Some people had different strategies today. The likes of Alex Malone, Ben May and others took an easier start to the day, and really that’s what a lot of people did, riding the climbs as their legs dictated. Some went backwards, some went forwards. I was steady with some crazy knocking coming out of the front of my bike.
We’d been warned about the sketchy descents, but they took a toll. Tom van Brempt took a serious tumble in a deep rut and we hear he broke his hip. Erik Dekker also had a pretty good crash and deepened the damage he did yesterday.
Up the front, Bouchard and l’Esperance had Hiroyuki Okamoto for company, but in time it was just the Canadian duo again. The nature of the course in the first half meant that although riders wanted to be in a strong group for the flat second half, the pinch climbs and rough descents didn’t always allow for it.
Andrew l’Esperance hit race leader Leandre Bouchard countless times on the run in to Skybury Coffee, but Bouchard covered everything. With only a slim lead he couldn’t let his mate and training buddy get away. Bouchard took the sprint.
Behind, Slezak and Beresford were close, and then Okamoto finished 5th. Ben May, Malone and Erik Dekker were in a small group at the end but May opted to hit the group that had worked well together and come in ahead of Malone and Dekker.
Haley Smith finished 12th overall. Haley Smith said that without other female races in the elite category, she was chasing the men. “I just like racing people, doesn’t really matter who”, she cheekily said, sipping coffee at Skybury. Currently in 12th position outright overall just like in today’s stage, her plan seems to be working well. Smith would have place fourth today in the elites outright.
A day of isolation at the Crocodile Trophy
Personally, today was a un jour sans, a day without. The troubles with my fork are super annoying and make my bike hard to control – but really it just did my head in. I ate less, and I just rode slowly. For 6:15.
I rode with others now and then, but mostly rode alone with my thoughts. This area is pretty isolated, and even though we traversed a lot of farmland in the latter half of the day, the sense of isolation was pretty immense.
Yesterday I stated that one of the big reasons people to come to races like the Crocodile Trophy is for the challenge. They come for the hardship and the adventure. It’s got a unique character, and while the Croc doesn’t run with Swiss precision like the Swiss Epic, it takes place in our backyard, and offers a true test for a mountain biker who can keep their shit together for 8 days. From their bike and their body, to their head as well. The last part is what I missed today.
To rise to a challenge you need to have something driving you, and today I didn’t know what that was. We rode in and out of drizzle and rain, about 32mm was recorded. The horizon disappeared and reappeared, and the route changed from dirt road to goat track and to small farm roads. And while I ticked through it all, there was no fight.
In the end, I enjoyed the isolation. The empty farms, abandoned farm machinery, and relics of farming that have been left roadside or in unkept paddocks. I did wonder if the foreign riders here were also confronted by the isolation – and why people were fighting tooth and nail to stay in a group. It can be pretty disarming being alone in the Australian outback – and while we’re not that deep in the great nothing I didn’t see anyone on the course today who wasn’t a competitor, or a marshall or volunteer. And only a few times did I wish for a farmer’s warning shot to go to close and put me out of my trudging misery.
Arriving in Skybury was bittersweet. I wanted to be finished, but what did finishing entail? Was I pulling a number off as I was cooked? Or cleaning up my bike and kit and hoping something comes back tomorrow? We’ll see – there are plenty of tired faces around up in the Skybury Coffee cafe, knocking back good coffee and eating cake. We can’t see the horizon again, but hear blue skies are forecast tomorrow.
And as many people say – this is way better than a day in the office.