The benefit of finishing a stage of a marathon stage race at a coffee plantation and cafe, is that you start there again the next day. And as we are here at Skybury coffee for two nights, we come back again as well. So this morning the coffee machines were buzzing as riders in the Crocodile Trophy flooded in for a quality cup of coffee, or two, before the stage started.
We have been graced with 8am starts being shifted to 9am all week and today was no different. But with yesterday’s rain having cleared, it did mean we would be into the heat of the day a lot more for the stated 125km and 1100m of climbing we had on the menu for the Stage 5 of the Crocodile Trophy.
With a flat parcours some people were changing strategy. But it was Erik Dekker who fitted a 36t chain ring for the stage – a clear sign of his intentions.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more
Actually, we need to kickstart 3 more stages after todays stage, but riding up behind Peter the UCI commissaire there were plenty of tired legs before he let us start on the road. It was a sedate start, but a few riders were keen to test their legs and the bunch.
With birds of prey circling above, it was Erik Dekker who put his nose into the wind, as we were approaching a corner where the head wind would become a head-cross. Andrew l’Esperance sprung from one side of the bunch and immediately race leader Leandre Bouchard sprung from the left. It looked like this would be the selection.
But the bunch wasn’t happy yet. Dekker stayed away but the Canadians were brought back. it didn’t last, they got across and the front group was decided for the day.
The first 30km was the reverse of yesterday’s stage, and the rocky section took some victims. Hiroyuki Okamoto flatted early, then Haley Smith. More riders did the same, and it would shape their race given the speed on the flatter terrain.
The rest of us at the Crocodile Trophy
There was still lots going on behind though. Dan Beresford, Peter Lister, Michael Kafka, Grant Webster, Ben May and Alex Malone ended up in a fairly uneasy group of 6. Dan is only about 5 minutes ahead of Malone on GC, Peter has a good position and would be happy to help his mate Dan. Grant has time on Lister but it’s not a huge amount. Malone has time on Ben May but their race experience is quite different in terms of road vs MTB etiquette, so the group had a fairly uneasy alliance.
At the front, Dekker ended up attacking the Canadians with less than 5km to go, winning the stage solo while wearing the best Amateur jersey. Which is sort of humorous considering it’s Erik Dekker.
The Uncomfortable Sextet benefitted from their uneasy alliance, but from the last feedzone everyone ramped up a bit, but no one was happy to let anyone go. In the final turn into Skybury, Kafka lead as he’s chasing a Boomerang, Malone followed and took a tigther line into one of the final corners, letting him get ahead and take 4th. Kafka was 5th. This means Malone was Best Australian on the day and nabs a boomerang. The jersey stays on the shoulders of Ondrej Slezak though, who was 10 minutes back. This takes Malone’s gap to Slezak to 10 minutes – so anything is possible.
My day at the Crocodile Trophy
I rode in just about every group today. From 30 seconds in an attempted breakaway with Malone early on, through to getting dropped by Ondrej Slezak’s dad. With a lot of fatigue (as many riders have) it was really hard to get moving. I felt like maybe I’d be best to just stop and roll myself into the bush, becoming a Far North Queensland farming relic like so many of the pieces of machinery we race past.
But in time I stayed with a group, and remembered the best way to get through any bike race is to not stop pedalling. It’s actually a very, very simple task.
Okamoto rode past our group at about 70km, motoring away clearly having fixed his flat. Then Haley Smith did. And having ridden with her on a couple of stages, I knew we could roll turns ok. And that’s what we did for the rest of the race. We eventually caught Okamoto in a group ahead, and after the 4th feed zone that group fell apart, and Smith lead us through the end of the rougher terrain in the Mad Max arena, where some locals had arrived with their modified quad bikes and motorbikes for some Mad Max vehicle fun.
And then, Okamoto got on the front again, and we hung on for dear life. For such a small guy, he pumps out plenty of watts into the wind. Up, down or on the flat.
But the racing was still on, we pulled in a few riders, and Smith attacked coming into Skybury, but it was Okamoto who got ahead. It was a solid run in and was a great reminder that racing bikes is pretty damn fun, even if you’re not in shape (me) or have had untimely flats (Okamoto and Smith).
Up next at the Crocodile Trophy
There are 3 days to go and it’s all to play for at the front of the race. Andrew l’Esperance took 2nd today but still trails race leader Bouchard by about 1 minute 30. That’s a flat tyre, or other mechanical. Bouchard is on a hardtail and with l’Esperance on a Norco Revolver FS he’s got the benefit of traction on the loose climbs. Bouchard has admitted he’s nervous about tyre selection and pressure, making sure he makes no mistakes.
Similarly, Slezak shed 10 minutes of his lead today in the Best Australian category. If he does that again, Malone will be wearing blue. Martin Wisata clawed a few minutes back in the Best Austrian jersey – but still has his work cut out for him.
Tomorrow we ride to Wetherby Station, covering 102km with 1000m of climbing. Back in 2014, this stage saw the Italian ex-pros hitting the front of the race and forcing gaps on the downhill farm road run out of Skybury. The second half gets hard as we end up in the rainforest, and run into the back of Wetherby Station with a succession of pinch climbs. This race is still wide open!