Every mountain bike stage race reaches a point where competitors would be happy for it to finish. Fatigue builds, the joy of camping wears thin, and everyone is ready for a day off. I went to bed after Stage 6 ready for the final stage, understanding that instead I would be waking to the penultimate stage of the 2017 Crocodile Trophy. But after racing today, just about everyone was stoked with the course, and I think it was one of the best stages I have raced at the Crocodile Trophy.
Rolling into Stage 7 of the Crocodile Trophy
With 78km and 1050m of climbing ahead of us, the whole race was pretty happy to have a shorter day on the cards. But this stage from Wetherby Station to Wetherby Station was a bit of an unknown, not having been used for the Crocodile Trophy before. However the sections in the rainforest have been ridden plenty, and used in the Twin Bridges event.
The run out was steady, with numerous attacks from Australian Grant Webster. After 3 flat tyres in the final 50km of Stage 6, Webster was keen to have a crack today and see what happened. For one reason or another, no one was happy to let him get away. And as we moved off tarmac and onto dirt roads, Bouchard and l’Esperance got away. The pace was high as soon enough we’d be tipping into a descent that could barely fit a quad bike through. With vines, small water bars, and a whole lot of jungle-style things to deal with the race was definitely on.
The Canadians were joined by a chase group. Dekker was with Malone, Beresford and Okamoto as they dove into the rainforest. It wasn’t until the climb out of the first creek crossing that they split. Beresford had to let it go with Malone, and Dekker went around to chase Bouchard and l’Esperance. Okamoto caught up after an early crash.
The next section was rolling and then predominantly up, navigating log bridges, concrete bridges hidden in the jungle, fallen trees and vines. At pace, there was a lot to concentrate on. I hit this section behind Peter Lister and Grant Webster, who were chasing Michael Kafka and Ben May. Webster lost it on a fast corner, but was quick to regain his composure. I got across to May and Kafka, and Lister and Webster were locked in battle.
This section has been one of the most fun of the race. Similar to the middle sections of the Convict Trail, where it’s probably double track but there’s only one rideable line. It allows for fast racing and punishes any mistakes.
Up front, Bouchard and l’Esperance came out of the rainforest together, and on the run into the 2nd feed zone Dekker chased on. As they left Okamoto entered the feed, and behind Beresford and Malone were together. Webster made contact with our group as we left the 2nd feed zone and I quickly detached.
We moved into farmland with rutted trails and singletrack winding through the fields. Malone was on the horizon, working on his bike after a crash. Lister rode through and after some steep climbs we moved onto the forest roads for a fast finish
At this point many races were on. Out fron l’Esperance was still trying to get a gap on Bouchard, although they came into Wetherby Station almost like a track sprint, which l’Esperance won. Dekker came in solo after Okamoto stopped at the final feed. Beresford came in solo, as did Kafka and then May. Webster was next and I came in with Lister.
Malone chased hard with his bike setup as a 34×13 single speed, and still leads in his category. Webster put some time into Lister but nothing on what he lost yesterday. The Australian jersey remains on Beresford’s shoulders and May is behind Okamoto in the Elite GC. Haley Smith had a testing day after illness overnight, and just needed to ride as she could and eat and drink – a tough day out for sure.
All in today was a great day, fast racing, decisive racing and a course that offered something for everyone. Let’s hope that Wetherby Station remains as a two-night stop over for the Crocodile Trophy in years to come, and we can have a shorter and less road on the stage here.
Up next at the Crocodile Trophy
Tomorrow is the final day, and we start in reverse order from 10am to tackle the infamours Bump Track. Far from all down hill, we’ve got plenty of climbing on tired legs to reach the gate, and a long flat section through Port Douglas to one of the best mountain bike race finishes.
And nothing is truly decided in the race either. With 1:30 between the leaders, and some small gaps in age categories – it’s all on the line for a few riders tomorrow.