The final day of the Crocodile Trophy arrived, and like any stage race it was greeted with a mix of enthusiasm and of dismay. Very few people would willingly spend another night under canvas, or using portaloos, even when the tents were spacious and the loos were clean. But still, when you realise that the reality of racing your bike, hanging out with friends, and talking about bikes is about to come to an end – you tend to want it to last a little longer.
Of course, the other side of that is the last day of the Crocodile Trophy is also one of the most fun – and potentially the most painful. The short but sweet stage runs 30km from Wetherby Station down the infamous Bump Track to Four Mile beach, before finishing out the front of the Port Douglas Surf Club. There are few race finishes in the world that rival it – even Erik Dekker admitted as much post-stage.
All the action at the Crocodile Trophy
The call for the day was reverse general classification for the race to the beach. But don’t be fooled into thinking it would be all downhill. The run at the Bump Track is the Classic RRR route, and it’s a power course. The run out of Wetherby Station, while essentially on the actual Bump Track the whole way, is mostly flat to up hill to get to the historic Bump Track gates. That’s about 13.2km after leaving the station. And although there’s some fast downhill sections there are still plenty of watts required to get there.
Time trials are known as the race of truth as there is nowhere to hide. No bunch to draft, and minimal race tactics to employ beyond pacing. While some riders added some bar tape or even bike packing to their bars, for some comfort in an aero position, mostly it was going to be about getting the pace right on the way to the downhill, not crashing, navigating to the beach through the cane fields and Port Douglas – and then lighting it up on the sand.
The first riders went off with 30 second gaps but the top 20 had 1 minute between each of us. My hope was to not get caught, and with Haley Smith behind me that was far from certain. Despite being ill after stage 6 and having to just survive Stage 7, Smith had been racing aggressively every day.
In some categories, riders were planning on getting down in one piece, but the Elite men’s race could still go down to the wire, if Andrew l’Esperance could find 1:30 on course or if Leandre Bouchard found his limits on the terrain.
My ride at the Crocodile Trophy
I can only give an accurate account of my own ride, but I suspect it wasn’t different to many others. I left to station hoping to be able to find a rhythm, but a reasonably high-paced one. Alex Malone was returning from a warm up and quipped “keep it at 170bpm”, my HR max set by coach/wife Imogen Smith for Stage 1.
Once over the first short hill 350m from the start gate, the head wind was with us. Every pedal stroke would carry us to burgers, beers and the beach. But on tired legs, legs that are sore to the touch, there were numerous mental hurdles on the first stretches, not to mention the physical hurdles of the repeated small climbs.
Hitting the Bump Track was an ideal mental milestone. I kept on bouncing off line until I realised my Fox Float shock was still on trail mode – I went to flick it to open, moved it to lock out, and had to shut it down more to get it to open. Not an ideal move!
I had my plan at the creek crossing, something which had much discussion by people who hadn’t ridden the route before. A slow cyclocross style dismount on the bottom of the concrete ramp meant I could land on my feet onto the rocks then wade through the creek before cantering up the other side, and remount to climb out. It was steeper than I remembered – I’m sure many felt the same.
At this point the Bump Track really takes it’s time to start delivering the big drop. Like a song that loops around and hangs and has you waiting for a heavy drop, the Bump Track is just the same. There’s so much pedalling, and pumping, and waiting to just let go and get back. Or ride the brakes.
Finally the Bump hits and you have to quickly find where you’re comfortable. For me that’s not overly fast. But the main line is clean and clear, and unless you get too loose the bump Track is easy to negotiate.
The bottom marked the time to suffer again, and the final run in was done with an increasing tempo, until finally crossing onto the beach, across the soft sand to find the firm sand at the water’s edge.
Unlike Port to Port, where the final stage is on a surf-ravaged beach, Four Mile Beach is very sedate, and you end up more focused on dodging coconuts, lap dogs out for a walk, sauntering tourists and rogue toddlers who have been taken off their leash.
But today it was high tide, so the usual motorway was a little cramped, and there was less choice in where you could ride.
Still, it’s a super-fast race finish, and at times the end of the beach seems an impossible distance away. I finally hit the line with a 172bpm heart rate, pretty high for the end of 8 days racing for me, and with an official race time of 1:03:06. Official times were all about 1 minute above true times – but it was regarded as ‘acceptable’. Stage results are online.
After regaining some composure, I looked around to see the mix of race crew and racer’s families, bemused tourists and interested onlookers amassed around the finish arch. Riders were in the water (crocs be damned!) beers were in hand and one after another other racers finished.
Soon enough Andrew l’Esperance crossed the line, and in time Leandre Bouchard did too – race time said l’Esperance was 15 seconds faster, but it would not be enough to wrestle the lead from Bouchard. Haley Smith crossed in 1:07:56 to take the Elite women’s title, and be the fastest woman in the race.
Daniel Beresford won the Best Australian jersey, Erik Dekker won Best Amateur, and Peter Urdl was the Best Austrian (and Martin Wisata arguably remains the biggest Austrian)
Missed the rest of the race? Catch up now!
The wash up from the Crocodile Trophy’s final stage
So what then? Many of jumped in the sea, which was warm but refreshing. Bikes were rinsed, we amassed at the Surf Club Bistro and beers and food were ordered.
And then, like any mountain bike stage races, the mass exodus begins. Bike bags were wheeled out, Euros started their meticulous cleaning and showering, and Australians lazed around looking either apathetic or broken. Or both.
Presentations were done on the beach, and it gave time to reflect that while this year the Crocodile Trophy had a very small field, it was a great chance to meet more of the people you were racing, and share in their experience.
The Crocodile Trophy has its detractors, but I agree with Grant Webster who stated it is one of Australian cycling’s true classic events, something that if you want to call yourself an accomplished cyclist in Australia you should tick off. Webster also listed the Melbourne to Warnambool, Bendigo Madison, Grafton to Inverell, Launceston Christmas Carnivals amongst others.
And I whole-heartedly agree. This is the smallest mountain bike stage race I have ever competed in. But the experience although at times trying, was worth it. I met new people, learnt more about myself, and had the opportunity to race hard today and yesterday. All without giving the Croc the true respect it deserves, and not training accordingly beforehand.
Will I race it again? You bet.
My Strava link from today is here.