The Crocodile Trophy brings in a range of riders from around the globe. Everyone is there for their own reasons. Be it to finish their racing season, have a huge outback adventure, knock off a bucket list race – or test themselves against riders from home and abroad. In 2017, Grant Webster brought his Apollo Arctec 9 back to the Crocodile Trophy, putting what he learnt in 2014 about himself and his bike to practice.
Tackling the Crocodile Trophy in 2017
Webster had a long and precise build for the Crocodile Trophy with his training, but also for his bike. He knew he wanted the efficiency and weight of a hardtail.
“I wanted to ride the back half of the race harder than the first… the last 4 days was mostly wide open stuff, so I thought a hardtail would be best. And I know hardtails.”
“My strengths are rolling the flats and climbing. Rocky steep descents I take cautiously on any bike. I figured the downhill pace would be ‘adventure race pace’ – the pace you use on unsighted trail, and therefore steady descending and I’d be fine on the hardtail. However, a few guys were really hooking on the downs, and I was distanced a few times – coming off the back of the range on Stage 2 and the rough gorge sections early in Stage 4. I got back on in Stage 4 but couldn’t match the defending pace of Alex and Dan in Stage 2.
Getting the Apollo Arctec 9 ready for the Crocodile Trophy
You can’t come into the Crocodile Trophy with equipment that isn’t 100% ready – and Webster knew this. Not just from racing the Crocodile Trophy before, but from years of racing experience.
“I had a full fork service. I wasn’t super happy with the result, the fork was super stiff. I was initially running very low pressure, but I was creeping it up again as the fork loosened up. I Was playing around with the tokens; formerly had 2 in it, but did the Croc without them.”
Drivetrains cop a hiding in marathon stage races but Webster prepped his SRAM XX1 drivetrain accordingly.
“I took three new waxed YBN chains. Plus I fitted a new SRAM BB. I actually stuffed up there, I think I accidentally put one of my spare used ones in and it failed mildly after stage 3 and I replaced it.”
Putting the power down is essential, as is making sure your contact with the bike is 100%
“I did a bearing service on 2 sets of Shimano XTR pedals. I trialled Ti axles, but bent each of them at a Dungog XC 2 weeks before the Croc so took them out again.”
“I fitted a new 34t Wolf Tooth chainring and new Shimano Ti metallic pads and gave the brakes a bleed.” Webster used Shimano XTR Race brakes, with lightweight Ashima rotors.
Getting the right tyres counts, as while low weight is great flat tyres are very slow.
“I packed a range of new tyres including a Maxxis Ikon, Schwalbe Rocket Ron and Thunder Burt, all shielded models.”
“Headset and derailleur bearings were fresh but I took spares regardless,” stated Webster. It pays to be prepared.
Customisations to the Apollo Arctec 9
With a recent history of solo 24hr racing, Webster was keen to use his bike to play to his strengths. And so his spec worked with that.
“I’ve come off 2 years where the main goals were 4 x 24hr races. There were shorter races too, but the A races were the 24s. I had become a bit of a snail and the bike had too. The training had to change radically. The bike wasn’t heavy to start with, but I wanted to put the bike on a diet so I could play to my strengths.”
Part of that was looking at rotating weight, but also small gains in components and even footwear,
“The Crocodile Trophy was the focus race for the whole season, so why not bling it up. My 24hr set up featured a lounge for a saddle (Specialized Avatar from 2012) and Ergon flared grips with bar ends. Both nice for all-day epics. These were replaced with a Bontrager Evoke RXL saddle and foam grips.”
“The stock wheels were DT Swiss XR-1501 Spline which were not heavy at 1520g but Josh McPherson built me a set of 1220g wheels with Nextie 27mm carbon rims, Carbon-Ti hubs and DT Revolution spokes.”
“We added Ashima rotors, a Extralite front thru axle and a KCNC rear thru axle. This bike has a slackish seat tube angle, so when I adjust the position forward, the stem goes out to 100mm and the weight moves forward.”
The longer front end helps keep the front grounded, but Webster was keen to look at the handling.
“I wanted to lighten up the front to see if handling could be tweaked. We added Extralite bars(710mm), stem and expander and a MarathonMTB stem cap that I was gifted. With a Ti bolt kit for the Thompson seat post, cleats and caliper post bolts. We lost well over 1kg and ended up at 8.3kg ready to ride.”
Webster also had a light mudguard on. It stayed on after the wet stage 4, but also helped keep trail debris at bay.
Equipment performance and the demands of the Crocodile Trophy
Webster was pretty analytical of his equipment, preparation and racing. He was happy to tweak his setup for each end of the race – although admitted he should have taken his Quarq spider off to let him run a 32t for the opening stages. But he wanted the numbers. Tyres and tyre pressure were a big thing to think about though.
“I ran 23/25psi all race. I used the Rocket Ron/Ikon at Smithfield on the DT wheelset. I took it very easy, to conserve for Stages 2 and 3. Then I moved to the Nextie wheel set from Stage 2 on.
“The bottom bracket was a bit wobbly after stage 2 so I replaced it. I also ran a Thunder Burt/Thunder Burt tyre combination for stage 2. This meant I was cracking along on the climbs but scary on the steep downs.”
“For stage 3, I ran a Racing Ralph/Thunder Burt. I rode well on this stage, lots of walking but it turned out I was a fast walker! Maybe it was the result of a73kg body, long legs and 8kg bike?”
With options to choose from, you can then end up wondering if you have the right combination at any given point.
“On stage 3 I rode away from group after the highway crossing in the steep walking/remounting section. But then I got nervous about the Thunder Burt on the rear, kept thinking I’d tear it. I replaced it the night before Stage 4 with a Maxxis Ikon and ran that combo in stages 4, 5 and 6. I pushed hard early Stage 4, made a good group. I even walked the bit where Dekker and Tom the Belgian crashed, to be safe. One pedal loosened up a fraction after Stage 4, so swapped it with spare one.
“For Stage 5 I had no issues, the hardtail was a good choice. I was rolling through really easy, saving energy, doing less. I was 3rd in cat and 8th on GC after stage 5 and doing it easy.
“Stage 6 was flat and fast, involving lots of sitting in, taking it easy. Kafka and Lister were doing a lot of work, I was sitting back and was going to unleash on these guys with 20km to go. But then I punctured! A 15mm cut in front in Rocket Ron.”
“I booted it, tubed it then tore the valve out of the tube. Repeated repairs. The tyre was really difficult to get on and off, it nearly did my head in. Then I had no spares or gas left.”
“I got going again. Martin Wisata gave me a tube and pump just in case. Then I punctured again. Was carrying Latex CX tubes, <50g each. Nice to carry, but I was asking too much of them. I would just carry 2 regular tubes next time. Someone threw me a gas. I got going, but lost 25mins. So I lost 3rd in cat and slipped to 10th on GC. It was bad timing, the group was still large and fast moving. So I was bleeding time all the way to the line.”
We spoke after the stage and Webster admitted that while a Maxxis Ikon isn’t the lightest, fastest or best gripping tyre – it does everything pretty well and reliably in a stage race.
“That night, I replaced the Rocket Ron to go Ikon/Ikon. The bike good for Stage 7, I was aggressive, missed the first move, had a OTB on the downhill, recovered, chased, and did my 2nd top 3 in cat, but only pulled back a few minutes on cat and GC. That afternoon I got on the beers and rolled Stage 8, helped Lister repair his chain.”
Conclusions after the Crocodile Trophy
Having got home, and thought about what worked and what didn’t Webster went through how each choice played out.
“The 34t front with 10-42 cassette was too steep in stages 2 and 3. I’d go smaller next time. No more camping, I’d get a camper van next time, setting up was cracking me.”
“Tyre experiments were a waste of time and energy. I will just go with the Maxxis Ikon next time. Not the lightest, fastest or grippiest, but they never let you down. I Pulled the rear outer shift cable off a few times and cleaned grit out of it… it’s a 20cm section, I much prefer that to full length outer – it is faster to remove and clean.”
“I swapped chains every 2 days, waxed chains are the bomb, I never used lube or spent time cleaning chains or drive train. I did a daily check of tyre pressure, and checked the fork pressure every few days.”
“The Nextie carbon wheels pulled up well, still true, there is a big scratch on the front rim from a rock that Lister dislodged from a creek bed at speed, but no other damage. I would look at running a higher quality BB in the future, budget permitting. Pads looked like they weren’t even used. Braking wasn’t the best, but wasn’t really needed. The brakes actually worked well on the Bump Track – they needed heat to bite.”
There’s the constant question of whether a hardtail is the right bike. Webster seems convinced.
“There were 3 hardtails in the top 10, including the winner. I’d ride it again, I was happy. We are looking to steepen the seat tube of the Apollo Arctec in the future, and relax the head angle a bit. This will move me back a bit and I can shorten the stem. Sag will come off a bit in the fork and I can run lower pressure. This is the beauty of Apollo being a small company and being the test pilot – feedback goes directly to the factory, and they make the change.”
There’s always the question of spares – how much should you carry? Alex Malone noted with his bike check that if you don’t bring it to the Croc, sourcing it might be difficult. Webster went prepared.
“I took a spare wheelset, with tyres, plus another 2 tyres, spare sealant, valves, rotor bolts, all the used fork seals and stuff from the service, fork oil, spare expander and cap, spare stem, bar, grips, brake line, fluid, derailleur, outer and inner cables, 2 spare BB, spare pedals, cleats, saddle, post, pads, nuts and bolts, tubes. Took my own bleed kit, fork gauge, tyre gauge, cassette tool, sealant syringe, BB press, spare saddle bag, multi tool and co2 nozzle. I considered a DAG (hanger tool), but decided not to. I also packec 2 x battery packs for phone/Garmin.”
All said and done, Webster had a great race. But it’s clear to see he’s thinking of having another crack. If not the Crocodile Trophy, something else, where he can put lessons learnt at the Croc into practice.