The iconic Crocodile Trophy has long established itself as one of the most difficult and spectacular MTB stage races on the calendar. Somewhat of a pioneer in this format of MTB racing The Crocodile Trophy has seen many adaptations since it’s first edition in 1995 that ran from Darwin to Cairns. The race now takes riders on a more manageable but still epic 8days in the outback West of Cairns in Queensland finishing on the stunning 4 mile beach in Port Douglas. After a few years recently where stages took riders on shorter distances but incorporated greater proportion of single track trails this year’s edition is a step toward the Croc trophy of old. Most stages this year will be 100+km and traverse many rough, corrugated outback dirt roads and farm tracks. This style is what has made this race famous and speaking among riders at the registration meeting today this appears to be a popular decision.
The race has often attracted a large European contingent, this year will be no different. The race organisation led by former road professional Gerhard Schonbacher is based in Austria and offers international visitors a truly Australian experience racing through the rugged REAL outback of this country. This year, the elite men’s field is comprised entirely or European athlete’s, among the favourites are the Swiss duo of Urs Huber and Konny Looser whom both have taken the Swiss national XCM championship title over the past 2 years. Former team mate of Huber Looser stated he is here to gain experience and as a good lead in for an upcoming 370km race across Namibia in December. “I am here to gain experience but all going well I would also like to win this race”, with a long and successful season in the legs which started in February Looser definitely has the ability to challenge for the win. Countryman Urs Huber is aiming to win a record breaking 5th Crocodile Trophy victory. A record he already holds with 4 victories. Also vying for the title and the UCI points on offer will be Luxembourg XCM champion Soren Nissen, Austrian Matthias Grick and Milan Damek of the Czech Republic.
In the women’s field local rider Sarah White will be hoping her knowledge of the area can be the difference over her competitors compatriot Lucy Holdwell and Belgian rider Sjoukje Dufoer. A full starting list can be found here.
The course this year heads immediately into the Great Dividing range skipping the first stage around the XCO World Championship trails of Smithfield that had become a staple over the past 6 years. Instead it is straight into the outback with stage 1 taking riders over 110km and 3000m of elevation gain. The following 2 stages which circle around the Atherton tableland follow a similar format with a lot of elevation gain meaning long days in the saddle. From Day 4 onward the hardest parts of the race appear to be behind the racers. The 40km Individual Time Trial on day 4 from Herberton to the old mining hamlet of Irvinebank will giver riders an opportunity to prove their worth without the tactics and stress of bunch riding. Then a 95km stage to the Skybury coffee plantation will return riders to relative development. With uci classification comes a slightly easier logistical schedule with all stages never more than 2hours drive from a township. A change from the older days which has offered increased accessibility and exposure for the race whilst still maintaining it’s brutal physical test reputation. A full stage list and map available here.
The experiences and stories that riders will accrue over the next 8 days is the main drawcard of this race. It has to be truly magnificent to sustain an event for 24 years. The history of the race is an intriguing and dramatic story and one that can really only be fully understood from participating in it. Gerhard Schonbacher has created an MTB spectacle in doing so required not only a firey imagination but also a logistical mastermind. Next year will celebrate a quarter of a century of Crocodile Trophy cycling adventure in the Australian outback, making it one of the oldest MTB stage races in the world.