The 24th Crocodile Trophy started on Saturday, and the 2018 route has had many changes compared to 2017. The cross-country stage at Smithfield MTB Park has gone, as the new race director Koenraad Vanschoren wants to make sure that the Crocodile Trophy remains the outback challenge it has always been – and it doesn’t become the Soft Trophy.
The stages in the opening three days have been hilly and tough. Ultra-marathon specialist Konny Loser is racing his first Crocodile Trophy and he said that he was looking forward to the new experience. “I have raced a lot of the major stage races internationally, however, the terrain and stages in Australia are unknown to me. Of course, I will try to claim a podium position.” Looser is one of the strongest endurance mountain bike racers in Europe right now. It was Looser who won on the opening stage to Lake Tinaroo, outsprinting Urs Huber. The Luxemburg National Champion Soren Nissen placed in third at Tinaroo with a gap of 4:27 minutes. He will try to use his racing experience from his 2015 participation and second place to his advantage, he said.
On day one the women’s category was won by Australian ex-road pro elite cyclist Lucy Coldwell in 05:05:47. Having representing Scotland in the 2014 Commonwealth Games she has taken up mountain biking only over the past twelve months “for fun”, as she said. “The Croc Trophy is an event I have always wanted to participate in and I always had on my bucket list, so this year I decided it was time to give it a crack!” Placing 14th overall in the entire field and finishing with the top amateur men today she certainly put her mark on the results list.
Onwards to Herberton at the Crocodile Trophy
Day two took riders to Herberton, and after more than five hours of racing once again the day’s result was decided in a Swiss sprint finish with Konny Looser defending his overall lead ahead of four-time Croc winner Urs Huber. Of today’s race Huber said, “This was definitely the Queen Stage today. More than five hours, up and down, steep climbs and downhills and really long, but it was a nice track. A proper Crocodile Trophy stage.” Huber added that despite the challenging terrain and hot weather he and Looser had been able to ride well and stay together all day and that they didn’t really have to go to the limit. “We saved some energy for the next few days, it’s still a long way, but this is a hard race, whether you go fullgas or not…. It’s always hard”, he admitted.
Soren Nissen was 3rd again and admitted that he had really been suffering in the intense and humid heat of the first two days and that he will try keeping up the pace, “I am hoping that Konny and Urs will get tired and just keep trying to do my best.” He also added that the stage had been an extremely difficult one. “Yes, it was really hard, I wonder how some of the ‘fun’ riders are feeling out there, they are going to have a long day in the office today”, he said. In fourth and fifth was the Austrian duo with Matthias Grick (+29:37.50 min) and Philipp Wetzelberger (+31:43.30 min), respectively. The two Swiss racers now have a 11:44min lead overall ahead of Nissen.
The 2015 Croc women’s winner Sarah White from Cairns won stage two in the women’s and said that she enjoyed racing through the dense rainforests today. The experienced ultra-endurance racer said that course had been great and so varied. Fellow Australian Lucy Coldwell kept the lead.
Dodging danger at the Crocodile Trophy
Today for stage three the Crocodile Trophy had 80km and 2,650 m of climbing on the agenda, with the start and finish in the historic town of Herberton. However, the start had to be and the race track shortened due to a military ordnance that was found overnight on the first 10km of today’s race track. Lucy Coldwell and Urs Huber claimed elite stage wins and Konny Looser keeps the overall race lead by one second ahead of Huber.
Originally scheduled at 80km, the event’s General Manager Koenraad Vanschoren confirmed that due to the unforeseen track emergency, the race track was shortened to 68km, however, that despite the change the stage remained a huge challenge, “This stage might still well be the hardest climbing stage ever in the Crocodile Trophy.” He thanked QLD and Herberton Police who escorted the peloton in neutral on a detour past the risky section that had been closed off and secured to re-enter the originally planned track safely.
Philipp Wetzelberger and Matthias Grick, the two Austrians also finished together. Of the race today Grick said it had been like a “rollercoaster through the bush” and that the heat had been intense. “I’m very motivated and let’s see what the next days bring”, he said of his fourth overall place. Wetzelberger stay’s in fifth overall.
In an upset today, Soren Nissen missed a turn towards the end of the race and was given a 29 minute time penalty. However, Nissen keeps his overall third spot, albeit with an increased time gap of 41 minutes to the Swiss leaders.
In the women’s the overall result remains unchanged as well with Lucy Coldwell winning at Herberton today ahead of Cairns rider Sarah White and the Belgian rider, Sjoukje Dufoer.
In the Amateur age categories, Michal Láník from the Czech Republic leads the line honour ranking so far ahead of Markus Beck from Germany and Bart Duraj from Cairns.
Tomorrow’s stage will be a 38km individual time trial to Irvinebank and the first rider will be released onto the race track at 9:20am. With only 1,000 m of elevation it might be a ‘rest day’ for some in the peloton, while for others this will be the chance to fight for podium positions. It might just be the deciding stage after all.
“An individual time trial can always shake things up”, says Crocodile Trophy founder Gerhard Schönbacher, reminiscing about his own past as a road racing professional at some of the major events, including the Tour de France, in Europe. “Tomorrow the riders will be started in one-minute intervals and in reverse order of the general classification. So you actually get to chase a ‘physical target’, which is a huge incentive to make up time, but you are also in a wild race against the clock”, he explained.