Stages 4 and 5 of the 2018 Crocodile Trophy brought with it a shake up in the General Classification lead for Men and Women. The first 3 stages took riders over the great dividing range to the small town of Herberton which was the starting point for the stage 4 Individual Time Trial, a 38km smash on rough fire trails and dirt roads to the outback mining post of Irvinebank. For the 16th time in the 24-year history of the event this small mining town with a population of 85 residents is hosting a Crocodile Trophy stage. “We feel very welcome here and all the residents have been so supportive”, said Race Founder Gerhard Schönbacher.
With the race leader Konny Looser whom is a renown climber the 38km TT stage4 was the first stage not suited to his strengths. With fellow Swiss powerhouse Urs Huber breathing down his neck on the general classification this stage was likely to cause some shake up of the GC. Of Urs Huber fellow riders said, that he had been a “man on a mission” and “hungry for the win” on the 38 km time trial course from Herberton to Irvinebank. With an elevation change of only 525 meters it was a fast and determined race by Huber and it all went to plan for the 33-year old taking the win and the GC lead. He added that a few long and flat stages were coming up and that those should suit his style of racing. An endurance specialist and with years of Outback racing experience he was confident for the next few days he concluded.
A shake-up also in the women’s: Lucy Coldwell suffers a mechanical issue and looses a lot of time repairing a flat tyre. Sarah White has a strong day and pushes herself into the overall women’s lead by 1:53 minutes ahead of tomorrow’s fifth stage, a classic and relatively flat marathon to Skybury Coffee Plantation. The question will be if the the strong marathon endurance racer White will defend her lead against road specialist Coldwell across the 1200m of elevation.
With four days to go stage 5 will be a ‘old-school’ marathono to Skybury Coffee Plantation, said eight-time Crocodile Trophy finisher, Martin Wisata from the NSW Central Coast near Sydney. The 41-year old said that it had been a furious start to the race, “This year the first stage caught a lot of riders out, we didn’t expect it to be that humid and hot from the start, however, it seems to be that now that we’re half-way everyone has found a good rhythm.” He said that stage racing and the Crocodile Trophy in particular demanded not only everything of the racers out on track, but that the recovery time after each stage and the preparation for the following day were critical. “This is a very challenging race, you cannot come here unprepared. And, you really have to look after yourself and your equipment and after all these years of racing I know how to react when things don’t go to plan, you learn to adapt and be flexible and listen to body… and bike”, he explained.
Old School Croc Stage Rewards New Stage Victors.
Yesterday’s stage took riders from the remote Irvinebank to the relative comfort of the stunning Skybury Coffee plantation close to Mareeba. However, comfort was definitely not something that described any feelings during the stage. An ‘old school’ Croc stage of predominantly corrugated dirt roads over 95km and 1200vm gain. This stage resulted in two new names on the top step of the elite category podiums: the Austrian Matthias Grick wins the sprint finish in the men’s and the Belgian ex-pro road racer Sjoukje Dufoer wins in the women’s. No change overall, Urs Huber keeps a narrow 1:10min lead ahead of fellow Swiss racer Konny Looser and the Australian Sarah White increases her lead over Lucy Coldwell to 11:25 minutes.
With the more polite elevation profile planned for, 3rd on GC Soren Nissen said, “We all thought that it would be a relaxed race, however, Urs Huber set a very high pace from the start” .A lead group of four quickly formed: Grick, Huber, Looser and Nissen worked together all day and had “wanted to reach the finish as quickly as possible”, Nissen continued. “I tried to attack, but couldn’t break away”, he explained and added that he had underestimated the Swiss riders’ strength and that it had been difficult backing up a very busy European racing season with a tough race like the Crocodile Trophy. “Orginally the Croc was my big goal for this year and to fight for the overall win, but I have competed at so many events, I’m just not strong enough this year”, he concluded.
In the end, it was the Austrian Matthias Grick who managed to get a gap and win the stage in a sprint finish. “To win a stage at the Crocodile Trophy has always been my dream”, the 27-year old said today, who is competing for the second time this year and will claim his first boomerang at tonight’s stage winners’ ceremony. He said that it had been extremely hard and every stage so far had been brutal. “Today everything went to plan, I knew I had to ride well in the beginning and get through the rough sections”, he explained and that he was very content with how his equipment by the Austrian manufacturer KTM had held up in the extreme conditions this year. “The Crocodile Trophy is an equipment battle, everything needs to perfectly fit, like a clockwork”, he concluded.
The second half of the stage was predominantly flat and in the women’s it was the Belgian Sjoukje Dufoer who took advantage of her past as a pro-road cyclist. After a very successful road racing career, including finishing in 10th in the Tour de Flanders, the 31-year old said that now she was looking for more of an adventure on the bike. From the day they had met she and new husband, fellow elite racer Tom Vandenbussche had picked the Crocodile Trophy as one of their adventures together. “When we first met one of the first cycling topics that came up was the Crocodile Trophy and I said to Tom ‘Would you do the Croc with me?’ and the rest is history”, she said today after finishing 5:31 min ahead of Sarah White and Lucy Coldwell (+15:03 min). Dufoer now has a firm hold on 3rd position in overall women’s GC. Check out all the latest results here.
Stage 6 will be the longest of this years race at 127km on a circuit race around the new Mt Mulligan resort finishing back at the Skybury Coffee plantation. “We are very thankful to have permission to pass through the Mount Mulligan Lodge property and we will also reach very remote areas in the Outback tomorrow past the historic Tyrconnel gold mine and Kingsburough towards the end”, said track coordinator and General Manager, Koenraad Vanschoren. “This could, with only 50 km to go, be the perfect section for an attack”, he added. Still plenty of opportunities for further changes in the GC rankings, in MTB stage racing anything can happen. The race will then travel to the iconic Wetherby station on stage 7 before the final stage finish in Port Douglas on Saturday. Stay tuned for further updates.
Video highlights and interviews available here.