Croc Tales: Packing for Australia’s most iconic mountain bike race
The Crocodile Trophy is undoubtedly Australia’s most iconic mountain bike stage race. Held under the baking Queensland sun, the eight-day race traverses through lush rainforests and across some of the country’s most rugged outback terrain. The environment is equally beautiful as it is harsh and packing for the conditions presents a series of challenges unique to this part of the world. Cyclist presents its pack list for the 2019 Crocodile Trophy.
Words: Alex Malone
Photos: Crocodile Trophy, Tim Bardsley-Smith and Alex Malone
It was back in 2017 when I first took on the Crocodile Trophy. Held shortly after the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Cairns, the eight-day and near 800km race – or event, depending on your ambitions – was my second marathon-distance stage race. I’d ridden The Pioneer in March of that year. Some things went well at the 2017 edition while other areas needed improvement.
I should have taken the advice of (now) 10-time Croc finisher Martin Wisata when he said not to underestimate the Croc. I did to an extent but it’s only through trial and error that we really improve and in 2019, I’ve line up – and finished – the 25th anniversary with a pair of Pioneers, a Mongolia Bike Challenge plus a Crocodile Trophy finish in the history books. I’ll steer from saying any of those past races are still in the legs because as avid cyclists, we all know how little fitness remains once the system is turned off.
Packing for a multi-day adventure like the Crocodile Trophy is relatively simple however, the challenge comes in the form of not what to pack, but how much you’re willing to leave at home. With around 70 racers taking on the 2019 edition, not including accompanying staff and support personnel, organisers have to insist that everyone ‘packs light’. One main bag, a pair of wheel bags plus a small personal bag is about the maximum most events will agree to lug around while you enjoy pedalling to the finish each day. But it’s not just about reducing requirements for luggage transport, riders also need to look after their own gear and get it to and from their tents or hotel each evening. This gets harder as each stage is ticked off.
In similar but not quite so extreme vein as the Mongolia Bike Challenge, the Croc does go a little remote and as such, you’re best packing as many spares as possible. If you forget a piece of the puzzle, it’s likely you’ll find a new best mate who can assist and failing that, the on-site mechanic Micha has been known to work miracles. However, the Seven Ps is the best way to pack for an event like the Crocodile Trophy. Don’t rely solely on others to get you out of a jam.
All up, my Scicon Aerocomfort MTB bike bag weighed 25kg including a spare pair of wheels (which I squeezed inside) while my main bag was about the same. I did however, manage to consume about 5kg of its contents over the eight days. That said, here’s what I managed to stuff into my luggage to take on the 2019 edition of the Crocodile Trophy.
Crocodile Trophy Bike
1 x Focus 01E Factory – modified specification.
That part about proper preparation fell a bit short for this year’s Croc but thankfully, the longtime magazine supporters over at Focus were able to arrange a 01E Factory to use for the week. Unlike my time spent on the Trek Top Fuel 9.8s for Mongolia and Pioneer, the Focus 01E was (I’ll admit it), a bit of a rush job.
The 01E might still be fresh out of the box (even after a gruelling eight days) but it’s a World Cup-proven platform that, even with just three real MTB rides prior to the race, was seriously impressive. The suspension design is now a couple of years old but there’s a reason Focus has just released the latest models and colours – it just works.
As per prior years, our relationship with Shimano Australia ensures my bike is equipped with the very best in the business. The latest Shimano XTR 12-speed groupset, while mechanical, is a huge step up compared to the previous incarnation. It’s not just just about the extra cog either. The wide-range 10-51 cassette has been missing from Shimano’s off-road groupsets for a couple of years but that’s all changed with XT and SLX both offering single-ring bikes the ability to climb the steepest of slopes and still hammer on the flats. The shifting is unbelievably crisp and the lever feel is strong yet light on the shifts. Keen viewers will notice the crankset looks a little different from the catalogue but the non series arms have been fitted with the XTR chainring to keep things as close to complete as possible.
The wheels are a little bit of a mismatch due to the specific spacing of the Rock Shox RS1 fork. Last year I built up an uber light pair of Nextie/DT Swiss wheels and with a quick swap to the all-new Microspline body, it was good to go. Sadly, the front stayed at home and I instead borrowed a RS1-suitable wheel. Keeping me upright was a pair of Maxxis Aspen tyres which are super fast. There’s a compromise in traction but Croc descents aren’t the place to go setting new downhill records. The casing is also very durable and has always been pretty reliable for events like the Croc.
I did suffer two punctures but only one during the race. The other was post-stage leant up against a barbed wire fence. I’ve learnt that lesson now. The small hole was repaired with a Dynaplug and ridden for three stages before I pinch-sliced the casing on Stage 6. Repaired again with a plug to get me home, I later changed the tyre to a Maxxis Crossmark.
Without a huge number of hours aboard the 01E prior to Stage 1, I was yet to fully dial the suspension until a couple of days in before things became dreamy. The hydraulic Rock Shox rear lockout is a lovely touch and despite the up front RS1 not being made anymore, the inverted fork is sturdy and very much up to handling the Croc. With more than 30 hours of racing completed over the eight days, I can say the 01E is very much up to the task and the geometry was perfect for a race of this duration. With a little more tinkering, I’d probably make a few changes to drop a little bit of weight but at a touch over 11kg, it’s competitive enough.
2 x Cuore Silver level jerseys, size small, +6 body, +4 arms
2 x Cuore Silver level bib shorts, size small, +4 legs
1 x Cuore Pioneer Utility bib shorts, size small, +4 legs (note the thigh pockets!)
2 x Cuore Silver vest, size small
1 x Lazer Z1 helmet
1 x 100% S2 sunnies
1 x Oakley Radar EV fitted with trail lens
2 x Cuore gloves, one pair aero
1 x super light Santini undershirt (which I’ll be unlikely to wear)
4 x Cuore socks
1 x Attaquer socks
1 x Wahoo ELEMNT Roam GPS computer (with stages loaded)
1 x Wahoo ELEMNT GPS computer (spare)
1 x Bont Vaypor G shoes
I kept the racing kit to the absolute minimum for this year’s Croc with just two complete kits making the cut. This is perhaps on the lighter side of what one should take but I took the leap. In the end, I gave one jersey a slight touch-up on some wait-a-while vine but otherwise I found no need for the second set as I washed the kit each day. The Pioneer Utility bib short is already a favourite.
It’s bloody hot at the Croc. That’s a given. We had a couple of wet and cooler days in 2017 but there’s no need for warm race kit up here – unless you’re a Queenslander and then perhaps cooler days are a shock but back in Sydney, I’d just come from a week of sub-10 degrees Celsius mornings so 30-plus was like a sauna. There were a few opportunities to get wet as streams and creeks were still running but the rain gear stayed at home.
Having spent a couple of seasons racing the UCI Asia Tour, hand washing kit is a familiar post-stage scenario and with the sun still shining late into the day, kit is well and truly dry by morning. Sadly there wasn’t an easy opportunity to drop into a nearby laundry but perhaps a laundry service is something organisers could offer in 2020. Hint, hint.
Daily gear (on bike)
2 x Co2 25g canisters
1 x Camelbak Chase vest (2L capacity, not used)
1 x tube (tucked into Speedsleev)
1 x Dynaplug Co2 repair system (plug and inflate in one!)
1 x tyre boot (made from Gorilla tape)
1 x Crank Brothers Multi Mini Tool 17
1 x spare tubeless valve
1 x Shimano 12-speed quick link
1 x tyre lever
1 x Focus 01E derailleur hanger (so I never needed it)
1 x mini lube (carried on two super dry stages)
1 x Selection of zip-ties
1 x Valve core remover
The environment of the Crocodile Trophy is fairly static and unlike races like The Pioneer, where you could face snow at the top of climbs, the primary concern up here is the heat. There’s no real list of mandatory gear outside of the things you’ll be wearing and carrying anyway.
Spares and maintenance
4 x bidons (mix of 800ml and 600ml)
2 x Shimano XTR metal brake pads (pairs)
1 x Shimano XTR 36-tooth chainring
1 x Spare wheels (pair)
1 x XTR chain (pre-waxed)
1 x Ride Mechanic degreaser
1 x Bike Milk lubricant
1 x Maxxis Crossmark
1 x PRO Slide On Race grips
1 x additional tube
1 x Shimano XTR 160mm Centrelock rotor
1 x BBB Pressure Guage
2 x six-bolt rotors (RS1 hub does not accomodate Centrelock)
Unlike Di2, which was always a little rare at races like Croc, the new 12-speed groupset from Shimano is a little more travel friendly and already widely adopted. I brought the basics but given it’s all brand new, I wasn’t expecting too many mechanical dramas. Somehow managing to go the entire distance without a crash certainly kept the maintenance to a minimum.
Travelling domestically with two large bags, even at close to 50kg, is pretty economical and thankfully I returned with a little less weight on the journey home. I try to fly Virgin as much as possible, primarily to maintain status (and get additional included luggage) but even if I went with another, purchasing an extra bag is normally hassle free.
Last year for Mongolia and Pioneer I went purely with wax-based chain lubrication but for this race, I went middle ground. Both my chains were treated at home using Molten Speed Wax (the only way to go for the road bike) but despite all the claims, stage races like Croc are simply too tough on your gear to rely on it alone. Trust me, I’ve tried. You could bring eight chains and slap on a new one every day but I packed degreaser and additional lubricant instead. Mike from MarathonMTB.com has done more stage races than most of us could fathom and always seemed pleased with the products from Ride Mechanic. I’ve already purchased another supply to use at The Pioneer later in the year.
I’ve mentioned it previously but I’ll say it again, if you’re interested in chain lubrication, what it does, what it doesn’t and how it can impact your drivetrain wear along with performance, ensure you head over to read Dave Rome’s piece on CyclingTips.
Nutrition and food
20 x Clif Bars (peanut butter and almond choc)
20 x gels of varying description (Endura, High5 and SiS kept the taste buds guessing)
1 x tub of Infinit Nutrition Go Far (66g CHO per serving)
1 x Endura Optimizer, chocolate flavour (lots of calories for post-stage and has always worked well for me)
It was summer last year, when I decided to attempt an unofficial #Festive1000, that I realised just how much better I performed when properly fuelled. I know, it sounds obvious but nutrition both on and off the bike is something most of us are probably still figuring out. Having read plenty around high-level carbohydrate fuelling, it was actually a chat with former Croc winner Hayley Smith that turned me towards the hunt for a liquid source of fuel. Given her performance in 2017 year, throughout the last two World Cup seasons, plus victory at the recent Epic Israel, it’s fair to say she knows how to fuel for stage races.
Trying to force down 60g/h+ of carbs in solid food is not really feasible during high intensity workouts or races, at least not for me. To put it in perspective, most gels and regular energy bars offer about 20g. Can you imagine sucking back four gels per hour over a five-hour ride or race? No thanks. Infinit seemed unique and while I didn’t go for a custom blend, I’ve been ordering the stock variety ever since. I don’t use it for all training rides because it’s not really necessary but for longer days and consecutive sessions, it’s a game changer. With only one slot for a bidon on the 01E my strategy was originally to use the Camelbak but in the search of weight savings, I put a second one in my jersey instead. I started everyday with both bottles loaded with a serve of Infinit to ensure I survived what was often an elevated heart rate start… that often lasted a couple of hours.
The additional bars and gels still came to good use as the time spent on the bike had me feeling like something solid in the gut. Croc feed zones don’t quite match the Pioneer or MBC but the copious amounts of fresh fruit did well to top up my fuel needs throughout each day.
3 x Cyclist t-shirts
1 x pair of long pants
2 x Cuore-Qloom trail shorts (hardy, comfortable, easy to wash and dry)
1 x pair of Nike Kawa slides (no need for socks up here)
1 x cotton long sleeve t-shirt
1 x Katmandu waterproof jacket (just in case)
1 x lightweight Macpac puffer jacket
1 x cap
1 x pair of boardshorts
1 x pair of Nike knit shoes
As mentioned above, there is a limit to how much luggage organisers will truck around for you but it’s also a pretty relaxed affair due to the relatively small rider numbers. At Pioneer, you’re provided with a regulation Marmot bag and everything you need for the race must fit inside. If you’ve got more to carry, make friends with someone with a camper or accompanying support person.
On the quiet, my ‘lap top bag’ is generally stocked with all matter of other things not inside my main bag. Like the check in counter at the airport, smile, be nice and you’ll likely get this one across the line.
Camping at the Crocodile Trophy
1 x Belkin 10,000mAh USB charging bank
1 x cotton sleeping bag liner
1 x Macpac Escapade 700 sleeping bag (Ratings: Comfort 2°C / Limit -3°C / Extreme -18°C)
1 x self-inflatable sleeping mat (Croc organisers also provide a stretcher which sits off the ground, the mat simply adds more comfort)
1 x casual eyewear
1 x pillow
1 x head torch (it gets dark under the stars)
The Crocodile Trophy serves up seven nights camping with a few of those spent in more established venues. The two nights at Skybury Coffee plantation felt like luxury and only the final night down near Hartley’s Crocodile Park fell short on expectations. For the other nights, you want to be able to set yourself up in the solo teepee tent with as many comforts as possible. Remember that while it can be blazing hot in the day, some nights get blisteringly cold. Leave the winter attire at home but don’t skimp on the sleeping bag because you’re going to need it!
Former Mongolia Bike Challenge winner Elijus Civilis packed an inflatable single bed for his most recent trip to Mongolia and I did the same for Pioneer. The stretcher situation at Croc however, makes the bed unnecessary in my opinion.
There is also a hotel accomodation package however, a lot of race organisers almost discourage this option as it takes you away from the atmosphere of such an event. I get it, and apart from rarely choosing camping outside of cycling events, I agree. There are few opportunities in life where you get to spend such an intense amount of time with likeminded individuals. Camping, dinners under the stars together, that’s what makes the Croc special.
1 x pair of Normatec Recovery boots
1 x Aeropress, hand grinder, Cyclist mug and two bags of coffee beans (if you really need a favour from someone, offer them a real brew)
1 x iPhone charging cable
1 x Wahoo ELEMNT charging cable
1 x Fuji camera
1 x Apple Mac 11″ plus charger
1 x toiletries bag
It was at this year’s Velothon Sunshine Coast that I decided to try a Normatec boots session and after just 30 minutes following Stage 1, I was back everyday. Beer in hand and with 30-60 minutes of insanely relaxing massage later, I felt ready to go at it again less than 24 hours later. The boots fold up into carry on luggage and weigh very little plus the main control unit is smaller than a tub of Infinit. Battery life is up to three hours meaning I only needed to charge it up a few times over the week. For anyone who loves massage but rarely makes the time for an appointment, Normatec boots feel like they do just as good a job but better still, it’s on your time. At a touch over $2,000 for the boot system, it’s a cost I could comfortable rationalise – having spent more than a few hours in them. Some quick maths around the cost of a hour-long massage and you’ll be lapping up ‘free’ rubs in no time.
Anything on the list we missed or that you would leave at home? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook.