Take nothing for granted at the Crocodile Trophy, or stage racing for that matter. A lead or deficit of minutes can evaporate in an instant. Today’s stage around Wetherby Station demonstrated just how quickly things can change.
Words: Alex Malone
Images: MIKE BLEWITT / MARATHONMTB.COM & Igor Schifris / Crocodile Trophy
The penultimate stage around with a start and finish at Wetherby Station. It would be the final opportunity to really make a significant difference, for all racers battling in their respective categories. With 1,400m of climbing in just 78km, much of it within the lush yet deadly Kuranda National Park, it would also be a victory simply to make it through unscathed.
Race director Conrad had warned us of the wait-a-while vine, a thin hanging string-like vine that could reportedly remove you from your bike thanks to it’s razor sharp claws. Slacklining skills would also be employed across two ‘bridges’ formed by old logs and wooden planks. Survive all that, wade across a couple of creek crossings, negotiate the deep moto ruts and you’d be more or less back at the Station where lunch and Austrian-powered tunes would await.
A race like the Croc, especially so at this late stage of the week, is a race within a race, within a race. Riders are jostling for the final placings in their categories while some are fighting out for a spot in the general classification, or even a coveted leader’s jersey.
Stage 7 would take riders out of Wetherby Station and into the thick forest just a hop away from the coast. The now 52-rider field would see the finish of the stage immediately after rolling out as the opening 17km would be run in reverse on the way home.
As mentioned above, today was the final stage to make a real difference ahead of tomorrow’s final time trial to Port Douglas. There was action from the gun and numerous attempts were made to split the field early. Category leaders followed threatening riders while the Canadian power couple seemed satisfied once a move containing Erik Dekker, Hiroyuji Okamoto, Dan Beresford and myself formed not long afterwards.
Leandre Bouchard led into the left-turn signalling the start of the 47-odd kilometre loop and immediately turned the screws on our small group. Cutting through the Kuranda National Park and State Forest was in stark contrast to the days prior as open country roads and corrugations made way for moist soil and narrow trails.
With Bouchard and Andrew L’Esperance forging ahead, Dekker, Okamoto, Beresford and myself settled into a more sustainable rhythm. Dekker and Okamoto drifted away with the two remaining Aussies working together to stay ahead of the chasers.
Not long after the second feed zone (40km) the trail turned to what appeared to be a well-ridden motocross track. Deep ruts littered the path forward with the leading rider having the benefit of seeing exactly what line to take. Realising the benefit of being at the front I decided to move forward in an effort to control our pace.
A blind right-handed and a deep(er) than expected rut later and I was quickly on the ground. Unfazed and with barely a scratch to tell the tale, we both remounted with just a few more challenging climbs to get over before the flatter ride home. The fall however, had been more significant than first thought. I had crunched the derailleur beyond repair, leaving me with just a few hand-selected options for the single-speed ride home. The 13-tooth it would be for the next 30km which as any mountain biker would appreciate, isn’t the nicest way to finish a day.
The ‘Most Aussie’ jersey is now a target for another year while the final stage into Port Douglas offers a thrilling way to finish what has otherwise been an eventful week.
The results at the pointy end were as expected with L’Esperance getting another stage win while Dekker and Okamoto filled the next two spots. Haley Smith, having struggled through the night with illness, put in a huge effort to simply finish the day.
And so with just 30km of the Crocodile Trophy to go, it’s fair to say everyone is ready to dip their toes in the ocean.
Stage 7 – Details
Strava activity: strava.com/activities/1195516371
Total elevation: 1,403 (corrected. Always a little more than the book)
Calories burned: 3,629
Maximum temperature: 37 degrees
Wait-a-while vine casualties: 1 jersey
Stage 7 – Results
See full results here: my3.raceresult.com/80618/results?lang=en#1_8003D5