The Skybury loop maintains its title as the longest of this year’s Crocodile Trophy with a classic Outback stage. Containing a mix of open country roads, double track, cattle-worn tracks and lots of time in the sun, the 126km stage would be another big one. Run in a lollypop shape on exposed terrain, the name of the game today was to find a group and stick with them.
Words: Alex Malone
Photography: Crocodile Trophy
The Skybury loop has long been a classic at the the Crocodile Trophy and this year’s 25th edition delivered one worthy of its place in Australia’s most iconic mountain bike stage race. While yesterday’s Stage 5 to Skybury served up a marathon day in the saddle, today’s 126km route would start and finish at the coffee plantation along true Aussie Outback terrain.
Wide open roads, rough double track and the odd stretch of cattle-worn trail made for a fast stage with Bart Classens taking his third stage win with an average speed of 27.1km/h. Coming in just a few seconds behind, the savage Skybury finish (a featured experienced in 2017) meant the top-four on the general classification were spread out over 30 seconds. Alan Gordon was rock solid throughout the day, controlling when needed and working with the group throughout to ensure he maintained his lead with just two stages remaining.
Having been extremely active during the opening 50km of the day, Stijn Van Boxstael just lost touch in the final moments to cross the line in fifth. His strong showing pushed him into fifth overall at the expense of Bram Saeys who suffered a twisted chain in the first 30km. Saeys would finish just behind a ‘cruising’ Angelika Tazreiter who seems to be thriving in the testing conditions and after a quick chat earlier in the morning, is seemingly ready for another six stages.
Croc my way
I should have been satisfied with yesterday, the early breakaway with Carel ‘CP’ van Wyk got us over the top of Mount Misery ahead of the charging GC group. But honestly, I would have enjoyed a little more time at the front and today presented an opportunity to try again.
Within the first kilometres of the stage Lukas Kaufmann and I were away but annoyingly, an open farm gate meant we missed a turn and led the chasing pack down into some ‘ol mate’s property. It’s fair to say that once I realised the mistake, I was fairly fired up. I was anything but calm.
The main group graciously waited for Kaufmann and I to rejoin and after a breather, we went again. This time we had the perfect group with Van Boxtael, Saeys and Kaufmann making up a four-man strong break. We pushed hard, managing an average speed in excess of 30km/h for over an hour – no mean feat off-road. Sadly, Saeys twisted his chain before the first feed zone and after initially waiting, we had to push on.
Three at the front and Van Boxtael was on a blinder, pushing a strong pace to ensure our triplet stayed away. After 40-odd kilometres, we could see the group coming from behind and after Van Boxtael dropped a bottle (something you gotta stop to collect out here), it was Kaufmann and myself.
The 50km mark was the first high point of the day and I knew it was key to make it over the top (or thereabouts) before the GC group came blazing by. Kaufmann unfortunately didn’t have enough in the tank to make it over the top and would be sentenced to a final 75km in purgatory.
Back on the larger roads, it was now a front group of six that worked well together across the exposed and battered roads. Remembering this stage from 2017, I did what was necessary to make it over the long climb and that meant sitting on for some time. Over the top and I did enough (just) to keep anyone from getting too upset but again, I knew the final 30km (the same as the first 30km) would be tough going. On the way out, it’s mainly downhill but all things that go down must also go up.
Hanging on by a thread with 20km to go I looked down to see my tyre squirming along the trail. A few expletives later, I stopped, plugged the hole and gave the tyre some Co2. Alas, with a moderate head wind there was absolutely zero chance of regaining contact. Fuelled by the thought of a chocolate thick shake at Skybury cafe, I plugged along to finish sixth on the stage.
Stage 7 signals the penultimate day and the final mass start stage of the 25th Crocodile Trophy. After three stages and nearly 16 hours of ride time, tomorrow’s 84km route is promised to be fast and fun. With less than 800m of climbing to conquer, tomorrow also brings respite as the bunch heads back into the rainforest. Our final resting point for the night is back on the coast at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventure park. Despite it’s name, I’m not sure many riders have ever seen at Croc during the race but Stage 7 presents a unique chance to get up close and personal with some little snappers.
Ahead of the 2017 edition, my first attempt at this iconic race, I chatted to the Adam Hansen of the Crocodile Trophy. Martin Wisata is at the 25th edition aiming for his 10th finish and despite organising more than 20 cycling events every year with Rocky Trail Entertainment, motivation seems to be at an all time high.
“There’s a form of addiction to riding and organising events,” Wisata said while sipping an iced latte on the Skybury balcony. [Ed’s note: setting the mood with a little sugar and spice].
“Running events gives you this similar peak. It’s hectic but of course, event days are far more mental than anything. At the Croc, it’s different. There’s a huge physical element but I’m also lucky that I can switch off while at the race,” he added.
Finishing one Croc is a huge achievement in itself and so, with two stages remaining, 10 seems almost mythical. So, why the Croc and why so many times?
“I just love it. There’s always an hour here or there where you’re dehydrated or feeling the pinch and maybe you’re not having a party but unless you’ve got some serious issue or injury it’s a good struggle. It’s a good kind of pain.
“The sense of achievement, after every stage and then rolling into Port Douglas come Sunday, it’s huge. Two hour races are fun and I love it but you just don’t get that same high. I’m a total amateur on the bike but here you can feel like a professional. There are TV cameras following you along the course and I’m doing interviews with overseas radio stations and news channels.
With just over 100km of this years race to go, the finish line is most certainly in sight. So, will we see Wisata up at Skybury with a soy mocha in 2020? I don’t need to ask him that question. He’ll be here.
Stage 6 – Results
Full results here.
Track riders during each stage with Live Tracking.
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Stage 6 – Skybury
Strava activity: strava.com/activities/2794939506
Heart rate TSS: 269
Time: 4:38:23 (4:49:28 race time. Plenty of time at the feed zones plus puncture repair)
Total ascent: 1,746m
Average temperature: 33 degrees Celsius
Top speed: 57.2km/h
Average speed: 27.4km/h (fast one!)
Calories burned: 3,785
Average heart rate: 143bpm
Max heart rate: 166bpm
Litres consumed: 8