Cairns – Cooktown
20 – 28 October 2012
900+ km, 16,500+ m, 9 days
On 28th October the International Crocodile Trophy finished on Grassy Hill in Cooktown. Riders from all over the world and their support crews arrived on the final stage finish line of the 2012 event after nine days of blistering heat and tough racing for more than 900 km through the iconic Australian Outback in Tropical Far North Queensland. Ivan Rybarik (CZE) is this year’s outstanding Crocodile Trophy winner with four stage wins, including a victory of the first ever Crocodile Trophy circuit race at the Smithfield World Cup trails.
The Crocodile Trophy has been known as the hardest, hottest and most adventurous mountain bike stage race in the world and in 2012 it definitely delivered on those promises. The race stages were as diverse as its participants. Starting in tropical Cairns and with a circuit race at Smithfield the riders came from more than 20 countries and included professional cyclists, amateur mountain bikers, avid road riders and triathletes. The nine-day adventure took them across the Atherton Tablelands towards Lake Tinaroo and then into the old mining town of Irvinebank, where another lap race was on the stage plan. With stage destinations including Mt Mulligan, Maitland Downs and Maytown the race travelled deep into the Queensland Outback before turning further north towards the sleepy gold rush town of Laura. On the last day the riders then raced towards the coast and towards Cooktown.
More mountain bike stages
Generally, the daily stage distances had been shortened, however, with more than 900 km and more than 16,000 m of climbing the Crocodile Trophy is still one of the longest mountain bike stage races in the world. One of the main reasons for the shorter stages was the inclusion of more technical mountain bike trails. On some stages the racers could only be accompanied by quad bikes – photographers, videographers and doctors travelled sections of the race track on the nimble vehicles to document the race and to lend a helping hand if need be. After the stage into Laura, the 2012 Crocodile Trophy runner up, Ondrej Fojtik (CZE) said, “I loved the trails today – that was some of the best mountain biking I’ve ever done!”
Race organiser Gerhard Schönbacher said that it had been a great logistical challenge this year as most stage destinations had been so remote, “The Crocodile Trophy is an event that keeps evolving and it has been a main goal for us to attract more mountain bikers to our event. The lap race at Smithfield was very well received by riders and spectators and the local Cairns MTB Club was pivotal to that stage’s success.” Especially Australian participants had asked for more typical mountain bike terrain to be included in the race and the record number of local riders, including 24H Solo World Champion Jason English from Port Macquarie in New South Wales, encourages the organisers to stick to their mix of rough trails and the iconic wide open Outback highways. English suffered a broken collar bone in a crash during stage 2 and as one of the big favourites this year, unfortunately wasn’t able to finish his race.
Remoteness biggest challenge
Most riders speak of the physical hardships of this race and even more are fascinated by the tough conditions, both on and off the race track. Says Cory Wallace, the Canadian pro-mountain biker who competed for the second time at the Crocodile Trophy and finished fourth overall, “The Crocodile Trophy is one of the greatest mountain bike adventures I have experienced. It’s one part bike racing to one part playing Boy Scout in the Australian Outback. With blazing heat, crazy and deadly animals, euro racers and the “X-factors” of the Outback it makes for one heck of a challenging nine days and 900km of bike racing.”
Kate Major, the Australian endurance triathlete agreed that the most remarkable thing about the Crocodile Trophy was that sometimes as a rider you feel quite isolated on a long stage, even with fellow racers around you, “You do this race by yourself, there’s no cheating. I always try to encourage people around me and to have a good time, you never know when you’ll get this opportunity again, you just have to make the most of it.”
Temperatures had soared to 46 degrees C one afternoon in Maytown, just as riders had come in from a relentless 120 km of racing from Maitland Downs. The cool billabong nearby provided a welcome refreshment and convenient meeting place to exchange the riding experiences of the day.
Keeping the Croc train going
Over nine days the athletes’ bodies go through an immense amount of strain and pain. Riding across corrugated Outback highways, rough singletrails, unused service roads and wading through river crossings, enduring blistering heat and keeping those legs moving come what may, it all takes its toll on knees, backs, arms – and the minds of riders.
One of the good Samaritans of the race was Martin Wisata, who participated in the Crocodile Trophy for the third time and happened to be the first rider on the scene of an accident twice this year. “You get fatigued out there and tired and sometimes accidents happen. It’s always bad when you see a fellow racer crash, but everyone is so helpful out there, a lot of riders stopped and helped me build a sun shelter out of my jersey for one of the injured riders until one of the doctors arrived at the scene. They’re equipped with satellite phones and were able to have the riders airlifted out fairly quickly.” Having lost time in the overall classification because he stopped to help didn’t bother Wisata as he added, “That’s the spirit of the Croc and mountain biking. I’m here to achieve my personal goals and if I did loose a few spots, but helped a guy, that’s worth it.”
Six physio therapists travelled with the race this year as well and treated sore muscles and joints every evening. Head physio therapist Maria Schöffmann said that sometimes they also had to provide some moral support to riders. “After a few days we noticed that riders got really tired and their bodies were suffering. We massaged riders and also provided basic osteopathic adjustments, stretching and tape treatments, but noticed also that sometimes a friendly smile and listening to their day’s adventure made them feel better after a long stage in the saddle”, she said.
Friends out on track and relying on supporters in camp
While many Croc racers come to the event by themselves and meet friends for life enduring the gruelling race together, the new Adventure category enabled mates to ride together in two man teams. Mark Griffin and Aaron Lakeman from the Rubena Rocky Trail Team took on the challenge and raced to victory. At the finish line, Aaron Lakeman from Sydney said, “This was very hard, but very enjoyable. With our team we were lucky to have a great set up and support staff. In the evenings we had good chats and it was a good experience, but definitely the toughest race I’ve ever done.” His team mate Mark Griffin added, “I had a great time. It’s been really good to do in a team – just when one of us had a bit of a crisis out there the other one was there to encourage you and keep you going. I raced by myself and did well last year, but this year I enjoyed the team atmosphere and sharing the experiences out there with a mate.”
In the Adventure category, both team riders are required to cross the daily finish lines together and it will be offered again in 2013.
The Crocodile Trophy is a massive logistical undertaking with 11 trucks and 15 4WD cars transporting staff, luggage and supplies. Whilst the more than 120 riders brought 45 supporters who travel in 15 4WD support cars, the organisational team includes 85 crew, including organisers, race director, tent builders, mechanics, physio therapists and two doctors, a paramedic, four media crew, quad riders and most importantly twelve kitchen staff headed up by the cook, Thorsten. “We went through about 60 kg of raw pasta, 20 litres of milk and 25 dozen eggs every day”, said the busy head chef.
Alice Pirard, who finished second in the women’s field and her partner Michiel Van Aelbroeck, number six in the elite category arrived with their family from Belgium to support them. Michiel’s sister Charlotte was the “chief supporter” and said of the race, “It’s great because we could see so much of this beautiful country while travelling from one stage camp to the next. We arrived a week before the event and plan a holiday after the race, but to see Alice and Michiel in action and all those other riders, who give everything every day, is really special!”
Steady wins the race
In the end, with an impressive performance and four stage wins, Ivan Rybarik was crowned the 2012 Crocodile Trophy champion. In Cooktown he arrived together with second and third on the podium and after congratulating Ondrej Fojtik (CZE) and Wolfgang Krenn he said of his race, “I just had such a good time racing the Crocodile Trophy this year.” He added that he had trained a lot in the race lead up and that winning the overall team classification with his Rubena Rocky Trail Racing CZE Team was another highlight, “We just had such a great time, in our team camp the atmosphere was always positive, we were chatting and talking about biking all the time. It was really the best environment for me to do well this year.”
Of the last stage into Cooktown, which many called a “road rider’s stage” and which was won by Austrian pro-road cyclist Josef Benetseder, he said, “Today again the Croc showed us, that even if you think a stage is going to be flat, it’s still never going to be an easy one. Today was very long with many corrugations on the road. I had a good lead and just tried to enjoy the success and the ride with the boys. After so many days of pushing so hard I actually got to look up and enjoy the scenery.”
Pushing you to the extremes
Steven Rankine was the fastest overall Australian and raced the new Aussie Leader’s Jersey. Having finished the Crocodile Trophy for the second time he said that the 2012 edition had been very hard and different with the increase in mountain bike stages and climbing. He added that the riders welcomed the shorter daily distances, however, that the race pace was much faster than in previous years.
The Australian from Mossman near Cairns also explained that part of the spectacle that defined the Crocodile Trophy was its reputation of pushing you to the extremes, “If you do this race once you’ve already proofed yourself as a competitor. It’s an adventure and you see some amazing parts of the world. You get to experience our country’s history and that very, very few Australians even get to see. To visit those Outback stations and historic mining towns… it’s great to experience that.”
Race organiser Gerhard Schönbacher announced that in 2013 the race schedule will be similar to this year with a good mix of mountain bike stages and days where you get to race on those iconic wide Outback roads again in between some technical sections.
“We will most likely increase the public race stage offer – the circuit race in Smithfield and the first stage across the tablelands will again be open for riders to join in. Together with the Cairns MTB Club we will identify more suitable stages for local riders to accompany us”, Schönbacher explained.
The Crocodile Trophy adventure stage race will back in Tropical Far North Queensland in 2013 from 19 – 26 October. For more information, photos and detailed race results, visit www.crocodile-trophy.com
Top Results Crocodile Trophy 2012
Full podium Elite Men overall:
1. Ivan Rybarik (CZE), Rubena Rocky Trail Racing CZE, 34:08:59
2. Ondrej Fojtik (CZE), +17:55
3. Wolfgang Krenn (AUT), +49:18
4. Cory Wallace (CAN), 01:11:06
5. Ondrej Slezak (CZE), Rubena Rocky Trail Racing CZE, 01:28:25
Full podium Women overall:
1. Kate Major (AUS), 42:23:17
2. Alice Pirard (BEL), O2 Bikers – WMTB.be – Schwalbe, 45:38:29
3. Tinneke Van de Voorde (BEL), 53:13:44
4. Annie van der Linde (NED), 59:24:33
5. Jade Forsyth (AUS), 60:09:23
1. Werner van der Merwe (UK), Subaru-MarathonMTB.com, 35:15:54
1. Marc Baechli (SUI), 37:14;45
1. Milan Spolc (CZE), 37:28:15
Adventure Team category elite winners:
1. Mark Griffin / Aaron Lakeman (AUS), Rubena Rocky Trail Racing, 37:48:50 / 37:50:34
Adventure Team category M1 winners:
1. Pierre Paligot / Dirk Abeloos (BEL), Croco RR Team Habay, 57:53:25 / 57:53:38
Team of Three category winners:
Rubena Rocky Trail Racing, Michal Kafka / Ivan Rybarik / Ondrej Slezak (CZE)
Crocodile Trophy online
Crocodile Trophy website – crocodile-trophy.com
Crocodile Trophy media portal – crocodile-trophy.com/trophy/media.html
Crocodile Trophy Facebook – www.facebook.com/CrocodileTrophy
Crocodile Trophy official Twitter hashtag – #croctrophy