Crocodile Trophy: Stage 10 – Jeroen Boelen crowned overall winner

He won five of the ten stages, worked where needed and made himself popular with riders and race staff alike. There’s no doubt that Jeroen Boelen deserves to be the overall winner of the 17th Crocodile Trophy.

After 1,200 kilometers across the rainforests and outback of North Queensland, the 33-year-old finished with almost an hour’s lead over Austrians Wofgang Krenn and Josef Benedseder. The result could have been different, if main challenger Urs Huber from Switzerland hadn’t dropped out on the eve of the ninth stage.

“This victory is so important for me and for the team,” said Boelen, a former road rider whose mountain bike career has only just begun. Earlier this year he finished seventh in the Cape Epic with Bart Brentjens.

The Milka-Trek rider added: “The Crocodile Trophy has a big name in mountain bike community. It is important for my sponsors too. Without sponsors we have no sport. I am glad I can give them this victory.”

The race promised to be a battle between Swiss champion Huber, former Olympic champion Brentjens and Belgian rider Mike Mulkens. All three were on the podium for the previous two editions and were back with the same ambition -to win the race.

Brentjens, 43, had arrived sick in Cairns and was unable to start on October 18. Huber, 26, got sick during the race and Mulkens, 31, just missed that little extra power. Having finished third overall two years in a row, the Belgian rider aimed for a stage win. In Laura he was close to his goal until a puncture in the last kilometer ruined his plans. In Irvinbank ‘Iron Mike’ was caught at 4km from the finish after a marathon breakaway.

The fact that Huber got sick could have been caused by the terrible weather during the first two days of the race. Stage one had to be neutralized as support cars were unable to ride the course, which had deteriorated rapidly due to torrential downpours. An epic stage two, in never-ending rain, saw Huber ride away on Mount Baldy, with only Dutch rider Boelen – Brentjens’ pupil – able to limit the damage. Huber was in search of a unique hat-trick of overall wins. This year he’s already won eight races including the Craft Bike, Transalp, the Grand Raid and the Dolomiti Superbike. Huber continued to show his strength on stage three, which had to be modified due to the rain.

Boelen raced very consistently for the full ten days and claimed his moment of glory on the fourth stage. It would not be his last victory. The former road rider is fast at the finish, but also just strong. “I think I am more talented as a road rider, but I needed a new challenge,” he explained. In his former road career, Boelen won two stages in Olympia’s Tour (Netherlands) and was overall winner of the Tour de Liège (Belgium) ahead of Robert Gesink and Johnny Hoogerland, and the Route Nivernaise Morvan (France).

“Many people told me that I am too social, or better not enough non-social to be professional road rider,” continued Boelen. “But I don’t regret having become a mountain biker now.”

Boelen also won stages five and six. It was on that 189km sixth stage that he took the leader’s jersey. Huber looked unbeatable, but broke that day. Like most of the riders, Huber also punctured, but, more importantly, he ran out of energy in the hot outback of Queensland. Some of the vehicles with drinks and energy gels had got stuck in the Mitchell river and needed to be pulled across by others. It was a stage full of unexpected challenges and turns of events for all. Instead of leading by minutes, he now had to make up seven minutes. Huber counted on making that up on the long, sandy stage nine, but by then he was not in the race any more.

With or without Huber, the race stayed very animated as the Austrian riders were very active. Former pro rider Rene Haselbacher attacked every day, while Wolfgang Krenn and Josef Benedseder rode a consistent race. Their overall finished, in second and third, reflect the right strategy in the Crocodile Trophy peloton. Christoph Sokoll won the stage in Laura and with Boelen winning 50 per cent of the stages, it was not foreseeable for others to win a stage. More than once the Austrians played a tactical game with the Darrell Lea team-mates Kevin Hulsmans and Huub Duyn. Hulsmans attacked every day as well, but did not get a prize. His teammate Duyn did, as he was the stage winner in Kalpowar.

Behind the elite riders, the battle between the Master riders was as interesting, with the Australian home riders particularly impressive. Graeme Arnott, Mark Griffin, Brad Davies, Ashley Hayat, Justin Morris – all guys with a full time job – were at the front every day. The respect they got from the pros was huge.

The Crocodile Trophy saw participants from Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Korea, Czech Republic, Italy, USA, South Africa and Denmark. The three Koreans surprised a lot. Geeni Yong Choi was the hero of stage nine, finishing third on the Queen Stage. Surprisingly, he did not start the last stage as his left knee was suffering and he did not want to jeopardize his coming season.

The biggest respect from all participants was for the two US handbikers. On stage six they arrived at the Crocodile Trophy camp after 18 hours on their bikes, unfortunately not able to start the day after, due to a heat stroke (Patrik Doak) and an open skin wound (Carlos Moleda). Their team-mate and supporter Andrew Chafer continued until the end in Hope Vale and got the biggest applause of all.

The last stage to Hope Vale didn’t have any affect on the GC. After a 60km break consisting of Chris Hellman from Australia, Belgian Roeland Suys and Austrian Martin Wisata, the road riders gave a demonstration of tactics and speed. The Austrians and the Darrell Lea guys fought it out, but in the end Boelen won. His mentor Brentjens must be proud.

“Bart and I are as strong [as each other],” said Boelen. “We would have started here together and observed during the first days which one of us was going to do best and then make up plans together. Now, I did it alone. It was harder, but the pleasure is even bigger now.”

The Crocodile Trophy will return to Far North Queensland in 2012 with race organiser Gerhard Schönbacher promising: “I already have ideas for the route next year…”

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