The Crocodile Trophy camp applauded two new faces on the elite male and female podiums after stage 5. Wolfgang Krenn from Austria won ahead of Ivan Rybarik and Ondrej Fojtik in a thrilling finish sprint into the Mt Mulligan. The Belgian mountain bike marathon racer Alice Pirard finished as the fastest woman of the day.
“The track to Mutchilba is very rough.” That was the first sentence of today’s rider briefing. During the last rain season the direct road between Irvinebank and Mutchilba had been heavily damaged and some sections have been impassable for vehicles ever since. So this morning the Croc riders were sent off into the wilderness with a leading quad bike that accompanied them throughout the first part of today’s stage. A large crowd of supporters, a police escort and the official lead and media vehicles awaited them at Mutchilba and from then on the mid-section of the stage meant a few kilometres to recover on wide open roads.
“It was business as usual this morning,” said stage winner Wolfgang Krenn at the finish at Mt Mulligan. “Ivan Rybarik attacked right away and I knew I had to stay with him. Soon he saw that I was able to keep up and when three more riders caught up to us on the open roads, we all worked together really well.”
It had been Ondrej Fojtik (CZE), Cory Wallace (CAN) and yesterday’s second place getter, Michiel Van Aelbroeck who then entered the last 25 km rolling hill section with them, forming the break away group which achieved a significant lead on the chasers.
Krenn claims win on finish straight
Before, Ivan Rybarik and Ondrej Fojtik had tried to push away on the rough road through Pinnacle Station, but both admitted that at the last 50m sprint towards the Crocodile Trophy finish arch, Krenn was the stronger rider and deserved the stage win.
Michiel van Albroeck from Belgium displayed again a solid performance today, riding and pulling his weight in the lead group. He said that he was a bit disappointed that he couldn’t finish in first today. “When you’re in such a small lead group, each rider has the chance to take out the win. The Czech riders were very strong today and they certainly don’t hand out any presents. But I’m happy with my second and fourth place for now and there’s still four days to go”, he said.
Cory Wallace finished fifth and said that he was really enjoying the technical sections. “In the beginning, I was actually in the lead for a while – I loved those technical descents, I’m good at that. But Ivan soon got me, attacked and then Wolfgang went as well. It was good that I could catch them again with the other two riders.”
The Canadian is an experienced stage racer and said that he didn’t mind coming to the Crocodile Trophy by himself. “You have enough time in the afternoon to relax, recover and look after yourself. However, out on track a team mate would come in real handy.”
And of the race tactics he said with a cheeky grin, “The guys were talking in German and Czech today and I had no idea what they were up to – but hey, I held on.”
Alice Pirard gets first boomerang for the family
The Belgian cross-country amateur champion Alice Pirard was the fastest female rider across the finish line today. The girlfriend of Michiel Van Aelbroeck was welcomed at the finish line by their family who are travelling with the sporty couple to support them at the Crocodile Trophy.
“I am just so happy to win the boomerang and not only because I got one before Michiel did,” said the 24-year old at the finish. Of her race she said that she really won the stage on the last 50 km and had a bit of luck also, being able to ride with a strong peloton.
That included her fellow Belgians Mike Mulkens and Christof Marien and the Austrian Dominick Hrinkow. The trio had tried a break right at the start, but were struck with flat tires one by one and overtaken by the Krenn-Rybarik train.
“I was able to get some rest from the headwind in between stints at the front and was able to overtake Kate Major because I still had enough water and didn’t have to stop at the last depot. But tomorrow I think my legs are going to be heavy.”
The plan for the rest of the week was to hang on to second place overall in the female classification and to enjoy the time in Australia with her family.
Behind the scenes in the Croc supporter camp
As Alice Pirard came across the finish, Charlotte van Aelbroeck and her parents were cheering the loudest today at the finish line.
“We try to see them at least once a day out on the track at a feeding zone to encourage them and cheer them on”, said Aelbroeck team chef Charlotte.
“I’m responsible for driving the car and it’s great because we can see so much of this beautiful country while travelling from one stage camp to the next.
“We’ve arrived a week before the event and plan a holiday after the event, but to see Alice and Michiel in action and all those other riders, who give everything every day, is really special. And they really appreciate it when you clap and cheer!”
The Crocodile Trophy is a massive logistical undertaking with 11 trucks and 15 4WD cars transporting staff, luggage and supplies.
While 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, physiotherapists and two doctors, a paramedic, four media crew, quad riders and most importantly twelve kitchen staff headed up by the cook, Thorsten. “We go through about 60 kg of raw pasta, 20 litres of milk and 25 dozen eggs every day”, said the busy head chef.
Hana Kosikova, mother of eight
One of the busiest supporters is Hana Kosikova, partner of Ondrej Slezak, cook, massage therapist, motivator and angel of the Rubena Rocky Trail racing teams. Eight riders race under her wings, including Ivan Rybaric, the current race leader.
Hana said that after five days, she and her two helpers who look after all the equipment and help with building up the team’s camp every day,were really exhausted.
“I get up at 5.15am, make the boys their breakfast so that they have a lot of energy for their race. They asked me to come and cook for them, because I know how to prepare their favourite foods. Then I pack up all the stuff and go to the next stop, cook lunch, massage them, clean the dishes, cook dinner, go to sleep and wake up again at 5.15am.”, says the massage therapist, who lives in Sydney with Slezak.
“I know Ondrej and Michal, who is my brother in law, really well. Ivan has been my friend for years, so I can see in their faces what they need and every day I get to know the other team riders from Australia and Austria better.”
About the days which sometimes get long she added, “You get tired, but I love it, because I can see that the boys are doing well and I hope that it’s also a little bit because of me.”
Tomorrow, stage six of the 18th Crocodile Trophy and will take the entire event circus from Mt Mulligan to Maitland Downs via 127km and 2600m of elevation. The race book promises “breathtaking scenery”.