Medical emergencies, raging bushfires and a full-scale search for missing riders. Australia’s Crocodile Trophy has always promised competitors an outback adventure but today, on what was defi-nitely the most dramatic day in the race’s history, drama was laid-on for the protagonists in rich helpings.
Stage three of the Croc Trophy from Granite Gorge on Australia’s Tropical Tableland to Outback Irvinebank was always destined to be eventful, but what unfolded on a stage that was eventually nullified by the race judiciary will be etched forever in the Trophy’s colourful history.
The first major incident of the day occurred at the 15 kilometre mark when women’s race leader, Monique Zeldenrust of The Netherland punctured a tyre. It was no routine puncture, with the rocky outback trails gouging a sidewall and forcing a lengthy repair.
In the process, Zeldenrust watched her race lead evaporate, or so she thought. 5 kilometres beyond the first incident, an emergency of a far more serious kind was unfolding. Again it was a Dutch mountainbiker, Willemjan Hopstaken, who was in trouble. Hopstaken crashed heavily and immediately began suffering seizures.
Fortune was on his side, with two members of Australia’s ‘Jungle Patrol Wilderness Medicine’ team riding close behind. Doctor Andrew Graham and nurse Sharman Parr (the oldest woman in the race) abandoned their personal race ambitions and worked frantically to stabilise the Dutchman’s condition.
The on-site treatment prevented a potentially life threatening situation. Hopstaken was later handed over to the race doctor and transported to hospital for scans after sustaining a severe concussion.
A further five kilometres down the trail, the next major drama for the day was already taking shape. The Crocodile Trophy’s ‘Heads of State’ an elite group of eleven cyclists fighting it out for the General Classification missed a clearly marked farm gate and ventured off-course, into the in-hospitable wilderness of the Australian Outback.
The ‘Dimbulah Eleven’ as they were later dubbed contained a who’s who of the 2009 Crocodile Trophy. World and Olympic Champion Bart Brentjens, four-time Race Across America winner Jure Robic and race leader Urs Huber were all present when the group became hopelessly lost.
Willemjan Hopstaken is treated by Sharman Parr and Dr Andrew Graham
“It was really like an adventure, we lost the route, we missed an arrow and after that we lost our orientation as well,” Brentjens said.
On a day when all hope could have been lost for the contenders in the Crocodile Trophy’s general classifica-tion, a remarkable stroke of fortune laid-on by mother nature’s fury saved their race hopes.
With a search underway at one end of the course, 30 kilometres away another drama was just beginning as a bushfire whipped up by strong winds raced across the race route near Dimbulah.
Police and rural fire service volunteers exercised emer-gency powers and intervened to shut down the race, effectively bringing stage three to a premature end.
The race judiciary later decided to nullify the stage, meaning the results after stage two will be car-ried into tomorrow’s fourth stage.