Czech duo Ivan Rybaric and Ondrej Fojtik have dominated the opening three stages of the Crocodile Trophy in Australia.
The nine-stage race is dubbed the “world’s longest, hardest and most adventurous mountain bike stage race” by its organisers.
Rybaric won the opening stage to become the first rider to wear this year’s leader’s jersey, before victory on stage two saw Fojtik wrestle the lead from his compatriot.
But Rybaric bounced back with victory on stage three to assume control of the race once again. Here’s how each stage unfolded.
The 30km opening stage took place over five laps of a six kilometre circuit in Smithfield, previously used as a venue for the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup.
Ivan Rybaric, who won two stages in the 2008 edition of the race, took the lead early on and continued to increase his advantage over the five laps, crossing the finish line after 1:31:21 hours.
Mike Mulkens, fourth overall last year, finished second, 1:48 minutes behind Rybaric, while 24-hour solo world champion Jason English came third, 2:09 minutes back.
“I knew I had to attack early and I kept pushing hard and attacking as soon as I felt them coming closer,” said Rybaric. “It’s only day one and I am happy about my win, but I want to stay on the ground. There are another long eight days to go.”
Ondrej Fojtik won stage two to take the overall lead from Ivan Rybarik, crossing the line 7:58 minutes ahead of his compatriot, who finished second on the stage. Home hope Jason English was forced to abandon the race in the closing kilometres after fracturing his collarbone.
The 92km stage from Cairns to Lake Tinaroo packed in 2,500m of climbing and Rybarik, Fojtik and Wolfgang Krenn attacked on the rough gravel roads of Dinden National Park.
“My friend Ivan Rybarik attacked straight after the dam crossing and Krenn and I stayed with him until the first depot when Ivan suffered a flat tire,” said Fojtik.
Rybarik suffered a second puncture which saw him fall further back while, up front, Fojtik and Krenn held a two minute lead over English and Cory Wallace.
Fojtik then made his move after the second feed zone, while Krenn fell back to form a three-strong chasing group with English and Wallace.
Fojtik went on to claim the stage win and move into the leader’s jersey, while Rybaric finished second, Wallace third and Krenn fourth.
Ivan Rybarik and Ondrej Fojtik continued to dominate this year’s race on stage three, finishing first and second respectively – with Rybarik stealing the leader’s jersey back from his fellow Czech rider.
“This was one of the hardest days in my life”, said Rybarik after the 111km stage from Lake Tinaroo to Irvinebank. “My plan had been to get back the leader’s jersey – but it wasn’t easy.”
Mike Mulkens and Josef Benetseder tried to break away early on the stage but Rybarik and Fojtik led a chasing group which included Dominick Hrinkow, Wolfgang Krenn and Cory Wallace to catch the duo.
Rybarik and Fojtik then injected their own burst of pace and dropped the group, with Rybarik then gaining a minute over Fojtik on the long descent after the first feed zone.
Rybarik continued to accelerate away from Fojtik and eventually crossed the line nearly ten minutes ahead of his friend.
“We are really good friends and ride together a lot back home in the Czech Republic, but this is racing after all and we need to be competitive”, said Rybarik at the finish.
“I noticed Ondrej wasn’t riding at a 100 per cent today, so I grabbed my chance and thought ‘This is it, maybe I can get the jersey back’ and I just tried it. I am happy that I could do it, but you never know, there are still six days to go.”