Stage 7, Maitland Downs – Maytown, 120 km, 1400m
After four years and 36 stages at the Crocodile Trophy, Mike Mulkens (BEL) achieved his goal and won his first stage today. In temperatures reaching more than 45 degrees at Maytown, Cory Wallace (CAN) came in close second and Josef Benetseder (AUT) claimed third.
With two stages to go, the overall classifications of both men and women’s elite are still unchallenged with the leads held by the Czech Ivan Rybarik and the Australian Kate Major, respectively.
Happy, emotional, excited, content – these and many more emotions were written across Mike Mulkens’ face when he jumped off his bike at Maytown with his arms shooting into the air in victory. Racing at the Crocodile Trophy for the fourth time, it had been the Belgian amateur cyclist’s goal and dream to win a stage.
“Today, everything was perfect for me. Good legs, an early attack that worked, awesome riding mates that raced really well and for the first time in a Crocodile Trophy stage I kept telling myself to stay calm and patient and it worked. I can’t believe it – I’m so happy!” said a beaming Mulkens at the finish.
His 2012 race had started with bad luck with Mike suffering flat tires, a broken seat and fatigue on the technical and hot mountain bike stages. However, despite the extreme temperatures today he prevailed.
The morning had started pleasantly cool at less than 15 degrees overnight and Mike Mulkens had attacked right away. Fellow Belgians Michiel Van Aelbroeck and Christof Marien as well as Cory Wallace decided to go as well and with three more Austrians – Benetseder, Hrinkow and Konrad – they formed the breakaway group.
In the meantime the peloton kept riding at a steady pace and most leaders’ jerseys were in it. It had taken them a long time to increase the gap to two minutes said Mike Mulkens after a refreshing swim in the nearby billabong.
Marien fell back to the peloton on the steep climbs of the wide gravel roads and the lead group kept increasing their pace.
Sprint finish into the Maytown Croc camp
From the second feeding station, Mulkens said, he knew he had to give it all. “On the last 30 km I really pushed hard and attacked. Cory [Wallace] stayed on my wheel and at a sandy and technical section just 5 km before the finish, we were able to leave the Austrians and Van Aelbroeck behind and then I just smashed it.”
After more than three hours of racing, he said he was looking forward to “beer, chips and a party”.
“I am really happy for Mike, he deserves this win,” said second place getter Cory Wallace. “Had it been an uphill finish, maybe I would have had an advantage. But it was slightly downhill and Mike had the better line on the finish straight and was the stronger sprinter.”
The Austrian Josef Benetseder finished in third in 3:11.24, followed by Michiel Van Aelbroeck (BEL) and Patrick Konrad (AUT).
Preserving energy for second-last stage into Laura
The plan among riders in the peloton had been to take it easy ahead of tomorrow’s rough stage into Laura and to preserve as much energy as possible, said race leader Wolfgang Krenn.
Finishing in 8th place his GC position won’t be challenged and he was satisfied with his result and excited about Mulken’s win. “We had a chat in the bunch and a good ride together. The Crocodile Trophy is a race where you really get to know your fellow riders. That’s why I’m really happy for Mike today – we rode a lot together during last year’s race and he had asked me earlier this week how a stage win felt. We all knew how much he wanted a stage win. Now he can experience it himself and he deserves it,” Krenn said.
It almost seems today’s stage has closed a chapter in the Crocodile Trophy’s race history with Mike Mulken’s emotional win. Werner van der Merwe, M1 race leader said today that he himself had a comfortable gap on his competitors, but that he won’t relax just yet.
“At such an intense and long race, anything can happen. Look at Mike Mulkens – earlier this week he had flat tires and even a broken seat and was riding right at the back of the bunch. Today he wins a stage – you do need endurance, good legs, but also a bit of luck.”
Van der Merwe added that he still couldn’t believe that he was leading the M1 classification. “I came here for the adventure. I love riding my bike, because it takes my mind off the sometimes monotonous work I do. So really, I’m on a holiday here – my parents and my wife support me on this journey and what more could I ask for?”
Strong women’s field impresses and has fun
Kate Major the successful tri- and endurance athlete is comfortably leading the general women’s classification at the 2012 Crocodile Trophy. Today she said that she felt a bit of fatigue setting in but that she was still looking forward to the last two stages. “On the rides into Laura and Cooktown I’ll see more places that I haven’t been to and I’m always up for an adventure!” she said.
Today, of the six women at the start, three started an hour before the entire Croc field. Not challenging the top three positions of Kate Major, Alice Pirard (BEL) and Tinneke Van de Voorde (BEL), they got their own gun shot-start at 7am and a head start in the cool of the morning.
While Annie van der Linde, the 55-year old Dutch rider pushed ahead, the Australian Jade Forsyth and Kirsten De Keyser (BEL) rode together all the way to the finish. “I was happy about the early start because it meant that after some time the top riders started to overtake us and it was so exciting to see at what high speeds they race”, said Kirsten.
“They were so encouraging, saying ‘Come on you’re doing great’ and some even slapped my bum and pushed me along a bit – but I didn’t mind, it was actually really motivating and you feel part of the race.”
It had been nice to talk about “girl stuff”, she said. “You know, about sore bums and what else hurts by now, but also about our personal life and we really got to know each other.”
Kirsten said that on most of the previous days she had been riding at the back of the bunches and would probably get the “wooden spoon trophy” in the end, but that she also experienced some fun moments.
“The depot crew is always good value – the other day, as they had packed up and started overtaking me towards the finish, they actually drove level with me and a girl opened the window presenting me with a plate full of extra muesli bars and fruit. And at the depots they treat me like a queen, filling my water bottles, massaging my legs or waving paper at me for a breeze,” she said with a big smile.
Jade Forsyth from Australia agreed that it had been fun to share a day out at the Crocodile Trophy with a fellow female rider. “We talked about life and our hobbies and it was awesome to see the fast boys go past and to be able to cheer them on,” said the insurance broker.
Of the remaining two stages she added that tomorrow’s stage into Laura she expected a lot of rough and rocky sections, but as a passionate mountain biker she felt confident. “The last day is going to be really long. Straight main roads and a head wind at the end, but I hope, maybe we’ll find some gentlemen who will ride with us and give us some rest in their slipstream for the final kilometres of this race.”
Riding towards civilisation again, the riders will arrive at Laura tomorrow after 87 km and 1300 m of elevation.