Stage 8, Maytown – Laura, 87 km, 1300m
Ivan Rybarik was the fastest Crocodile Trophy racer across the finish line at Laura on Saturday after an impressive ride and solo finish. Rybarik secured his lead by more than five minutes over second in the elite GC, fellow Czech rider Ondrej Fojtik. Fojtik finished third today, only seconds behind Mike Mulkens (BEL).
The first 54 km to the Little Laura River crossing were deemed too rough for 4WD cars so the race quad crew was again leading and following the riders. The course followed an old gold mining trail that had been built in 1873 during the gold rush era in the Palmer river region.
Friday’s stage winner Mike Mulkens (BEL) attacked right away but was soon caught by Ivan Rybarik who said that he didn’t want to risk anything and his goal for today was to secure his overall lead. “Today was an awesome stage, I loved those drop-offs and downhills!” an elated Rybarik said at Laura.
“I pushed really hard until the end; I put the hammer down all the way. I kept getting really hungry after the two and three hour marks, but was lucky to have enough food with me to keep going.” He was hoping that Sunday’s final stage would be a relaxed ride towards Cooktown and that his biggest competitor Ondrej Fojtik wouldn’t attack to hard to still challenge his title.
It wasn’t such a smooth race today for Mulkens who suffered yet another flat tire at the 10km mark just as he was racing well with Rybarik. “Ivan did hesitate and stopped for a few seconds but I understand that he couldn’t wait for me. It took me ages to fix the flat and I dropped back to at least 50th position,” said the Belgian rider who managed to catch back up with the main chase group.
“On those technical downhills I risked a lot today,” said Mulkens. “My legs felt strong and I thought it’s either going to be another flat or catching the lead groups.”
In an impressive chase Mulkens settled into the chasing group with Cory Wallace (CAN), Wolfgang Krenn (AUT) and Werner van der Merwe (UK). Just before the last feed zone and with 15 km to go they were six minutes behind the leader Rybarik and his solo chaser Ondrej Fojtik on whom he had 4:30 minutes at that point.
Fojtik said later, “Today was the most beautiful stage that I’ve ever experienced at a Crocodile Trophy. It was really difficult and technical, but really awesome and it suited me perfectly. Ivan was very strong again today and at the last feed zone I decided to preserve some energy for tomorrow, backed off and the chasing group caught me.”
In the strong headwind of the open fire roads towards the finish, they worked together well and in a sprint finish, Mulkens crossed the line just seconds ahead of Fojtik, about five minutes behind the stage winner Rybarik.
“Snakes will kill you, Ivan just hurts you”
This is how the Canadian rider Cory Wallace concluded the stage. He said that in the morning his legs had felt heavy from his efforts on the previous two stages. “I still pushed hard from the start, because I wanted to keep Ondrej Slezak in my sight who has been trying to challenge my fourth position overall in the elite category.”
He added that Ivan Rybarik was racing in a class of himself and that he wished he’d had better legs in the morning. “When you stay with Ivan Rybarik, you get second,” he grinned.
“Today was a perfect track, I wish it would be like this every day. A few sections were really sandy and we tried going off into the woods, but you get sticks in your spokes and I’m scared of the snakes… so I stayed on the track and walked some of it.”
“The finish line is in Cooktown”
Like many other riders, Wolfgang Krenn hesitated to look at the current standings and predict the final results. “Today I wanted to secure the third overall place and I think I managed that well. I didn’t want to risk anything in the technical downhill sections, Ivan’s racing a crazy pace, however, anything can happen at the Croc. There’s one more long stage ahead of us.”
Werner van der Merwe agreed. “Today you really needed to be switched on – it was pure mountain biking. I did come down twice, but I still loved today, because the track was so interesting and a real mountain biker’s stage,” said the Subaru/Marathon-MTB team rider. The British M1 category leader, who would be placing fourth-fastest overall, added that he was hopeful for a successful finish at Cooktown. “It’s only over when the fat lady has sung, isn’t it? So hopefully tomorrow it’s not going to be too hot and the head wind into Cooktown won’t be as strong as promised.”
One of the unlucky fellows of the day was Ondrej Slezak who had suffered a flat tire and realised that he had forgotten his pump. Luckily, his Rubena Rocky Trail team mate Mark Griffin caught up to him: “I waited for a few minutes and Mark helped me and gave me some spare parts, however, I still lost more than 10 minutes.”
Mark’s adventure category team rider Aaron Lakeman suffered a similar fate: “Three flat tires in a row today, I can’t believe it. It was a fun track, I much preferred it to just sitting on a fire road, but it takes its toll on the equipment.”
“Today was a little bit of everything”
Kate Major, leading female at the Crocodile Trophy, enjoyed today’s technical challenges and rode carefully. “I know I have a good lead, but at the end of the day, it’s about arriving in Cooktown and finishing the race,” Kate said and added that tomorrow’s stage wasn’t just a formality. She had wanted a good tour through the Outback and enjoyed meeting so many people from so many countries around the world. “Never say never, I might do it again. For now I’ll just try to ride a good pace into Cooktown tomorrow.”