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Crocodile Trophy 2006

Prolog

In 2006 I took on one of the biggest challenges of my career so far, the Crocodile Trophy, the worlds hardest and longest MTB adventure. Crocodile Trophy 2006 had a total distance of more than 1400 kilometres. Before I left Denmark my ambition was to finish in the top-10 on GC, as the race progressed the legs turned out to be to a lot more than that, I won 2 stages, was 3rd in the points classification and finished 7th overall.
Crocodile Trophy was my first trip to Australia and became the adventure that I had hoped, before I left Denmark. The following is the story about the thirteen stages from Townsville to Cow Bay, a story of ups and downs, but most of all the entire story about 1400 kilometres of dusty Australian roads.

First a description of a typical day at CT ‘06.
Each stage began at 8 or 9 o’ clock every day, for me a typical day at the office then lasted between 4 and 6 hours, for others the days was somewhat longer.
Crocodile Trophy is a mobile city, consisting of 33 4WD and 2 trucks. The trucks carried the kitchen, showers, podium and the official tents. The 33 4WD was used as support-cars for the riders or had official purposes. Every day everything was packed down travelled approximately 150 k’s and then put up again.

After each stage I was met by my girlfriend, Linda, with a protein-shake, she had usually put up our camp. We quite quickly made our little "camp in the camp", so that the same people surrounded us each day. Our little corner consisted of Linda and I; the Dutch Tandem Team, Fred and Francesco, Their helpers Mark and Alex from Switzerland, Christophe Heinx from Belgium and Joel from France. Usually the race doctor Sarah and her boyfriend James also accompanied us. We spoke English so everybody understood everybody.
After having settled in the camp it was all about eating and relaxing, and bathing in the local river/lake. Dinner was served between 5 and 6 PM each day, wherefore there was award-ceremony from the stage (luckily a thing I pretty often was party of!)

After dinner the tandem helper, Mark, took care of my legs, before I went to bed at 8 PM. Sleeping is a bit different in the Outback than what I was used to, because of the Australian animals, that is not at all like anything in Denmark.
5:30 AM the local birds usually woke me up, and it was time to go on a "walkabout with the shovel". Breakfast was at 6.30 AM. Then it was time to pack down the camp, fill bottles and camel-bags, before the clock turned to 8 AM and it was time for another hot day of racing.

Stage 1: Townsville – Townsville, 15 km.
Crocodile Trophy ‘06 was started at the beach in Townsville. My nerves were pretty wrecked before the start, but as we started the legs were feeling fine and I took of with Stevens, Rucker, Zörweg, and Lingier. I made a mistake in the deep sand on the beach and got dropped with Rucker. Near the end of the second lap I managed to drop Rucker again, he however came again strongly near the end, and I had to settle with 5th spot. Up front Stevens won the race in front of a very strong looking Heinz Zörweg. Lingier just managed to hold Rucker behind and came 3rd.
I spend the evening packing and wondering about what was waiting ahead...

Stage 2: Herveys Range – Hidden Valley, 103 km.
The first real stage. The stage started with 35 k’s of paved roads after which we hit the first sections of gravelled roads. I was feeling really good, and took of with Stefan Rucker. Rucker however was going to strong for me, so I got dropped about 20 k’s later. I turned out to be rather lucky as Rucker later took a wrong turn and got lost! Stevens and Zörweg attacked from the peloton and after a few deep breaths I was sitting on their wheel. With approximately 25 k’s to the finish, I ran out off energy, I had simply been eating to little along the stage. One final energy-bar saved the day, and I managed to hold on to 4th place on the stage, thus moving me up to 3rd on GC.

Stage 3: Hidden Valley - Lake Lucy, 156 km.
156 k’s was waiting as the peloton took of From Hidden Valley. The Journalists was asking if was planning to attack. They looked a bit funny as I answered that I didn’t know, as I was about to go on my longest ride ever on a MTB...
As the stage went on I kept feeling stronger and stronger, and this time I was eating all I could all day long. Rucker took of with 40 k’s to go, and nobody wanted to chase him down. In the final 30 k’s we where only 4 guys left in the front group, Stevens, Zörweg, Zeller and me. Zeller didn’t want to work and said that he wouldn’t go for the sprint, as we came to the sprint he did so anyway. After that day I amused myself by keeping telling him, that when he didn’t work, he didn’t sprint - he didn’t find it funny!
At the sprint things got a bit tactical. I was thinking of the advice of former pro Rolf Sorensen who has always said that: "he who opens - wins". So I opened the sprint, and nobody came by - so I was second and very happy with the result. I moved up to 3rd on GC, with more than 20 minutes to 4th spot.

Stage 4: Lake Lucy – Blecoe Falls, 109 km.
A stage that was 100 k’s long. My plan was to use the day as rest day, before I was hoping to make an attack the next day. Already after 2 k’s Zörweg and Rucker attacked, I closed the gap with Stevens, and as I looked around only 15 people was left in the front group. Rucker took of once again and won with a large margin.
Not much happen until the finish where The Dream Team attacked, they didn’t do much damage until Stevens countered on one of the attacks. Suddenly the group was blown apart. I opened the sprint once again with 1000 meters to go. Nobody was able to hold my wheel, and on the Finish-line I had a lead of 16 seconds. In the camp the journalists asked me if I was planning to attack on stage 5? I was a bit ecstatic after another podium place, so I answered that I was looking forward to finally meeting so decent MTB terrain!

Stage 5: Blecoe Falls – Koombooloomba, 75 km.
The Attack that everybody was expecting from me came after 20 k’s. Zörweg and Stevens was the only ones, who could hold my wheel on the first climb, on the next climb Stevens is dropped and Zörweg and I goes on alone. Together we build up a lead of more than 4 minutes to Stevens and more than 10 minutes to the second group. With approximately 30 k’s to the finish line catastrophe happens!

On a fast descent the official TV car takes a wrong turn and misleads us for more than 20 k’s. The TV car eventually gets stuck and as we got lost shortly before the last depot, both Zörweg and I dehydrate severely in the humid rainforest.
As we finally make it back on the right track, the course has been changed where we were misled. Tired and frustrated we make it to the finish-line and can see that Stevens has won with a margin of 1 hour and 14 min to us.
After the finish things get very hectic as it turns out that the race management also have turned the wrong way where we were mislead, however they have realised their mistake in time and turned around.

At first Zörweg and I are given the same time as Stevens. Stevens protests against this, and Zörweg and I are called to a Tribal-meeting with the Race management.

Stevens says that he will pull out if we are given any time, Zörweg says the he will pull out if we aren’t given any time. My opinion is that we must seek to find a compromise, but that pulling out is not an option for me, as it would be very far from my mission about doing the race.

As the negotiations progress Zörweg leaves in protest, and not even the race management agrees with each other. In the end we are not given any time, Zörweg abandons the race in protest to the decision, and I’m left with a loss of 1 hours and 14 minutes to Stevens. During the evening there is a lot of opinions about what I should and shouldn’t do.

Escorted by Linda I decide to go to bed, to keep me from during stupid things. Alone in the tent it is a bit hard to cope with the situation, from 3rd to 9th in the GC; beaten by riders who have never overtaken me, and who I feel is a lot weaker than I am. Moreover my body is pretty smashed after dehydration, and far too much thinking...

Stage 6, Koombooloomba – Irvinbank 98 km.
Before the start my body is still smashed up after the previous stage and some really bad sleep. I decide to take it easy to recover. After 2 k’s I’m thinking Hell no! And I attack with everything I have left. Stefan Rucker comes with me, and together we cover more than 40 k’s during the next hour!
My legs are screaming on the climbs, but I refuse to give in, and in very short time we build a lead of more 10 minutes to the lead group. Near the finish Rucker shows great sportsmanship and says: "today you win!"
On the finish line I’m close to collapsing, but can look back on the biggest win in my career, however won on a very strange background.
The camera-crew that mislead us the day before, are doing an interview with me about what has happened in the last to stages, and everything simply becomes to surrealistic and we all start laughing.

Stage 7: Irvinbank - Chillagoe, 156 km.
Stevens attacked right from the start, and as we were passing the highest mountain in the race, the peloton was blown in pieces. I was the only one to hold Stevens wheel all the way to the top. My body was pretty wrecked after the long breakaway the day before. On top we decided to wait, as there was still a long way to the finish.
Stevens was going very fast, and one by one people was dropped; Rucker and I were the only ones left. Unfortunately I punctured on my back-wheel. I tried to get back to the front-group, but they all had a mutual interest in keeping me behind.
As I could see my ambitions in GC finally was gone, I decided to take it easy and focus on the TT the next, a plan that turned out to be quite succesfull.

Stage 8: Chillagoe - Chillagoe, 30 km TT
It has been a long time ago since I have done a timetrial, and actually I think that the last one I did was in 2001. I have always had a love/hate relationship to TT’s. On one side it’s very fascinating to go full throttle for one hour, but on the other side it’s the very same thing that makes TT’s so easy to hate!

I gave it 100 percent all the way, and rode one pure feeling. I could taste blood most of the way. I had O’grady as my own personal favorite, but I caught him all ready after seven km. At the turningpoint I could see that Rucker wasn’t going full speed, and after that I put the Chain to the 11’ all the way home in tailwind.

At the finish line I had trouble sitting down, but was met by Linda who said I had 1min 10 seconds lead to the second fastest rider – perfect! After some waiting time victory stage number two was a reality. Mark did some miraculous exercises with my body, and suddenly I was able to walk normally again.
I spent the rest of the day with sleeping, eating the fist burger on the trip, and consuming the many impressions of the first week.

Stage 9: Chillagoe - Mt Mulgrave Station, 120 km.
A day where I was very tired from the TT the day before; everyone was taking it easy, and after 30 k’s the tandemboys took of with two other riders. At first everyone thought it was very funny, but as no one wanted to chase them down, they kept increasing the lead. The tandem isn’t good when it is technical or uphill, but when it is flat it is fast – very fast! Fred and Francesco put every one of their wheel, and won a spectacular win on a stage that was completely flat. At the finish line they had an average of all most 33 k/h, which is very good on a stage in Crocodile Trophy. When I got to the finish line, Fred and Francesco threw me into the local river to celebrate their triumph – priceless!

Stage 10: Mt. Mulgrave Station – Laura, 148 km.
A real killer stage! An extreme corrugation, temperatures of 45 degrees and Rucker who was going incredibly fast was what was on today’s menu.
Stefan took of after 30 k’s, and was a class of his own. I was starting to feel tired, but would try one last shot at the GC. After 40 k’s I countered on Ruckers attack, also Stevens and O’Grady came with me. . Together we tried to chase down Rucker, but he kept increasing his lead all day long. With 40 k’s to go, I was starting to feel the consequences after 10 days of racing, and I couldn’t hold on to Steven’s wheel. I managed to find my own rhythm and only lost 1min and 30seconds to Stevens in the end.
I GC I only won about 5 minutes on my nearest rivals.
In the evening I was completely crashed, and had trouble with my stomach. During my massage I got severe muscle cramps, and I was beginning to worry a bit about the following stages…

Stage 11: Laura - Cooktown, 142 km.
Everyone was exhausted after stage 10. Valentin Zeller was the first victim, he was left behind and later had to abandon due to sickness and fatigue.
My stomach was completely wrecked, and I was fighting with everything I had just to keep up with the phase in the front group. After 65 k’s it was over, and I got dropped. As the stage progressed my stomach got a bit better and I ended up only loosing 20 minutes in GC. I was going my own speed all day, and at the finish I could see a completely smashed peloton arrive in small group, some in a time more than 3 hours slower than the winner.
The finish was on top of Grassy Hill, which is a 30% climb over 1,5 km. On top the view was amazing, and I managed to forget my hurting body for a few minutes. After the race the journalists asked me “if I was finally starting to feel what the race was all about?” my answer was that I was still having fun, and was planing to attack on one of the last stages.

Stage 12: Cooktown - Wujal Wujal, 106 km.
One of the most classic stages of Crocodile Trophy. It has been on the stage-plan almost as long as the race has existed. Usually the race ends at the famous CREB track, but this year it was closed, so instead we had to turn left, and end the race in Wujal Wujal. The stage was very hilly, and luckily my body was starting to feel better again.
Stevens attacked midway and unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it to the front group, I once again had to find my own speed, and I actually enjoyed the great track we were riding. Struan Lamont tried to help me a bit, saying: “jump on the train mate”. However Struans size isn’t really an advantage on the hills, so my time on the train wasn’t that long…
I finished on yet another 7th place on the stage, and also had this position in GC. I really would have liked to attack, but my legs simple wasn’t good enough to do anything.

Stage 13: Wujal Wujal - Cow Bay, 62 km.
The final stage. I had the great experience of having John Flynn from Cyclingnews.com call the stage a potential Michael Borup stage, which really brought my confidence back.
We were going slowly the first 40 k’s. We were going full throttle the last 22 km. I tried to attack a few times, but was brought back every time. In the final corner I took the wrong way around, and couldn’t do anything in the sprint.
The experience of making it to the finish was however really big. Once again I had to answer a few questions from the journalists, before I could have an XXXX gold and walk straight into the warm water of Cow Bay.
The following days was spent on some well-deserved rest. My body finally gave in after the final party and I think I slept 18 of 24 hours the next days.

Cyclingnews.com was covering the race all the way, the race-reports can be found here