Croc Trophy - touted as one of the hardest stage races in the world, and into it’s 20th year I thought it time to give Croc a visit.
The basic outline of the event is an XC race, followed up with 7 XCM’s and then a TT to finish off … sounds reasonable.
This year Croc was categorised into the top level of UCI endorsed stage races, so with UCI points on offer a solid elite field, with multiple National XCM champs, was in attendance.
The field was strong through into the various amateur age divisions - with multiple ex-pros, and multiple grand tour riders.
We asked Max Lelli - a 30 grand tour vet whether Croc was harder then the Tour de France - his broken English response was that the Tour was for pussy (cats) in comparison. Good to know he was hurting too!
The race started with around 100 riders - of which 30 odd were Australian. About 85 riders would finish.
For me, I was racing in the A2 - Amateur 30-40 yr old category. You had to have a UCI license to race with the big-boys in the Elite category.
Day 1 - XC in Smithfield
2nd in cat / 33km / 900 vert / 30C+
The first stage was an XC race around the Smithfield tracks - just outside of Cairns.
The trails here are pretty awesome - well made singletrack through tight trees, lots of roots and rocky gully crossings.
The start was a fast ride up a fire road. It was not quite long enough to sort everyone out, so it was quite a mess entering the first single track.
Lots of roadies had smashed the fire road but now bounced off every tree in the singletrack. I had to ask one guy if he had ever ridden a MTB before - he did not speak any English but hopefully he understood my sledge but the associated arm waving ...
After wading through the traffic and remembering why I don't race XC, I was about 4km from the finish and got lazy in a rocky gully crossing and punctured through the tread. I rode the rim to the finish - Enve's have no problems with this.
|Day 1 - Smithfield|
Day 2 - Carins to Lake Tinaroo
1st in cat / 97km / 2200 vert m / Best amateur jersey
The 2nd stage started with a nice neutral roll out from Cairns and up to the start of a mountain road.
Right from the gun, the pace was crazy heading up into the twisty mountains. I managed to grovel onto the lead group and did some massive numbers (for me) - over 375w for 20 min and 410 for 10 min! Meanwhile Ivan Rybarik at 87kg was driving it off the front - do the maths!
Once we passed the Dam wall we went into crazy steep vertical track. The little 34T chain ring was struggling big time. This turned into more steep loose rocky climbs until finally fully ascending the mountain range.
The descent off the backside of the mountain was again steep and super lose.
My patched up tire lost some air so I had to stop and gas it - thankfully it held and I was joined by Guido Thaler (Best Austrian / Elite from Imst). We drove it hard across the flats - obviously Imst does not have many flats - as Guido would kill me on each climb and he could not pull a turn on the flats!
The day finished with a long and solid climb and fast run down into Lake Tinaroo.
They said there was no crocs in this lake, but a bit of Googling indicated otherwise ...
|Day 2 - Lake Tinaroo|
Day 3 - Lake Tinaroo to Atherton
1st in cat / 72km / 2200 vert m / Best amateur jersey
Day 3 was a lazy neutral 20km from Lake Tinaroo to Atherton MTB park.
This MTB park is relatively new and professionally built.
The first few km was tight, twisty and loose Australian single track. This lead into the first climb - switch backs, lots of rocks and minor obstacles.
Then it was into tight bermed chutes to quickly lose all the vert gained. Would be pretty cool on a 26” bike!
Into stairway to heaven climb - a never ending switch back climb - which by the top was an amazing view back over the ranges. You could almost feel that you would fall off the mountain.
Over the back with a little descent and a final climb through some semi-rainforest terrain.
The descent was fast, rocky and steep. The wrists were totally hammered by the bottom and legs spent. Repeat for 3 laps!
I was pretty glad for the RockTape on the wrists - my body was pretty smashed from 3 laps of this course.
Check out all those switchbacks on the map ... makes Stromlo look like a straight line.
|Day 3 - Atherton MTB park|
Day 4 - Atherton to Atherton
2nd in cat / 71km / 2400 vert m / Best amateur jersey
Waking up to day 4 I must say my legs were feeling pretty fried. I was pretty sore from the previous day of rough singletrack.
What better way to start the day then with a fricken big climb at full gas ...
By now my A2 competition was starting to show ... Tiago Silva from Portugal had got within a few minutes of me yesterday and today was ready to make back some time.
Heading up the climb I was with Ondrej Slezak and Tiago and it was all on.
We came across a wild bull who looked pretty pissed. Turns out that 30 secs before us, the bull had charged the lead group of riders - sending eventual race winner Greg Saw into a stinging tree!
I took the descent down to the first feed pretty easy, which was a mistake as there was a highway crossing shortly after - and I got separated from the group.
Racing back to get back on, we were heading up a steep sandy climb and I noticed that my crank had come lose and was just about to fall off. In the middle of no-where and no 10mm allen key I had to improvise from my finger and by sacrificing a bit of skin I was able to get it good enough to get me going again.
The next 15km was just an adventure of steep sandy descents and sandy turns. The euro's would later say it reminded them of riding in snow.
My bad day continued when I reached a road with race signage from a previous race. Like many others that day I took it. You can see the little loop on the map middle of the screen. The UCI commissaire would later deny our appeal because the offending sign was yellow and not white.
The ride continued through some interesting rollers that felt very much like Husky 100 and into some crazy dense jungle moto ruts. Some of these were 6 feet deep!
Back over the climb from the morning meant a wicked descent to the finish.
Between my crank and wrong turn I managed to lose 5 minutes to Diago ... bugger.
|Day 4 - Atherton loop|
Day 5 - Atherton to Irvinebank
2nd in cat / 65km / 1700 vert m / Best amateur jersey
Day 5 and I thought I had better make up for my 5 minute loss yesterday. We hit the same climb as the previous day but this time went around the other side of the mountain.
This side had a few more rollers and some near vertically steep descents and hike-a-bike. The triple down arrow did not do some of these justice!
After the first 15km I'd lost sight of Diago and was feeling good.
However, this quickly changed when going through a rocky creek bed I managed to slash a sidewall .... nooooooooo. Frustratingly I watched as Diago and Max Lelli rolled by. With a big dirt road segment coming up I knew that Max would be in his element and could give Diago a good tow.
After dealing with the flat I raced through the feed and luckily our support crew was there and I was able to restock on tubes and co2. I quickly caught back a few groups and drew out one of the solid German? elite riders.
We worked together across the open dirt roads and into the climbs.
The day was meant to be 91km with a large climb at the end, but we got word that the stage might be shortened. Since I was not paying attention I had no idea what was going on, and when the race director drove by and said 7km to go I assumed he meant to the next feed.
The stage was shortened due to some unscheduled bridge work, and so it was a short day into Irvinebank.
Another 5 minutes lost to Diago ... dammit!
Irvinebank - population of 40 and Google does not even have it on their map! $6 to visit their museum which is a bargain, since it's usually $10 but on special for Croc racers.
|Day 5 - Atherton to Irvinebank|
Day 6 - Irvinebank loop
2nd in Cat / 100km / 1900 vert m / Best amateur jersey
Day 6 - starting to get tired now ...
Thinking back to this stage and most of it is a blur ...
The day started out with a climb back out of Irvinebank - a lose rocky road. I pushed hard to get away from Diago and formed a group with Ondrej and Guido. Despite rotating through a larger group with Diago, Max and others caught us up.
A few attacks later and still no joy in getting away.
The open dirt roads soon gave way to the "fun" section for today. A long stretch of outback singletrack. Dry, dusty, unpredictable. Lots of dry creek crossings, little gullies, ruts that could swallow a car, mars rock descents ...
Our group started to dwindle and heading into the final feed there was Max, Guido, myself and the German from yesterday. Sweet - just 30km of climb to the finish.
Max hit the front with one of his 500w efforts. We all struggle to hang on. After a few more of these Guido and I opted to say good-bye and continued on our own.
In hindsight this was a mistake, as with under 5km to go we looked back to see Diago getting a tow from #3 - Jiri Krivanek - and driving it really hard.
Getting rolled in the last 2km was pretty tough and this stage goes down as one of my toughest days on the bike. Hot, dry and not getting a much needed win definitely hurt.
|Day 6 - Irvinebank loop|
Day 7 - Irvinebank to Skybury Coffee
2nd in Cat / 130km / 1100 vert m / Best amateur jersey / Best aussie jersey
I was a bit worried heading into day 7. A long but relatively flat stage. Today was a day where you could lose big time if you got dropped from the bunch.
The day was basically broken into a few segments. The first more of the rough and dry outback singletrack, similar to the day before. Then there was a long road (tarmac & dirt) section, another outback singletrack segment and more corrugated dirt roads to finish.
Hitting the first round of singletrack the pace was intense. Everyone was trying to get a gap and rocks, sticks and dirt were flying.
Interestingly, once we hit the tarmac at the end it all came back together. Two riders were off the front but were quickly reeled in.
It was then roadie tactic games and for me watching Diago.
The road group made up mostly of the elite riders came apart once we hit a long river crossing. About a 400 meter stretch of sand and a knee deep 50m stretch of water.
Luckily in my group was still Ondrej and Diago. Sitting in on Diago for the rest of the day I was more then happy for him to take the stage win, and stoked just not to lose any more time.
An added bonus to the day was having some real food and drink at the Skybury Coffee plantation!
With Ondrej flatting again on this stage I moved into the best aussie slot!
|Day 7 - Irvinebank to Skybury Coffee|
Day 8 - Skybury to Wetherby Station
1st in Cat / 98 km / 1300 vert m / Best amateur jersey / Best aussie jersey
Day 8 was just going to be about not losing any more time to Diago. I had a 10 minute buffer but did not want to risk having to use any of that. So right from the gun I was just glued to Diago's wheel.
The stage had a mixture of everything - road, dirt, outback singletrack, sand, creek crossings, grass, rainforest and even bush fires. Yup - riding past flames 6 feet high just a few meters away. Apparently it was all ok because the wind was blowing away from us ...
The altitude graph shows just how many little rollers there were on this day. It was quite a taxing day in the saddle.
Heading into the last corner it was Diago and Max, and I got the inside line and took the sprint finish. yay!!!
|Day 8 - Skybury to Wetherby Station|
Day 9 - Wetherby Station to Port Douglas
1st in Cat / 30km / 350 vert m / Best amateur jersey / Best aussie jersey / 9th Overall
Day 9 - woohoo! Just a short 30km TT - how hard can that be?
The setup for the day was a reverse start in 1 min intervals, and 2 min intervals for the top 10.
So at 9th in GC I was not up until 11:15am - so, by then it was hot and windy. With a 2 minute gap between riders I was unlikely to see anyone else on this segment.
The altitude graph does not do the rollers justice for the first 10km of the ride. These hurt! And with big head winds I felt like I was going backwards.
The descent down the "bump track" was fun - steep and rocky. I took it pretty easy as I was paranoid about flatting on this last day.
Through some random back streets and bike paths of Port Douglas it was soon onto the sand for the final 4km. 4km is a long way when you can see the finish the whole time!
|Day 9 - Wetherby Station to Port Douglas|
Wow - what a race and experience!
Would I do it again - definitely.
Firstly, a huge thanks to our support crew of MaryAnne and Monica - this race definitely needs as much help as you can get, and you guys really made a difference.
A big thanks to my Croc Team of Jason Chalker and Dan McNamara. If Chalks had not flatted 7 times it would have won the A3 category. At least we still got 2nd in the teams classification!
A big thanks to our Croc Team sponsors who helped us get to the race - Vie13, Hedley Group and Anytime Fitness QBN.
A big thanks to my usual sponsors - Cannondale, Sugoi, SRAM, Magellan, FE Sports, Stages, The Cyclery. Diago also rides a Cannondale and for many days we had 'Dales as 1, 2 and 3 on the A2 podium! Diago's wife also ride a Cannondale and she took out the amateur women's win. Go the lefty!
Finally, a big thanks to Robyn and Indi for letting me out for few weeks!
Some stats to finish with;
- ~ 10 x gels / day
- ~ 4 x electrolyte bottles / day
- 6 x co2
- 3 x XX1 chains
- 4 x tires
- 2 x bb bearings
- grip shifter rubber worn away - it's almost smooth now
- 28hr : 55min ride time
- countless bowls of pasta
|Chalks & Andy haul|
|Lead amateur jersey|
|Wheel sucking (again)|
|My "this really hurts" face|