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Crocodile Trophy - NE
Australia, October 17-29, 2006
Race 10 - October 26: Mt. Mulgrave - Laura, 148 km
Rucker wins Crocodile Trophy's toughest stage
Grand celebration on Austria's national day
The National flag of his home country raised above his shoulders on Austria's National Day, Elk Haus cyclist Stefan Rucker today completed one of the hardest stage wins of his career - on the end of an almost unimaginable 130 kilometre solo breakaway in the stifling heat and corrugated roads of the Australian Outback.
Approaching the outskirts of Laura, a traditional stop-over for the Crocodile Trophy in the heart of the mythical Quinkan country, an almost totally spent Rucker struggled to survive, let a lone finish, after almost choking on an insect. "I was really afraid, because I didn't know what insects are out there in Australia," Rucker said. "I could feel it in my throat, and I don't know if it bites me or stings me what might happen."
The stage win was Rucker's fourth for the Crocodile Trophy of 2006, but took a visible toll on the talented Austrian, who immediately sought the limited cover of shade as the beginnings of heat-stroke set in. "The body is tired the head is tired, but I really wanted the win today because it is Austria's national day," a totally exhausted Rucker said at stage end. "Just tried and tried to get to the finish today."
It was a day more typical of the Crocodile Trophy, after the first eight days of the race provided cool conditions in the Tropics of Australia's Far North.
The experience also left Rucker repeating a promise he made to himself twelve months ago. "I know that next year I will definitely not do the Crocodile Trophy," Rucker said. "Two times is enough now with four stage wins."
How it unfolded
It had 'suicide move' written all over it, but the final result proved everyone wrong. At first glance, Stefan Rucker's decision to go up the road ten kilometres into today's 140 kilometre stage surely reeked of careless bravado or questionable sanity, and there was no surprise when many of his fellow protagonists looked on in disbelief as the Austrian attacked so early.
The Bunch set off from Mount Mulgrave Station at 0800-hours while the morning was still cool, but as the Trophy heads North, the conditions get warmer and today was no exception. "I think everybody knew that I wanted to attack. It was really hard to open the gap because they were chasing me quite hard," Rucker said. "I thought Christophe (Stevens) would not give everything to chase me because he was going for General Classification and he had two very hard stages ahead of him.
The counter attack came from dual stage winner, Dane Michael Borup, who went off the front of the chase group at the forty kilometre mark, closely followed by GC leader Christophe Stevens. It was a move which worked very much to Stevens' advantage, given the second placed rider on GC, Hungarian Attila Marton, chose not to respond.
"When Michael went at forty kilometres, I went - I thought Attilla would close the gap," Stevens said. "I don't know, maybe he had a bad day."
As it turned out, the Hungarian wasn't having a bad day, preferring to ride within himself, and defend his second position on the GC, rather than attacking the first placed rider. "I had a good stage, I worked hard today," Marton said. "I think there's no chance to win the race, I think I will finish second. Tomorrow I will try not to lose time on the third and fourth place riders."
At the pointy end of the race, Rucker steadily built his stage lead beyond the ten minute mark - but the Austrian feared it was all about to fall apart when he hit the deeply corrugated road forty kilometres out of Laura. "The last 20 kilometres was so hard, and still with ten kilometres to go - I didn't believe I would make it to the finish," Rucker said. "I Couldn't believe that the gap didn't get smaller."
In reality, the gap was getting larger. When he reached the finish line with the Austrian flag aloft, Rucker's margin stood at close to fifteen minutes. His fourth stage win for the Crocodile Trophy (it could have been five if not for a wrong turn during stage two), surpassing the Austrians goals for the race.
Stevens in control
If anyone is able to judge the ferocity of the stage from Mount Mulgrave to Laura, it's Belgian Christophe Stevens. The three-time Croc Trophy racer, knows this stretch of outback road as well as anyone in the event and there was a feeling of incredible relief today, just to get it over with.
"It's the hardest stage, actually. Such a long stage, the last fifty or sixty is just straight as, its never ending," Stevens said. "We had the wind in the face the whole day - which didn't make it any easier."
Stevens now holds a commanding position in the general classification, with a lead of 32-mintues 40-seconds over Attila Marton and 51-min. 23-sec. over third placed Valentin Zeller. But today's effort to extend the margin came at a price.
"I'm tired, I'm dead. I need a rest, I need a shower, I need some sleep, I need some food. I'm dead, tomorrow's another day," Stevens said. "I think I've done a good thing today. Laura to Cooktown is another hard day, but not as hard as today."
While the half hour lead is not insurmountable, it will take an extraordinary event or a complete physical collapse for Stevens to lose the Crocodile Trophy. But with three stages remaining, there's still a note of caution. "Anything can happen, but it shouldn't be a problem now - even a flat tyre won't lose it anymore," Stevens said.
Trophy Heads For Cooktown
Tomorrow will mark a milestone for the Crocodile Trophy, when the race heads to Cooktown via the Battle Camp Road in the crocodile inhabited Lakefield National Park. Australian cyclist Will Bird, the first Cooktown resident ever to compete in the event, will lead the peloton out of Laura on the gut busting track to his home town.
Traditionally it's a glamour stage for the Crocodile Trophy, with the victor raising his bike aloft at the Top of one of Australia's greatest landmarks, Grassy Hill.
Many will be happy simply to make it to Cooktown. Tonight, the Crocodile Trophy race doctor is being kept busy tending to mild cases of heat-stroke among the riders, many of whom had a tough time getting used to the warmer weather.
It should all be over soon, with just three taxing stages to go, before the race ends at the aptly named Cape Tribulation on Sunday.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by John Flynn/Cyclingnews.com
Stage 10 - Outright 1 Stefan Rucker (AUT) Elk Haus 5.13.17 2 Christoph Stevens (BEL) Belgian Bike Power 14.47 3 Michael Borup (DEN) RT-Adidas-Roadbike Shop 16.26 4 Attila Marton (HUN) Meditech Sport Club - CIB Leasing 21.33 5 Struan Lamont (AUS) Team Scott Racing 6 Valentin Zeller (AUT) Dream Team 7 Frederik Dewilde (BEL) Lingier-Versluys MTB-TEAM 8 David Wood (AUS) Dream Team 9 Christophe Heinix (BEL) Passage Fitness First Oudaan 21.36 10 Ingmar Brichenfrid (AUT) Lietz-Sport Team 21.44 11 Erik Goeleven (BEL) Team MI Croc for Sofhea 40.14 12 Manuel Treven (AUT) Lietz-Sport Team 41.05 13 Darren O'Grady (AUS) Dream Team 49.25 14 Joel Geny (BEL) P. Léger Artisan Chocolatier 50.24 15 Luc Gielen (BEL) Team MI Croc for Sofhea 54.54 16 Fred/Francesco Gras/Wessels (NED) Dutch Crocodile Tandem Team 1.00.50 19 Niek Lingier (BEL) Lingier-Versluys MTB-TEAM 1.20.14 17 Erik Baeteman (BEL) Lingier-Versluys MTB-TEAM 18 Dominique Angerer (AUT) 20 Ole Egeblad (DEN) Team Descente - CSC 1.23.04 21 Ralf Peter Schnorr (SUI) Fitmanager.de 1.30.07 22 Christophe Desimpelaere (BEL) Team Descente - CSC 1.30.23 23 Günter Rafeiner (AUT) Mountainbiker.AT 1.37.28 24 Charles Blanc (FRA) 1.39.46 25 Harald Reisinger (AUT) Lietz-Sport Team 1.45.54 26 Roger Freixenet (ESP) Yorky's 1.47.52 27 Cal Burgart (USA) San Diego Cyclo-Vets 1.50.28 30 Guy Lemmens (BEL) Team MI Croc for Sofhea 2.02.59 28 Marco Bücken (SUI) Tri Team Glarnerland 29 Hansi Friedl (BRD) 31 William Bird (AUS) 2.13.40 32 Melanie Grant (AUS) 2.15.14 33 Shane Laird (CAN) NSD 2.22.46 34 Ronny Potter (BEL) SOWAT 2.26.41 35 Patrick Libert (BEL) SOWAT 36 Fulvio Villano (ITA) 2.36.35 37 Salvador Ribotipons (ESP) Matxacuca - Xaloc 2.39.34 38 Toru Watanabe (JPA) Green Life Tohoku 3.00.05 39 Heinz Zörweg (AUT) Team Zörweg 40 Rik Vincke (BEL) Lingier-Versluys MTB-TEAM 2 Stage 10 - Women 1 Dominique Angerer (AUT) 6.33.31 2 Melanie Grant (AUS) 55.00 Stage 10 - Most Aggressive rider Stefan Rucker (AUT) General Classification - Outright 1 Christoph Stevens (BEL) 36.02.54 2 Attila Marton (HUN) 32.40 3 Valentin Zeller (AUT) 51.23 4 Ingmar Brichenfrid (AUT) 58.40 5 Stefan Rucker (AUT) 1.06.07 6 David Wood (AUS) 1.25.44 7 Michael Borup (DEN) 1.33.08 8 Manuel Treven (AUT) 1.47.05 9 Struan Lamont (AUS) 2.00.57 10 Darren O'Grady (AUS) 2.54.36 11 Frederik Dewilde (BEL) 3.12.15 12 Christophe Heinix (BEL) 3.32.22 13 Erik Goeleven (BEL) 3.37.01 14 Joel Geny (BEL) 4.20.44 15 Luc Gielen (BEL) 4.43.24 16 Ralf Peter Schnorr (SUI) 6.21.46 17 Niek Lingier (BEL) 6.39.42 18 Ole Egeblad (DEN) 7.41.51 19 Guy Lemmens (BEL) 8.09.51 20 Dominique Angerer (AUT) 8.50.44 21 Marco Bücken (SUI) 9.56.27 22 Charles Blanc (FRA) 10.06.31 23 Harald Reisinger (AUT) 10.08.28 24 Hansi Friedl (BRD) 10.10.43 25 Cal Burgart (USA) 10.27.11 26 Erik Baeteman (BEL) 10.45.11 27 Günter Rafeiner (AUT) 11.08.09 28 Fred/Francesco Gras/Wessels (NED) 11.29.41 29 Christophe Desimpelaere (BEL) 11.45.44 30 William Bird (AUS) 12.22.36 31 Roger Freixenet (ESP) 12.33.38 32 Shane Laird (CAN) 13.46.53 33 Patrick Libert (BEL) 14.31.39 34 Ronny Potter (BEL) 14.57.43 35 Fulvio Villano (ITA) 15.33.53 36 Melanie Grant (AUS) 15.56.22 37 Salvador Ribotipons (ESP) 17.15.17 38 Toru Watanabe (JPA) 17.51.15 39 Rik Vincke (BEL) 40 Heinz Zörweg (AUT) General Classification - Women 1 Dominique Angerer (AUT) 44.53.38 2 Melanie Grant (AUD) 7.05.38