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Crocodile Trophy - NE
Australia, October 17-29, 2006
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Race 2 - October 18: Herveys Range - Hidden Valley, 120 km
Show of sportsmanship as Austria's Zörweg and Hungary's Marton Share honours
By John Michael Flynn
Rucker "Heads up a dry gully"
In the Australian vernacular it's referred to as "Heading Up a dry Gully". Austrian Stefan Rucker today learned the meaning of the Aussie bush colloquialism the hardest way possible - when he surrendered both certain stage honours and a very likely shot at the Crocodile Trophy's General Classification after taking a wrong turn thirty kilometres from the finish.
Rucker was clearly the most attacking rider during today's 103 kilometre stage from Hervey's Range to Hidden Valley - the first serious Outback stage in the Crocodile Trophy of 2006. But the victory wasn't to be for the normally lighthearted Austrian, who had established a two minute lead on the road - in the process cracking several of the highly rated Crocodile Trophy contenders, most notably Belgium's Christophe Stevens. In the end though, it was all worth nothing as Rucker missed a right turn sign in the hills approaching the aptly named Hidden Valley.
"I really have no idea, I went the wrong way - no idea why," Rucker said. "After about 8 kms I realized I was the wrong way, then had some problems with my bike, and with a farmer, [so I] just tried to come to the finish."
Despondent, after kissing goodbye any hope of emulating former Elk Haus team-mate Adam Hansen (two time Crocodile Trophy winner), Rucker could be excused for not being his normal cheery self when he eventually crossed the finish line - more than half an hour behind on provisional time.
"I was quite sure that I would win because I really felt good and I heard that they were chasing quite hard, from what I saw the gap was still opening," Rucker said. "I still had a lot of power. The good thing is I could save a lot of energy during the last thirty kms - now I can go for a stage win."
Rucker's demise proved a stroke off good fortune for his countryman Heinz Zörweg - the ever consistent mountain man, whose power helped split the race apart today.
In a show of true sportsmanship, Zorweg acknowledged the efforts of Hungarian Attila Marton, with whom he shared the stage victory. The pair crossed the line together, arms raised, after sharing the work out on the muddy bush roads of Australia's far north.
"We both worked really hard together, I just wanted to show friendship across the finish line," Zorweg said. "The race was close, one group, then I started attacking and (Christophe) Stevens followed, then Stefan Rucker went. In the end I felt really strong, but it was much harder than last year because of the wet ground."
Tuesday's prologue winner, Christophe Stevens, felt the strain more than most. Confirming his worst fears after a moderate pre-race training programme, the Belgian hit the wall approaching the final pinch climbs into Hidden Valley, answering the questions he had raised over his own form.
"A few questions that I already knew the answers for," Stevens admitted post-stage. "I just went good for as long as I'd trained. With one of the climbs I thought I maybe would have got over the top, but then I would have completely exploded. I'll still need a few more days before I get some power in my muscles. I hope it dries up a bit."
Behind Stevens in fourth place was Dane Michael Borup, who impressed today, and could be riding himself into form for the crucial stages ahead. But the world class marathon mountain biker also fears his long season of racing may yet take a toll.
"Yeah I'm satisfied, it was my first real stage in the Crocodile Trophy," Borup said. "I expected it to be dry and dusty, it wasn't as hard as I expected but the mud was very soft."
Two Australians, Cairns mountain bikers Dave Wood (Felt-Shimano Dream Team) and Struan Lamont (Team Scott), also finished high up the standings in fifth and sixth place respectively.
Lamont, proving to be one of the surprise packets of the Trophy so far. "Amazing, my best finish so far, it way to fast in the start of the race," Lamont said. "Towards the end I just hoped I wouldn't get caught by the other riders."
Lamont's good friend Woods, an outstanding technical rider, could be an outside contender in the race if he can hold on over the longer dirt road stages, before the race heads towards the daring descents of the Powerline Track to the Atherton Tableland. "There's no reason why not. I died in the last five kilometres today and no-one would give me water," Wood said. "I can't see why we can't contend - we know these tracks and know what might be ahead."
Ahead tomorrow is a frightening 156 kilometre dirt road stage from Hidden Valley to Lamond's Lagoon, where the Croc Trophy will reach what in Australian terms you might call the 'fair dinkum' outback.
FELT - Shimano Dream Team diary
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Images by John Flynn
Top 15 1 Heinz Zorweg (Aut) 3.23.44 2 Attila Marton (Hun) 3 Christophe Stevens (Bel) 8.90 4 Michael Borup (Den) 10.67 5 David Wood (Aus) 10.92 6 Struan Lamont (Aus) 11.70 7 Christophe Heinix (Bel) 15.59 8 Valentin Zeller (Aut) 15.84 9 Ole Egeblad (Dem) 15.91 10 Niek Lingier (Bel) 20.93 11 Manuel Treven (Aut) 3.56 12 Luc Gielen (Bel) 13.91 13 Erik Goeleven (Bel) 26.64 14 Marco Bucken (Sui) 27.12 15 Girts Muzis (Lat) 27.91