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Crocodile Trophy - NE
Australia, October 17-29, 2006
Race 7 - October 23: Irvinebank - Chillagoe, 156 km
Austria's Rucker Scores Third Stage Win - Stevens Well on The Road to Overall Victory
By John Michael Flynn at Chillagoe, Far North Queensland
An angry Christophe Stevens today silenced his critics in emphatic fashion as he took firm control in the battle for the Crocodile Trophy's General Classification - extending his overall lead to almost 28 minutes after finishing second to Austrian Stefan Rucker in the nightmarish stage from Irvinebank to Chillagoe in Outback Far North Queensland.
Inspired by comments overnight from the Directeur Sportif of the rival Felt-Shimano Dream Team, who questioned his staying ability, Stevens attacked from the gun on the nightmarish 156 kilometre stage, perhaps the toughest yet in the 2006 event.
"I think I'll shut up a few people now, I know more about cycling than all the people together here, I know how to ride," Stevens said.
"To be honest I was a bit sick of the comments since the Koombooloomba stage that if this would happen or that would happen I would have won the Croc trophy or he would have won the Croc Trophy and there were a few people talking too loud the last couple of days, I think I showed them today," Stevens said.
"I was a bit pissed at the start and I just started going on every climb, I just dropped everyone every time."
Today's stage began with a punishing eight kilometre ascent on a sketchy, stony mountain road, which quickly showed up the technical skills of many wanna-be contenders.
Stevens, who has shown his ability time and again on loose gravel and sand, appeared to glide over the terrain almost effortlessly - but in truth the Belgian was giving it everything, with a view to securing his grip on the Crocodile Trophy's G.C.
Few riders could go with him on the steep gravel climb, with only Denmark's Michael Borup and Austria's Stefan Rucker surviving the first attack. Several more were to follow as Stevens burnt off his rivals one by one.
"Stevens was going really fast up the first climb, me and Stefan Rucker were the only guys that were able to follow him," Dane Michael Borup said at stage end.
Most notable of those to go out the back door early were the three members of the Felt-Shimano Dream Team, with David Wood and Darren O'Grady clearly struggling up the first climb. Dream Team's Valentine Zeller held on for longer, but was also off the pace of the lead group.
After passing through the town of Mount Garnett, phase two of today's stage took riders along an old disused railway cutting, where Stevens stamped his authority. The beat-up road peppered with rocky washouts and constant sandy patches provided the perfect opportunity for the Belgian to assert his technical superiority.
"Christophe was flying through the sandy stuff," eventual stage winner Stefan Rucker said. "I couldn't stay with him."
Neither could Michael Borup. The Dane, who won yesterday's stage, eventually ran out of legs after surviving the early attacks. "In the sandy section Stevens was going really fast and really strong basically putting everyone off the wheel, Stefan was the only guy that could really follow him," Borup said. "I got dropped maybe 80km into the stage and then I punctured, after that I took it really easy going into the finish."
The road home was far from easy for Rucker and Stevens. The strong Austrian eventually withered down the lead established by the Belgian on the final stretch into Chillagoe, and from there it was a case of mutual interests. With Rucker chasing the stage victory and Stevens desperate for every possible second of advantage on G.C., the two decided to work together till the finish - the victory going to Rucker, with Stevens content to increase the margin on G.C. "I feel like a different rider from the one who raced Crocodile Trophy last year," an ecstatic Rucker said after claiming his third stage win for the 2006 event. "That's the best I have ridden through the sand and the technical sections."
As for Stevens, his lead on G.C. is now well cemented at 27.41, with Hungarian Attila Marton, who finished solidly today, in second and the Dream Team's Valentin Zeller the next best placed at 42.35 off the pace. With five stages remaining, it cannot be classed as a 'winning' lead. "No I haven't (won yet), anything can happen," Stevens said. "I can get sick, my frame can break, but I'm very confident."
The Belgian plans to take a rest day tomorrow, and just as he did last year, will take it easy in the morning's time trial at Chillagoe. It could mean sacrificing a couple of minutes of lead for a greater objective with several hard stages ahead.
Heroic Ride From Lingier
In one of those classic "Crocodile Trophy Moments" Belgian Niek Lingier today wrote his own chapter of the race's history. Involved in a dramatic crash on the descent from the first mountain of the day, Lingier appeared gone for the race, with rescue authorities on standby to airlift him to hospital with a suspected broken femur. By all reports, the former Belgian national downhill champion was trying to ace the descent in an impromptu match race with the Dream Team's David Wood when he came horribly unstuck.
"We'd crested over one of the highest points of the course and just heading down the other side, he overtook me on the outside of the corner," Wood said. I sort of backed off so that he could have the inside line but he didn't quite get around the corner, and he ended up in the side of the table drain and went flying over the handlebars and somersaulted over the rocks about five times, it looked ugly."
The Crocodile Trophy race media team provided first aid to Lingier on-site before awaiting the race doctor Sarah Kehoe, who confirmed a severe muscle tissue injury (corked thigh) but no break. After icing the thigh, Lingier eventually decided to race on. After eight and a half hours, the brave Belgian finally reached the finish line, with support from one of his team-mates.
"Was the most painful ride of my life, eight and a half hours on the road, and I'm so glad I had my team-mate," Lingier said. "I wanted to keep going, to tell everyone back home that I finished the Crocodile."
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by John Flynn/Cyclingnews.com
Men 1 Stefan Rucker (Aut) Elk Haus 5.21.25 (29.12 km/h) 2 Christoph Stevens (Bel) Belgian Bike Power 3 Attila Marton (Hun) Meditech Sport Club - CIB Leasing 3.35 4 Ingmar Brichenfrid (Aut) Lietz-Sport Team 13.32 5 Valentin Zeller (Aut) Dream Team 6 Manuel Treven (Aut) Lietz-Sport Team 7 Michael Borup (Den) RT-Adidas-Roadbike Shop 28.06 8 Darren O'Grady (Aus) Dream Team 34.39 9 Struan Lamont (Aus) Team Scott Racing 10 David Wood (Aus) Dream Team 11 Erik Goeleven (Bel) Team MI Croc for Sofhea 51.28 12 Joel Geny (Bel) P. Léger Artisan Chocolatier 13 Frederik Dewilde (Bel) Lingier-Versluys MTB-TEAM 59.51 14 Ralf Peter Schnorr (Swi) Fitmanager.de 1.00.52 15 Luc Gielen (Bel) Team MI Croc for Sofhea 1.11.34 16 Christophe Heinix (Bel) Passage Fitness First Oudaan 1.25.17 17 Ole Egeblad (Den) Team Descente - CSC 1.44.23 18 Charles Blanc (Fra) 1.46.26 19 Günter Rafeiner (Aut) Mountainbiker.AT 1.52.00 20 Cal Burgart (USA) San Diego Cyclo-Vets 1.56.10 21 Hansi Friedl BRD 1.56.46 22 Marco Bücken (Swi) Tri Team Glarnerland 23 Guy Lemmens (Bel) Team MI Croc for Sofhea 24 Harald Reisinger (Aut) Lietz-Sport Team 2.00.41 25 Roger Freixenet (Spa) Yorky's 2.16.38 26 Christophe Desimpelaere (Bel) Team Descente - CSC 2.22.19 27 William Bird (Aus) 2.28.15 28 Shane Laird (Can) NSD 2.33.18 29 Toru Watanabe (Jpn) Green Life Tohoku 2.34.38 30 Ronny Potter (Bel) SOWAT 2.41.10 31 Patrick Libert (Bel) SOWAT 32 Rik Vincke (Bel) Lingier-Versluys MTB-TEAM 2 2.51.57 33 Niek Lingier (Bel) Lingier-Versluys MTB-TEAM 3.01.52 34 Erik Baeteman (Bel) Lingier-Versluys MTB-TEAM 35 Salvador Ribotipons (Spa) Matxacuca - Xaloc 3.16.03 36 Fulvio Villano (Ita) 37 Fred/Francesco Gras/Wessels (Ned) Dutch Crocodile Tandem Team 3.58.44 DNF Heinz Zörweg (Aut) Team Zörweg Women 1 Dominique Angerer (Aut) 7.00.36 (22.5 km/h) 2 Melanie Grant (Aus) 49.04 Most Aggressive Rider 1 Christoph Stevens (Bel) GC Men 1 Christoph Stevens (Bel) Belgian Bike Power 25.45.49 2 Attila Marton (Hun) Meditech Sport Club - CIB Leasing 27.41 3 Valentin Zeller (Aut) Dream Team 42.35 4 Ingmar Brichenfrid (Aut) Lietz-Sport Team 52.59 5 Manuel Treven (Aut) Lietz-Sport Team 1.15.11 6 David Wood (Aus) Dream Team 1.16.28 7 Stefan Rucker (Aut) Elk Haus 1.16.54 8 Michael Borup (Den) RT-Adidas-Roadbike Shop 1.34.26 9 Struan Lamont (Aus) Team Scott Racing 1.53.35 10 Darren O'Grady (Aus) Dream Team 2.27.01 11 Frederik Dewilde (Bel) Lingier-Versluys MTB-TEAM 3.01.58 12 Erik Goeleven (Bel) Team MI Croc for Sofhea 3.07.59 13 Christophe Heinix (Bel) Passage Fitness First Oudaan 3.31.30 14 Joel Geny (Bel) P. Léger Artisan Chocolatier 3.34.43 15 Luc Gielen (Bel) Team MI Croc for Sofhea 4.08.04 16 Niek Lingier (Bel) Lingier-Versluys MTB-TEAM 4.15.52 17 Ralf Peter Schnorr (Swi) Fitmanager.de 4.47.03 18 Guy Lemmens (Bel) Team MI Croc for Sofhea 6.02.30 19 Ole Egeblad (Den) Team Descente - CSC 6.31.35 20 Dominique Angerer (Aut) 6.44.10 21 Marco Bücken (Swi) Tri Team Glarnerland 7.09.49 22 Hansi Friedl (Ger) 7.22.37 23 Charles Blanc (Fra) 7.44.58 24 Harald Reisinger (Aut) Lietz-Sport Team 7.50.13 25 Cal Burgart (USA) San Diego Cyclo-Vets 8.15.29 26 Günter Rafeiner (Aut) Mountainbiker.AT 8.58.24 27 Erik Baeteman (Bel) Lingier-Versluys MTB-TEAM 2 9.14.42 28 William Bird (Aus) 9.17.38 29 Christophe Desimpelaere (Bel) Team Descente - CSC 9.38.20 30 Roger Freixenet (Spa) Yorky's 9.53.43 31 Shane Laird (Can) NSD 10.51.05 32 Fred/Francesco Gras/Wessels (Ned) Dutch Crocodile Tandem Team 10.53.47 33 Patrick Libert (Bel) SOWAT 11.22.46 34 Ronny Potter (Bel) SOWAT 11.48.57 35 Fulvio Villano (Ita) 11.51.24 36 Melanie Grant (Aus) 12.31.45 37 Toru Watanabe (Jpn) Green Life Tohoku 13.28.09 38 Salvador Ribotipons (Spa) Matxacuca - Xaloc 13.29.34 39 Rik Vincke (Bel) Lingier-Versluys MTB-TEAM 14.46.48 DNF Heinz Zörweg (Aut) Team Zörweg Women 1 Dominique Angerer (Aut) 32.29.59 2 Melanie Grant (Aus) 5.47.35