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14th Crocodile Trophy - NE
Australia, October 21-30, 2008
Crocodile combatants ready for onslaught Crocodile onslaught
By John Flynn
Over ten days and more than 1200 kilometres, across some of the most difficult terrain the wild country of Australia's tropical north can offer, the combatants in the Crocodile Trophy of 2008 are readying themselves for a mental and physical onslaught.
As they prepared today with a leisurely ride along the beautiful Cairns esplanade, the protagonists from Australia's Merida Flight Centre team began to centre their combined focus on winning both the men's and women's titles in this, one of the most brutal and prestigious off-road cycling events anywhere in the world.
Such a feat (one team winning both Trophies) has never been achieved before and it is the Western Australian husband and wife combination of Tim and Jo Bennett who have set themselves the lofty goal of standing together on the final podium when the race eventually reaches glorious Cape Tribulation.
Tim Bennett, who finished on the bottom step of the men's podium in 2007, has arrived in Cairns with a stellar support cast in the shape of Nick Both and Adrian Jackson. Jackson is the current world mountain bike orienteering champion and Both is a perennial place getter in Australia's biggest off-road events.
Cautious about his chances, the Merida Flight Centre team leader knows from experience not to get too carried away in a race where the elements, more often than not, stand in ultimate judgement. "Yeah I think we'll have a good crack at it (the General Classification), but in a race as long and as hard as this one, you'd be a fool to say that I'm going to win it," Bennett said.
A "fool" or not, One of Bennett's main rivals in the 2008 Crocodile Trophy is taking precisely the opposite approach. Sydney's Craig Gordon (Rockstar Racing) has hustled his way onto the start line after scoring a wild card entry. As the team name suggests, Gordon's not one to play down his chances and the 2006 World 24 Hour solo mountain bike champion has already claimed that he's "here to show the Euro's how it's done".
"Just a bit of controversy, everyone loves a bit of controversy and I've done a lot of racing in Europe, so why not kick it off with a bit of controversy," Gordon said of his lavish claim for the Crocodile Trophy title. The Merida Flight Centre Team
Gordon's assault on the Crocodile Trophy has already suffered a serious setback, after a crash in training left him with a torn tendon in his thumb. He will race with a guard and faces a painful ten days ahead on the corrugated roads of Cape York. Still, the opportunity to race against the Europeans in an event that enjoys a stronger profile in cycling's heartland than any other Australian race, has "Gordo" enthused.
"When I raced in Europe for 7 years everyone knew about the Crocodile Trophy and in the last three years I've heard more about it too. "I'm actually looking forward to doing the race."
The Czechs are favourites – the favourites
If any nation has the final say in the men's contest at the Crocodile Trophy it's likely to be the Czechs. Two-time second place getter Ondrej Fojtik has honoured his promise to "return to win this great race" and has brought with him a truly world class line-up with his team from VIG+ racing.
In a country where the Crocodile Trophy has developed legendary status, it is no surprise to see the Czech Republic's best making the journey down under. The VIG team boasts a wealth of UCI Marathon World Cup experience Fojtik has already earned a justifiable place on the outback classic's honour roll, winning stages in both his 2004 and 2007 appearances. Given the caliber of his 12-man team, the overall title is now very much within his reach. "My preparation was the same for last year but we have a very strong team and I hope that one of us will be first or second," the typically relaxed Fojtik said.
"Robert Novotny, Martin Horak and Ivan Rybarik, they are national champions in marathons. "Martin Horak is very strong this year and Robert too, so I hope that it will be very good."
Aussie girls fight for women's title
The women's contest at the 2008 Crocodile Trophy will, for the first time, feature two of Australia's best elite female mountain bikers. Merida Flight Centre's Jo Bennett and the Sunshine Coast's Naomi Hansen shared the honours at the recent Flight Centre Epic in South East Queensland. Bennett won the overall title, but Hansen answered back by claiming outright victory in the feature race, the Flight Centre Classic.
Bennett, whose long term focus is on securing Commonwealth Games selection for Australia, comes from a background of ironman triathlon and took little convincing to line up in Mareeba for the start of the Crocodile. "I put my hand up for it straight away," a smiling Bennett said. "I think my background in ironman triathlon will obviously be good on the physical side, but also on the mental side."
Hansen, a veterinary surgeon who has taken time away from practice to pursue her mountain biking career, will be surrounded by wild animals on this trip. Snakes, crocodiles, spiders - the critters Tropical North Queensland is famous for are unlikely to phase the Noosa cyclist. It's the habits of some of the visiting riders that may be of more concern. "In the race brief it says no nude swimming and no nude bushwalking, I'm like, what's with that?" Hansen said. "Snakes and Crocodiles, no problem. I can deal with that."