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14th Crocodile Trophy - NE
Australia, October 21-30, 2008
Stage 3 - October 23: Koombooloomba - Gunnawarra, 122 km
Czechs cash in on day of high attrition
By John Flynn in Gunnawarra
A hard fought stage win by Tomas Trunschka - his second in three days, ably supported by overall race leader Ondrej Fojtik, solidified the winning position for Czech team VIG+ racing during stage three in Australia's remote Tropical North. The brutal 122 kilometre mountain stage from the World Heritage rainforest of Koombooloomba Dam to the outback cattle station at Gunnawarra Lagoon took in a great variety of terrain and surface conditions.
The attrition rate was understandably high as the race's protagonists fought the elements and their internal demons, with many riders coming to an abrupt realisation of what Australia's outback classic is really all about. As expected, the Czechs attacked early as the peloton ventured out from Koombooloomba on a picturesque rainforest road, and team VIG's Martin Horak launched the first major assault when the lead bunch entered the famed powerline track, which has claimed many victims in the past.
Horak was offered a little breathing space early as the remaining non-Czeck contenders in the race, most notably Nic Vermeulen (Team Lingier, Belgium) and Australian solo entrant Craig Gordon kept a close eye on overall leader Ondrej Fojtik. But with so many options at their disposal and four riders at the top of the general classification, the Czechs held the aces.
The technical, mountainous section of the powerline track was always destined to produce a serious sorting out of the race's heads of state and so it was that at the end of the steep rocky climbs and dar-ing descents, that four riders were left in the hunt for the stage - Gordon, Vermeulen, Fojtik and Trunschka, who led on the road.
A series of attacks followed on the dead straight, red dirt road which headed to the outback cattle station at Gunnawarra Lagoon. Gordon fought to stay in contention, and Vermeulen gave it everything as Fojtik and Trunschka took turns to launch themselves off the front.
"It was hot, very hot, but nice track, with the Czech team it is difficult," admitted Vermeulen, who finished third. "On the technical I'm maybe the best. Then for the finish is one against three Czechs, the Australian was good but he could just follow."
Gordon, whose form appears to be improving with each day also came close. Had the stage finished at the end of the powerline track, he would have been a podium contender, but with such a long run into the finish, it was never going to suit a pure mountain biker.
"A hard day, a little bit disappointing, I got fourth, but the Czechs look like they've got this race sewn up," the Australian solo entrant conceded. "They've got a strong time, and there's quite a few guys there working... Very, very strong."
For the Czechs it was another case of mission accomplished. "There were three of us and it was very fast at the end of the race," Trunschka said. "I am happy to be the winner." The question now is who will be officially appointed team captain for VIG+ racing, with three riders (at least) in contention for the overall result.
"It's very special for us because the target for us is to win this race and to have people in the first three places," Trunschka said. "We can say after the fifth stage who will be the leader of us three guys, myself, Horak and Fojtik."
The real story of stage three was typified by the claret-spattered bodies that made it to the finish line late in the day. Both of the Americans in the race Tim Caulkins and Sean Noonan suffered almost unbearably due to flat tyres, fatigue and heat stress, and Austrian Valentin Zeller also gave up due to mechanical failure.
In total, four cyclists have withdrawn from the race. One of those, Norbert Heinz can't wait to get a flight home. "I will go home because I'm done, I'm tired, I guess I underestimated the challenge," Heinz said.
In better spirits was Dutchman Guido DeJong. He was in contention for the masters division until a crash, followed by five flat tyres put an end to his race hopes. Still, he fought on after the worst of bad days.
"Hell yeah, the worst, five flats in one stage, two spare tyres and then waiting for other people to be kind to give me another tyre if they had one. "I got a spare tyre from one of the last guys in the race, it then went pretty well until the last ten kilometres, and then I had flat again."
Another masters contender, Australia Reece Stevens also crashed heavily and fought on until the finish. The Melbourne cyclist has severe bruising which may yet end his dream of finishing. He along with many others is having a close eye kept on him by the race doctor. "It was very tough today, got to the powerlines and we were trying to keep with the lead group and just came into a rut a bit," Stevens said. "Head over the handlebars, which made it tough for the rest of the day."
The event's certainly taking its toll on everybody. The women's race continues to be led by Australia's Jo Bennett of Australia's Merida Flight Centre team, who enjoyed some help today from Husband Tim, who came to the realisation he couldn't match it with the Czechs in the men's event.
It has opened up a husband and wife battle between Australia and Belgium, with Karen Steurs also bringing her partner along for the ride. Bennett won today's women's stage, but the battle is expected to go down to the wire.
"We were together until the finish today and Tim was a big help," Jo Bennett said. "Karen and I had a sprint, and I managed to get the win, which was great, but there's still a long way to go and she's very strong"
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by John Flynn / Crocodile Trophy
Elite men 1 Tomas Trunschka (Cze) VIG+Racing 1 4.37.52 (26.34 km/) 2 Ondrej Fojtik (Cze) VIG+Racing Team 2 0.40 3 Nicolas Vermeulen (Bel) 1.32 4 Craig Gordon (Aus) Rockstar Racing 2.28 5 Martin Horak (Cze) VIG+Racing Team 2 6 Robert Novotny (Cze) VIG+Racing Team 2 10.49 7 Ivan Rybarik (Cze) VIG+Racing 1 35.59 8 Adrian Jackson (Aus) Merida - Flight Centre 1 38.15 9 Nick Both (Aus) Merida - Flight Centre 1 38.40 10 Christian Birngruber (Aut) 40.14 11 Benedikt De Vreese (Bel) Winter Vreese 42.01 12 Nathan Dyke (Aus) TKM / Slattery team 49.25 13 Tomas Kozak (Cze) Laser Steel Plzen 51.33 14 Tim Bennett (Aus) Merida - Flight Centre 1 53.13 15 Christophe Huybrighs (Bel) Team Ride for Stars 53.14 16 Stefaniak Wojciech (Pol) 53.19 17 Gillis Van Loon (Bel) Team Ride for Stars 1.16.37 18 Raf De Bakker (Bel) 1.25.51 19 Alfred Schabauer (Aut) 1.41.48 20 Bart Decroubele (Bel) Team Belgian Power 1.41.55 21 Karel De Winter (Bel) Winter Vreese 1.53.47 22 Steven Boury (Bel) 1.53.48 23 Petr Uhlik (Cze) 2.15.55 24 Tim Calkins (USA) TKM / Slattery team 2.50.02 DNF Sean Noonan (USA) Elite women 1 Joanne Bennett (Aus) Merida - Flight Centre 2 5.30.42 (22.13 km/h) 2 Karen Steurs (Bel) Team Ride for Stars 0.07 3 Naomi Hansen (Aus) 33.46 M1 1 Zdenek Kriz (Cze) VIG+Racing 1 5.01.43 (24.26 km/h) 2 Kris Hertsens (Bel) 3 Daniel Wyss (Swi) swisscrocs08 18.10 4 Stephens Reece (Aus) TKM / Slattery team 29.45 5 Issac Tonello (Aus) 46.35 6 Matt Powell (Aus) 7 Kejval Lubos (Cze) VIG+Masters 52.40 8 Erik Goeleven (Bel) Team Moozes 1.02.01 9 Peter Geldhof (Bel) teamNomaDesk.com 1.24.00 10 Bart Vancayzeele (Bel) 1.25.07 11 Mikkel Wichmann (Den) 1.26.50 12 Kristof Vanspauwen (Bel) Team Belgian Power 1.28.36 13 Ermanno Piccaro (Ita) ASD Vigili del Fuoco-Latina-Cinelli-Corratec 1.31.30 14 Philipp Zenklusen (Swi) swisscrocs08 1.42.06 15 Gunter Selleslagh (Bel) 16 Guido De Jong (Ned) 1.48.37 17 Guy Lemmens (Bel) Team Moozes 2.15.23 18 Mario Vandeweghe (Bel) 2.40.28 19 Bert Apers (Bel) 2.41.10 20 Philip Smith (GBr) 3.53.02 21 Bruno Verwee (Bel) 4.08.42 DNF Valentin Zeller (Aut) M2 1 Axel Strauss (Aut) 5.17.39 (23.04 km/h) 2 Jiri Kriz (Cze) VIG+Masters 16.16 3 Ladislav Drda (Cze) VIG+Masters 36.45 4 Beat Imhof (Swi) 40.00 5 Marc Roggen (Bel) 46.41 6 Darren O'Grady (Aus) Dream Team 46.48 7 Eric Vanderaerden (Bel) Marc Herremans Foundation 46.51 8 Luc Gielen (Bel) Team Belgian Power 57.23 9 Ewald Clavadetscher (Swi) 1.02.33 10 Jos Kerkhofs (Bel) Marc Herremans Foundation 1.24.07 11 Ruedi Senn (Swi) swisscrocs08 1.26.44 12 Georg Vinczencz (Aut) 1.38.14 13 Thomas Sollich (Ger) Dream Team 1.53.23 14 Patrick Van Gelder (Bel) Team Moozes 1.59.28 15 Marc Withofs (Bel) 2.24.41 16 Ronny Potter (Bel) Team A.S.P.A 2.50.13 17 Rudi Donckers (Bel) Marc Herremans Foundation 3.17.48 18 Patrick Mijlemans (Bel) Team A.S.P.A 4.04.27 DNF Norbert A. Heinz (Ger) DNF Jos Lenaerts (Bel) Team A.S.P.A General classification after stage 3 Elite men 1 Ondrej Fojtik (Cze) VIG+Racing Team 2 10.39.45 2 Tomas Trunschka (Cze) VIG+Racing 1 4.00 3 Martin Horak (Cze) VIG+Racing Team 2 9.19 4 Nicolas Vermeulen (Bel) 11.05 5 Craig Gordon (Aus) Rockstar Racing 17.51 6 Robert Novotny (Cze) VIG+Racing Team 2 39.09 7 Ivan Rybarik (Cze) VIG+Racing 1 43.35 8 Nick Both (Aus) Merida - Flight Centre 1 57.07 9 Adrian Jackson (Aus) Merida - Flight Centre 1 57.23 10 Tomas Kozak (Cze) Laser Steel Plzen 1.07.32 11 Christian Birngruber (Aut) 1.07.35 12 Tim Bennett (Aus) Merida - Flight Centre 1 1.11.40 13 Benedikt De Vreese (Bel) Winter Vreese 1.25.55 14 Nathan Dyke (Aus) TKM / Slattery team 1.50.13 15 Stefaniak Wojciech (Pol) 1.57.58 16 Christophe Huybrighs (Bel) Team Ride for Stars 1.59.17 17 Gillis Van Loon (Bel) Team Ride for Stars 2.26.58 18 Alfred Schabauer (Aut) 2.29.26 19 Raf De Bakker (Bel) 2.43.30 20 Steven Boury (Bel) 3.14.56 21 Karel De Winter (Bel) Winter Vreese 3.30.19 22 Petr Uhlik (Cze) 3.35.03 23 Tim Calkins (USA) TKM / Slattery team 3.42.53 24 Bart Decroubele (Bel) Team Belgian Power 3.45.12 Elite women 1 Joanne Bennett (Aus) Merida - Flight Centre 2 12.34.30 2 Karen Steurs (Bel) Team Ride for Stars 3.08 3 Naomi Hansen (Aus) 1.23.17 M1 1 Kris Hertsens (Bel) 11.34.27 2 Zdenek Kriz (Cze) VIG+Racing 1 14.34 3 Stephens Reece (Aus) TKM / Slattery team 26.12 4 Daniel Wyss (Swi) swisscrocs08 39.52 5 Kejval Lubos (Cze) VIG+Masters 1.07.14 6 Issac Tonello (Aus) 1.14.03 7 Matt Powell (Aus) 1.35.43 8 Guido De Jong (Ned) 1.49.04 9 Erik Goeleven (Bel) Team Moozes 1.59.52 10 Philipp Zenklusen (Swi) swisscrocs08 2.11.00 11 Bart Vancayzeele (Bel) 2.39.27 12 Mikkel Wichmann (Den) 2.59.24 13 Peter Geldhof (Bel) teamNomaDesk.com 2.59.40 14 Kristof Vanspauwen (Bel) Team Belgian Power 3.00.59 15 Ermanno Piccaro (Ita) ASD Vigili del Fuoco-Latina-Cinelli-Corratec 3.25.07 16 Gunter Selleslagh (Bel) 3.49.55 17 Guy Lemmens (Bel) Team Moozes 3.50.13 18 Bert Apers (Bel) 4.41.47 19 Mario Vandeweghe (Bel) 5.41.30 20 Philip Smith (GBr) 6.30.19 21 Bruno Verwee (Bel) 9.29.12 M2 1 Axel Strauss (Aut) 12.07.01 2 Jiri Kriz (Cze) VIG+Masters 47.00 3 Ladislav Drda (Cze) VIG+Masters 49.25 4 Marc Roggen (Bel) 1.11.06 5 Beat Imhof (Swi) 1.16.40 6 Darren O'Grady (Aus) Dream Team 1.28.43 7 Ruedi Senn (Swi) swisscrocs08 1.39.00 8 Eric Vanderaerden (Bel) Marc Herremans Foundation 1.46.43 9 Ewald Clavadetscher (Swi) 1.47.46 10 Luc Gielen (Bel) Team Belgian Power 1.57.31 11 Jos Kerkhofs (Bel) Marc Herremans Foundation 3.06.07 12 Georg Vinczencz (Aut) 3.08.25 13 Marc Withofs (Bel) 3.43.35 14 Thomas Sollich (Ger) Dream Team 4.13.37 15 Patrick Van Gelder (Bel) Team Moozes 4.30.16 16 Ronny Potter (Bel) Team A.S.P.A 5.10.33 17 Patrick Mijlemans (Bel) Team A.S.P.A 5.36.08 18 Rudi Donckers (Bel) Marc Herremans Foundation 5.51.31