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14th Crocodile Trophy - NE
Australia, October 21-30, 2008
Stage 4 - October 24: Gunnawarra - Chillagoe, 130 km
Act of sportsmanship in popular Czech victory
By John Flynn in Chillagoe
Czech team VIG+ racing continued its complete dominance Friday at the 2008 Crocodile Trophy with Martin Horak scoring his first stage win and fourth consecutive stage win for his team as the off-road classic reached the Australian outback town of Chillagoe
The victory will be remembered for all the right reasons, with Horak, in the most sporting of gestures, rendering assistance when his breakaway partner, Kristof Hertsens of Belgium (Team Lingier) crashed.
Hertsens was left bloodied and suffered a deep cut to his elbow after hitting the deck on a technical off-road section of the epic 143 kilometre stage, that started on the coolest of Crocodile Trophy mornings at the glorious Gunnawarra lagoon.
In a move that ultimately cost him the lead in the general classification, Horak assisted Hertsens with repairing his damaged bike and checked on the Belgian's injuries before riding alongside him to the finish line. The story of Hertsens and Horak is, in time, sure to take its place in Crocodile Trophy history as one of the great moments of the race.
After being the lead conspirator in a breakaway move that went virtually from the gun, Hertsens (Team Lingier) was happy to settle for second place against the clearly superior Czech – a man for whom he now has the utmost respect.
"I crashed really, really bad and he was coming back and he fixed my bike," Hertsens said. "He then rode in the front and he stayed with me.
"He was really strong and when he attacked I could not go with him, but he stayed with me, so I am very happy to finish second."
Horak's selfless act cost him valuable minutes and saw him finish the day 39 seconds behind teammate Ondrej Fojtik in the general classification.
With VIG+ Racing holding a firm grip on the top three places on G.C. and the nearest challenger, Nic Vermeulen of Belgium 11:03 behind the leader in fourth place - the position for the Czechs appears to be ideal.
Until now the only question has been, who of the three Czechs - Fojtik, Trunschka and Horak will lead the Team VIG+ in its quest for ultimate glory in Cape Tribulation?
This evening, as the sporting gestures continued to flow, that question was answered.
At a meeting of the VIG+ team under the shady trees of the Chillagoe campground, the sporting Czechs decided to dedicate their team efforts to producing an overall victory for Fojtik, the man who built the reputation of the Crocodile Trophy in the Czech Republic.
Czechs dedicate efforts to Fojtik
A veteran of two Crocodile Trophy campaigns in 2004 and 2007, Fojtik came to Australia alone and unable to speak the language on his first visit. He was confronted with the most brutal condi-tions the Crocodile Trophy ever experienced in some of the most remote country on the planet. He rode away with second place - not to mention the respect of all involved in the race.
A popular figure at The Trophy, Fojtik backed up at his second attempt last year to finish second again. Now, his great dream is just six days and six million corrugations away and will take every ounce of strength he can produce.
"Of course, it is very good to still have the lead and my team is very much behind me," Fojtik said. "They want me to win the Crocodile Trophy if I am strong enough."
Comparing the scenario now to his previous experiences there are obvious differences. "Of course, to have a team support me makes a very big difference," he said. "I cannot win this race without my team."
As for Vermeulen, the Belgian has retained the enthusiasm with which he entered the race, despite needing a run of back luck for the Czechs to give himself any chance of standing on the final podium.
The Team Lingier cyclist tried again to attack today, but such efforts have been fruitless so far against the all-powerful Czechs. "For me it's really difficult, when I attack they go after me," Vermeulen said. "I know that the last section was very fast, so difficult for getting time back. That's OK."
Fifth placed Australian Craig Gordon is also urgently searching for solutions to the Czech dilemma. The World 24 Hour solo champion from 2006 has been dealing with intestinal issues in recent days and without the benefit of a team to support him, can do little to offset the tactics of the Czechs.
"Today was more like a road-race, although we did have the sand section, but the Czechs were so strong once again," Gordon said.
The Australian, who is meticulous about preparation, has been busy consulting his medical team and hopes to resolve one of the key issues that plagues riders at the Crocodile Trophy - hydration and electrolyte replenishment.
"I've spoken to two of my sports doctors and I think I've been mixing my electrolyte drinks too strong, and that could be what's giving me gastro" Gordon said.
Camaraderie and competition in women's race
The women's race produced its own milestone with the first ever female sprint finish between Jo Bennett of Australia's Merida Flight Centre Team and Belgian Karen Steurs of Team Ride For The Stars.
Steurs was awarded the stage after race control called for the photo and was judged to have snatched the win by the length of knobby tread
"It was easier than yesterday for me, although the first part was difficult," Steurs said. "It's a really good day for me."
Bennett wasn't sure who had won the sprint at first, after being pipped on the line by her friendly rival. "It went down to a sprint, very much like a road race today, the first section was hard, we had that bit of sand," Bennett said.
The Western Australian still leads the general classification, but it was difficult to discern any conflict today as the two leading women embraced at the finish line. Bennett is being supported at this race by husband Tim as her domestique and Steurs by her partner Christophe Huybrighs.
The 29-year-old Antwerpen is racing the Crocodile Trophy as the final event of her career. Like Ben-nett, Steurs is a former triathlete who has taken a shine to cycling.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by John Flynn
Elite men 1 Martin Horak (Cze) VIG+Racing Team 2 4.09.07 (34.44 km/h) 2 Nicolas Vermeulen (Bel) 8.33 3 Ondrej Fojtik (Cze) VIG+Racing Team 2 4 Tomas Trunschka (Cze) VIG+Racing 1 8.34 5 Ivan Rybarik (Cze) VIG+Racing 1 8.35 6 Craig Gordon (Aus) Rockstar Racing 9.04 7 Tomas Kozak (Cze) Laser Steel Plzen 15.55 8 Alfred Schabauer (Aut) 23.34 9 Robert Novotny (Cze) VIG+Racing Team 2 23.39 10 Christian Birngruber (Aut) 25.34 11 Nathan Dyke (Aus) TKM / Slattery team 29.18 12 Adrian Jackson (Aus) Merida - Flight Centre 1 37.01 13 Bart Decroubele (Bel) Team Belgian Power 37.11 14 Tim Bennett (Aus) Merida - Flight Centre 1 37.13 15 Nick Both (Aus) Merida - Flight Centre 1 37.15 16 Christophe Huybrighs (Bel) Team Ride for Stars 17 Benedikt De Vreese (Bel) Winter Vreese 41.31 18 Gillis Van Loon (Bel) Team Ride for Stars 58.56 19 Petr Uhlik (Cze) 58.57 20 Steven Boury (Bel) 1.06.27 21 Karel De Winter (Bel) Winter Vreese 22 Tim Calkins (USA) TKM / Slattery team 1.11.14 23 Raf De Bakker (Bel) 1.25.05 24 Stefaniak Wojciech (Pol) 1.27.00 Elite women 1 Karen Steurs (Bel) Team Ride for Stars 4.46.05 (29.99 km/h) 2 Joanne Bennett (Aus) Merida - Flight Centre 2 3 Naomi Hansen (Aus) 12.06 M1 1 Kris Hertsens (Bel) 4.09.42 (34.36 km/h) 2 Zdenek Kriz (Cze) VIG+Racing 1 15.21 3 Daniel Wyss (Swi) swisscrocs08 25.00 4 Stephens Reece (Aus) TKM / Slattery team 25.01 5 Guido De Jong (Ned) 28.43 6 Bart Vancayzeele (Bel) 36.26 7 Issac Tonello (Aus) 36.38 8 Kejval Lubos (Cze) VIG+Masters 36.40 9 Peter Geldhof (Bel) teamNomaDesk.com 40.56 10 Philipp Zenklusen (Swi) swisscrocs08 48.31 11 Matt Powell (Aus) 48.35 12 Gunter Selleslagh (Bel) 48.38 13 Erik Goeleven (Bel) Team Moozes 58.21 14 Guy Lemmens (Bel) Team Moozes 1.08.46 15 Mikkel Wichmann (Den) 1.10.21 16 Ermanno Piccaro (Ita) ASD Vigili del Fuoco-Latina-Cinelli-Corratec 1.10.22 17 Kristof Vanspauwen (Bel) Team Belgian Power 1.10.37 18 Bert Apers (Bel) 1.25.21 19 Mario Vandeweghe (Bel) 1.53.00 20 Bruno Verwee (Bel) 2.36.21 21 Philip Smith (GBr) 3.16.41 M2 1 Axel Strauss (Aut) 4.34.39 (31.24 km/h) 2 Marc Roggen (Bel) 11.29 3 Ladislav Drda (Cze) VIG+Masters 11.40 4 Jiri Kriz (Cze) VIG+Masters 5 Eric Vanderaerden (Bel) Marc Herremans Foundation 23.40 6 Luc Gielen (Bel) Team Belgian Power 7 Jos Kerkhofs (Bel) Marc Herremans Foundation 23.44 8 Thomas Sollich (Ger) Dream Team 33.23 9 Darren O'Grady (Aus) Dream Team 33.24 10 Ruedi Senn (Swi) swisscrocs08 33.25 11 Patrick Mijlemans (Bel) Team A.S.P.A 40.55 12 Georg Vinczencz (Aut) 43.48 13 Beat Imhof (Swi) 43.50 14 Ewald Clavadetscher (Swi) 45.41 15 Patrick Van Gelder (Bel) Team Moozes 1.26.12 16 Marc Withofs (Bel) 2.11.21 17 Rudi Donckers (Bel) Marc Herremans Foundation 2.11.22 18 Ronny Potter (Bel) Team A.S.P.A 2.11.24 General classification after stage 4 Elite men 1 Ondrej Fojtik (Cze) VIG+Racing Team 2 14.57.25 2 Martin Horak (Cze) VIG+Racing Team 2 0.36 3 Tomas Trunschka (Cze) VIG+Racing 1 4.01 4 Nicolas Vermeulen (Bel) 11.03 5 Craig Gordon (Aus) Rockstar Racing 18.22 6 Ivan Rybarik (Cze) VIG+Racing 1 43.37 7 Robert Novotny (Cze) VIG+Racing Team 2 54.15 8 Tomas Kozak (Cze) Laser Steel Plzen 1.14.54 9 Christian Birngruber (Aut) 1.24.36 10 Nick Both (Aus) Merida - Flight Centre 1 1.25.49 11 Adrian Jackson (Aus) Merida - Flight Centre 1 1.25.51 12 Tim Bennett (Aus) Merida - Flight Centre 1 1.40.20 13 Benedikt De Vreese (Bel) Winter Vreese 1.58.53 14 Nathan Dyke (Aus) TKM / Slattery team 2.10.58 15 Christophe Huybrighs (Bel) Team Ride for Stars 2.27.59 16 Alfred Schabauer (Aut) 2.44.27 17 Stefaniak Wojciech (Pol) 3.16.25 18 Gillis Van Loon (Bel) Team Ride for Stars 3.17.21 19 Raf De Bakker (Bel) 4.00.02 20 Steven Boury (Bel) 4.12.50 21 Bart Decroubele (Bel) Team Belgian Power 4.13.50 22 Petr Uhlik (Cze) 4.25.27 23 Karel De Winter (Bel) Winter Vreese 4.28.13 24 Tim Calkins (USA) TKM / Slattery team 4.45.34 Elite women 1 Joanne Bennett (Aus) Merida - Flight Centre 2 17.20.35 2 Karen Steurs (Bel) Team Ride for Stars 3.08 3 Naomi Hansen (Aus) 1.35.23 M1 1 Kris Hertsens (Bel) 15.44.04 2 Zdenek Kriz (Cze) VIG+Racing 1 30.00 3 Stephens Reece (Aus) TKM / Slattery team 51.18 4 Daniel Wyss (Swi) swisscrocs08 1.04.57 5 Kejval Lubos (Cze) VIG+Masters 1.43.59 6 Issac Tonello (Aus) 1.50.46 7 Guido De Jong (Ned) 2.17.52 8 Matt Powell (Aus) 2.24.23 9 Erik Goeleven (Bel) Team Moozes 2.58.18 10 Philipp Zenklusen (Swi) swisscrocs08 2.59.36 11 Bart Vancayzeele (Bel) 3.15.58 12 Peter Geldhof (Bel) teamNomaDesk.com 3.40.41 13 Mikkel Wichmann (Den) 4.09.50 14 Kristof Vanspauwen (Bel) Team Belgian Power 4.11.41 15 Ermanno Piccaro (Ita) ASD Vigili del Fuoco-Latina-Cinelli-Corratec 4.35.34 16 Gunter Selleslagh (Bel) 4.38.38 17 Guy Lemmens (Bel) Team Moozes 4.59.04 18 Bert Apers (Bel) 6.07.13 19 Mario Vandeweghe (Bel) 7.34.35 20 Philip Smith (GBr) 9.47.05 21 Bruno Verwee (Bel) 12.05.38 M2 1 Axel Strauss (Aut) 16.41.40 2 Jiri Kriz (Cze) VIG+Masters 58.40 3 Ladislav Drda (Cze) VIG+Masters 1.01.05 4 Marc Roggen (Bel) 1.22.35 5 Beat Imhof (Swi) 2.00.30 6 Darren O'Grady (Aus) Dream Team g 2.02.07 7 Eric Vanderaerden (Bel) Marc Herremans Foundation 2.10.23 8 Ruedi Senn (Swi) swisscrocs08 2.12.25 9 Luc Gielen (Bel) Team Belgian Power 2.21.11 10 Ewald Clavadetscher (Swi) 2.33.27 11 Jos Kerkhofs (Bel) Marc Herremans Foundation 3.29.51 12 Georg Vinczencz (Aut) 3.52.13 13 Thomas Sollich (Ger) Dream Team 4.47.00 14 Marc Withofs (Bel) 5.54.56 15 Patrick Van Gelder (Bel) Team Moozes 5.56.28 16 Patrick Mijlemans (Bel) Team A.S.P.A 6.17.03 17 Ronny Potter (Bel) Team A.S.P.A 7.21.57 18 Rudi Donckers (Bel) Marc Herremans Foundation 8.02.53