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10th Crocodile Trophy - NE
Australia, October 16-31, 2004
Prologue - October 16: Darwin Criterium
Gatorade Team dominates opening criterium
By John-Michael Flynn in Darwin
The crocodiles in Darwin harbour would surely have been casting a lazy eye on proceedings, but there was no chance of an attack of the lizard variety in picturesque Bicentennial Park as Team Gatorade asserted the role of dominant predator in today's prologue of the iconic Crocodile Trophy Mountain bike Race. Australia's northern capital turned on a typically steamy October day as the monsoon-like influence of the green machine controlled the eight lap, 24 kilometre stage, by far the easiest riders will have to contend with over the next two weeks of hell in Australia's North.
The Gatorade team made its move on lap one, launching three riders off the front in a breakaway which also contained Australian Adam Hansen (Cairns Coconut Village), who in the end was faced with cycling's impossible three against one - you lose - scenario. Surrounded by riders the calibre of Italian Alberto Elli, a multiple stage winner in last year's Crocodile Trophy, Hansen could only sit and wait as the inevitable attacks came from his three opponents.
Elli's Italian teammate Marzio Deho launched himself on the winning move with three laps to go in the prologue, leaving Hansen to do all the work in the trailing group of three. It was a challenge welcomed by, yet beyond the reach of the young North Queenslander, who despite being the rider most suited to conditions on home soil, simply couldn't bridge the gap.
Deho's time of 29 minutes, 21.27 seconds, more than a minute ahead of Hansen in second, and a slick start for the team most favoured to take out the 1700 kilometre, 13 stage epic traversing the length and breadth of Australia's top end.
Deho's victory is a scene setter for what lies ahead on Mountain biking's epic adventure, a race which is shaping as a contest between the well credentialed and highly experienced Gatorade team and a team of long shot contenders from Australia's North who happen to have as their trump card an up and coming rider on the European scene in Adam Hansen.
Recently returned from a six month stint with a division 3 road team in Austria, Hansen has defied his own vow never to race the Crocodile Trophy again, following last year's torture where he won one stage but suffered, as riders do in a race of such intensity.
"Last year I actually said that I would never ever do this race again, it was that hard and that tough, but I'm back because I actually liked it. I think you forget the bad moments but Crocodile Trophy is very hard mentally, very long stages very hot, just a mind game you never give up, keep going."
While Hansen may have been caught out alone in today's prologue he's planning to have plenty of company over the long flat stages through Northern Territory's remote outback, bringing with him a handpicked team of domestiques who together form the Cairns Coconut Village Team in the 2004 Croc Trophy. The local team will enjoy a considerable advantage, being acclimatised the steamy conditions of Northern Australia. It's a fact not lost on Hansen whose taken the rare step of telegraphing his intentions of making a move on Tuesday's 198 kilometre stage from Roper Bar to Nathan River.
"That's actually the day I'll try to make the move because I feel they'll be not acclimatised by the heat, I thought I'd hit them hard then."
Hansen may be playing an open hand, but the Italian-accented, Australian-managed Gatorade team is holding its cards much closer with the jury still out on the form of key rider Alberto Elli. The former Telekom rider has taken up a position this year as directeur sportif with the South African Barloworld team and claims to have had little time on the bike, despite his obvious low skin fold levels
"Last year was OK, it was good I won four stages. I have lost a lot of time because I manage a professional team, I train but not too much."
The Italian and his Australian rival do however have one thing in common, like Hansen, Elli vowed last year never to return to the gruelling Crocodile Trophy. "I'm crazy, because I like cycling, I like Australia."
The Crocodile Trophy 2004 is very much an international affair. 49 riders from 11 countries are embarking on the outback adventure, ranging from seasoned professionals to relative novices. Among them four time World Masters Triathlon champion Willi Wagner, who's joined forces with three Austrian friends to attempt the Mountain bike marathon. At 53 years of age he could easily be considering retirement, but adventure racing knows no age limit or for that matter pain barrier.
"No problem with it," he said. "I race across America in a team, I know how this works and I'm very interested in how I feel all the days. It's an adventure especially since this is the tenth race."
The Crocodile Trophy now heads to Mataranka for Monday's opening stage, a 182 km journey to Roper Bar.
Images by Mark Watson/mwphotography.com.au
1 Marzio Deho (Ita) Gatorade Team 1 29.21.27 2 Adam Hansen (Aus) Cairns Coconut Village 1.11.02 3 Jurgen Van de Walle (Bel) Gatorade Team 1 1.12.05 *Prologue times do not count on General Classification