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10th Crocodile Trophy - NE
Australia, October 16-31, 2004
Stage 3 - October 20: Nathan River - Borroloola, 177 km
Czech rider triumphs in Outback
High drama at the Crocodile Trophy
By John-Michael Flynn in Borroloola, Northern Territory Australia
Nothing should detract from the performance of Czech cyclist Andrej Fojtik yesterday at the Crocodile Trophy. His effort to win stage three of the world's toughest mountainbike race was judged by his fellow competitors as top shelf.
That he did so in a solo breakaway on deeply corrugated roads in searing heat was impressive enough. That he managed to ignore the fighting, farce and heated tempers on a day of high drama in the Australian Outback was perhaps significantly more credible.
As he crossed the line in the Aboriginal Community of Borroloola this afternoon, his face hidden behind a crust of bulldust, Fojtik's thoughts were thousands of miles away. "For me it's very important to call to my girlfriend because the last three days, no mobile signal," the ecstatic Czech rider said.
Had his phone been within range, no doubt there would have been plenty of stories to relate to his sweetheart in Czechoslovakia, for this was without question the most dramatic day of the Crocodile Trophy so far, when tempers which had been sizzling for days in this Aussie Outback furnace finally boiled over.
A controversial stage
The stage three controversy began when riders emerged from their tents at remote Butterfly Springs for breakfast. Following the previous day's soul-destroying epic stage of 198 kilometres which just over half the field completed, the announcement from race director Gerhard Schonbacher that the length of stage three would be reduced from 180 kilometres to 140 due to rider fatigue, drew a mixed reaction.
Team Gatorade rider, Italy's Alberto Elli was far from impressed. "All these racers want race, not race after forty kilometres," the 11- time Tour de France rider replied after hearing the early morning announcement.
The decision to reduce the stage length also angered the Cairns-based Coconut Village Team whose lead rider Adam Hansen, winner of the first two stages, was showing tremendous strength.
The real controversy emerged out of an incident at the race start, forty kilometres from where it was first intended. While there are different versions as to exactly what occurred, riders decided to set off before the official registration was completed, concerned apparently at waiting in the outback sun for the race director's vehicle to arrive.
The disputed point rested with whether the field was traveling under neutral race conditions until the race director arrived, or whether in fact the race proper had begun.
According to the Cairns Based Coconut Village Team the Gatorade riders were treating it as 'race on', but according to the Gatorade riders, Australian rider James Grant launched an attack, though Grant claimed he was only responding to Alberto Elli cranking up the pace.
This resulted in a heated exchange between Elli and Hansen, when the race was eventually pulled up again for an 'official' race start. Hansen, who is managed in Europe by Race Director Gerhard Schonbacher, defended the event managers.
"Europeans always die out here, they just run out water and they've just got no idea," Hansen said. "If you start a race without signing on or officials, you've got no insurance, Gerhard's not going to cover you if you injure yourself or die out there."
Elli, who briefly pulled out of today's stage before being begged by his team manager to return, was far less complimentary to the race director, who has kept the Crocodile Trophy afloat for a decade, despite the incredibly difficult logistics.
"What's happened the stupid organisation, they start 20 kilometres after the normal start," an angry Elli said after finishing. "I was in a break and they stop the race, they neutralise the race."
The verbal exchange between the Crocodile Trophy's two main contenders set the scene for an epic duel on the road, where the book on race etiquette was thrown out the window and the Gatorade team was left decimated. Elli's brief withdrawal from the race, where he left his bike and sat in the team car, may have cost the Gatorade team heavily, with Belgian rider Jurgen Van de Walle called upon to ride the Italian back onto the peloton,
Van de Walle, who after yesterday's stage was placed second in the general classification, failed to finish today's stage, but denied his desperate effort to ride Elli back to the main group played any part in his decision to withdraw.
"I was not very good, a lot of stomach problems I think mainly from the heat and things like that," Van De Walle said.
The twenty seven year old who raced Paris-Tours on the road before heading to Australia, blamed a 'busted ass' for his withdrawal. "My ass is completely open, I took my saddle from my racing bike so the whole year I didn't have any problem but I'm not riding on normal roads."
Team-mate Mario Deho, who also looked strong during the first two stages was forced to withdraw today, leaving Elli as the only rider left from the Gatorade 'Dream' Team contesting the general classification, although his participation too was under review during a day of extreme controversy.
Elli made no friends with his decision to attack Hansen, when the pair were positioned among a group of seven riders taking Red Bull drinks from a neutral support vehicle midway through today's stage. Hansen took his drink, but was forced to use valuable energy chasing down the former Telekom rider.
"That's just wrong you don't do that, that's just totally wrong it's against all gentleman's rules in cycling and he's a road cyclist he should know better out of anyone out here," Hansen said.
The pair then rode wheel for wheel, constantly attacking each other until Hansen eventually jumped clear with the finish line in sight. The Italian handed out plenty of pointers to his younger rival along the way.
"He's very stupid in the head he's stupid, but he's strong," an angry Elli said on claiming third place today after being dropped by Hansen. "I think he'll win the race because he's strong."
The Italian also hinted at more tricks on the roads of Australia's remote outback in coming days. "He must be careful because day by day I can try something."
By the time the top three riders crossed the finish line, race director Schonbacher had effectively had enough. As tempers raged, Elli was briefly disqualified from the race. "No he's not in the race he's disqualified from tomorrow on," Schonbacher said. "The reason is because he think he's a star, he was a good bike rider but he still has to know where the limit of discipline is."
As the sun fell over Borroloola and the baked earth of Australia's Gulf Country began to cool, so did the tempers of the Crocodile Trophy participants and race organisers. The threat to excise Elli from the race was withdrawn and he will start stage four.
For his part in today's goings on Elli was fined three hundred Australian dollars, his love affair with the race, in which he claimed four stages last year, apparently not over yet. "I spent sixteen years as a professional rider," Elli intimated. "I am here just for fun, if I can win, I win."
Who knows what may happen tomorrow at the Crocodile Trophy?
This iconic, yet enigmatic event, which so far has provided more twists than an Agatha Christie novel is sure to reveal another exciting chapter tomorrow when the race heads from Borroloola to Robinson River on a shorter stage of 108 kilometres. First up, the riders need to cross the causeway on the MacArthur River, where only yesterday a rogue 4 metre crocodile was captured by National Park Rangers and relocated to a Crocodile Farm.
With the Gatorade green machine now out of contention for the teams prize, the team of local underdogs from Cairns looks to have the title there for the taking, an outcome which still sits beyond the wildest dreams of Crocodile Trophy novices Dave Woods and James Grant, who are riding shotgun for Adam Hansen. When told their lead in the teams event was in excess of eleven hours, the affable Woods quipped, "we're going to have to attack tomorrow."
The nearest challenger to the Coconut Village Team, Team Skinfit of Austria is yet to fully hit its straps, with gun mountainbiker and six time competitor Thomas Moderbacher taking it easy so far, while riding support for the event's sole female competitor Anita Waib. Moderbacher has regularly been photographed resting in Billabongs and submerging himself in creeks during his long distance ride across the outback. Crocodile like behaviour indeed!
Images by Mark Watson/mwphotography.com.au
1 Ondrej Fojtik (Cze) 4.44.38 2 Adam Hansen (Aus) Cairns Coconut Caravan Resort 10.23 3 Alberto Elli (Ita) Gatorade Dream Team 1 10.49 4 Sibl Radoslav (Cze) Team Sport Nora 22.09 5 Martin Kiechle (Ger) 22.10 6 Gerhard Gulewicz (Aut) bikestation-salinenimmobiloen.com 33.29 7 Salvatore Paolo Albano (Ita) Pedale Tarvisiano 33.33 8 Robert Hotter (Aut) Team Sport Nora 40.12 9 Perry Moerman (Bel) Gatorade Dream Team 2 42.46 10 Tilo Koch (Ger) 45.45 11 Andrew Wegener (Aus) 12 James Grant (Aus) Cairns Coconut Caravan Resort 45.49 13 Andreas Dünn (Ger) Baier-Qantas-German A. 45.51 14 Adam Socha (Aus) 45.54 15 David Woods (Aus) Cairns Coconut Caravan Resort 1.23.39 16 Jochen Doll (Ger) 1.25.25 17 Loris Macor (Ita) Pedale Tarvisiano 18 Thomas Moderbacher (Aut) skinfit TEAM AUSTRIA 1.25.26 19 Charles Blanc (Fra) 1.26.26 20 Andreas Mühlbacher (Aut) skinfit TEAM AUSTRIA 1.43.55 21 Anita Waiß (Aut) skinfit TEAM AUSTRIA 22 Willi Wagner (Aut) Team Hervis NÖ 1 1.49.36 23 Peter Dammerer (Aut) Team Hervis NÖ 1 1.49.37 24 Peter Raymann (Aut) Team Hervis NÖ 2 25 Hans Weber (Aut) Team Fluxus 1.49.38 26 Giancarlo Schoemberg (Ita) Pedale Tarvisiano 2.01.58 27 Stephan Adelsmayr (Aut) Drahteselklinik 2.07.17 28 Kim Proctor (Aus) SOHO 2.15.24 29 Toru Watanabe (Jpn) Team Sport Nora 2.22.21 30 Marzio Deho (Ita) Gatorade Dream Team 1 3.22.21 30 Jurgen Van de Walle (Bel) Gatorade Dream Team 1 30 Robert Dold (Aut) Baustoff + Metall 1 30 Mario Amann (Aut) Baustoff + Metall 1 30 Wolfgang Kristinus (Aut) Baustoff + Metall 1 30 Thomas Pichler (Aut) Team Hervis NÖ 1 30 Christophe Stevens (Bel) 30 Lars Erik Johnson (USA) Gatorade Dream Team 2 30 Wilhelm Stapper (Ger) Baustoff + Metall 2 30 Manuel Pino (Spa) Fastest woman 1 Anita Waiß (Aut) skinfit TEAM AUSTRIA 6.28.33 General classification after stage 3 1 Adam Hansen (Aus) Cairns Coconut Caravan Resort 18.05.38 2 Ondrej Fojtik (Cze) 30.09 3 Sibl Radoslav (Cze) Team Sport Nora 56.54 4 Martin Kiechle (Ger) 57.03 5 Alberto Elli (Ita) Gatorade Dream Team 1 1.18.40 6 Andreas Dünn (Ger) Baier-Qantas-German A. 2.21.14 7 Tilo Koch (Ger) 2.28.35 8 Gerhard Gulewicz (Aut) bikestation-salinenimmobiloen.com 2.45.16 9 Robert Hotter (Aut) Team Sport Nora 2.54.29 10 David Woods (Aus) Cairns Coconut Caravan Resort 3.15.23 11 James Grant (Aus) Cairns Coconut Caravan Resort 3.28.37 12 Jurgen Van de Walle (Bel) Gatorade Dream Team 1 3.34.35 13 Andrew Wegener (Aus) 3.34.58 14 Adam Socha (Aus) 3.35.06 15 Marzio Deho (Ita) Gatorade Dream Team 1 3.48.46 16 Thomas Moderbacher (Aut) skinfit TEAM AUSTRIA 4.34.06 17 Willi Wagner (Aut) Team Hervis NÖ 1 4.40.28 18 Peter Dammerer (Aut) Team Hervis NÖ 1 5.10.50 19 Salvatore Paolo Albano (Ita) Pedale Tarvisiano 5.20.25 20 Anita Waiß (Aut) skinfit TEAM AUSTRIA 5.53.07 21 Mario Amann (Aut) Baustoff + Metall 1 6.00.09 22 Hans Weber (Aut) Team Fluxus 6.29.13 23 Lars Erik Johnson (USA) Gatorade Dream Team 2 6.30.09 24 Loris Macor (Ita) Pedale Tarvisiano 6.34.28 25 Kim Proctor (Aus) SOHO 7.11.19 26 Jochen Doll (Ger) 7.21.51 27 Perry Moerman (Bel) Gatorade Dream Team 2 7.25.02 28 Andreas Mühlbacher (Aut) skinfit TEAM AUSTRIA 7.40.18 29 Toru Watanabe (Jpn) Team Sport Nora 8.09.39 30 Peter Raymann (Aut) Team Hervis NÖ 2 8.22.20 31 Giancarlo Schoemberg (Ita) Pedale Tarvisiano 8.39.37 32 Christophe Stevens (Bel) 8.54.31 33 Thomas Pichler (Aut) Team Hervis NÖ 1 9.38.14 34 Charles Blanc (Fra) 9.45.32 35 Stephan Adelsmayr (Aut) Drahteselklinik 10.26.23 36 Wilhelm Stapper (Ger) Baustoff + Metall 2 10.54.49 37 Robert Dold (Aut) Baustoff + Metall 1 11.26.15 38 Wolfgang Kristinus (Aut) Baustoff + Metall 1 11.41.27 39 Manuel Pino (Spa) Fastest woman 1 Anita Waiß (Aut) skinfit TEAM AUSTRIA 23.58.45 Points classification 1 Adam Hansen (Aus) Cairns Coconut Caravan Resort 55 pts 2 Ondrej Fojtik (Cze) 25 3 Sibl Radoslav (Cze) Team Sport Nora 20 4 Jurgen Van de Walle (Bel) Gatorade Dream Team 1 17 5 Alberto Elli (Ita) Gatorade Dream Team 1 15 6 Martin Kiechle (Ger) 14 7 Marzio Deho (Ita) Gatorade Dream Team 1 10 Teams classification 1 Cairns Coconut Caravan Resort 61.01.24 2 Gatorade Dream Team 1 1.57.46 3 Team Sport Nora 5.16.42 4 skinfit TEAM AUSTRIA 11.23.01 5 Team Hervis NÖ 1 12.45.02 6 Pedale Tarvisiano 13.50.00 7 Baustoff + Metall 1 22.23.21