Copyright: Igor Schifris / Crocodile Trophy

The 23rd MEPT – Crocodile Trophy started with a lap race at Smithfield MTB Park in Cairns today. With Haley Smith and Leandre Bouchard two elites claimed a double victory for Canada in stage 1. Fellow Canadian Andrew L’Esperance was the runner-up in the men’s with the Russian Anton Sintsov coming in third. Tomorrow the riders from 17 countries will race a marathon from Cairns to Lake Tinaroo.

Australia’s and the World’s oldest and most iconic mountain bike stage race will travel through Tropical North Queensland for eight stages via the Atherton Tablelands to Herberton and Skybury Coffee and via Wetherby Station finish in Port Douglas next Saturday. In total they will cover almost 700km and more than 10,000vm of elevation racing from the tropical rainforests and bushlands in and around Cairns into the Outback and back to the magnificent coast with the finish on Four Mile Beach.

Calling Tropical North Queensland home

For more than a decade the MEPT – Crocodile Trophy has called Tropical North Queensland home. The event has retained its legendary status from back in 1994 when it started with a brutal 2670 km race in 18 stages across the Outback Highways from Darwin to Cairns. In recent years the race has included a lot more mountain bike terrain into its stage plan, using the excellent facilities of the Smithfield MTB Park in Cairns and the vast network of firetrails in the region that lead to Port Douglas – via the Outback.

In 2017 the stage plan has changed slightly to include a new venue with the Tepon Equestrian Park in Herberton as the destination for stage three. The event will stop over at the Skybury Coffee Planatation near Mareeba for two nights as well as at the Wetherby Cattle Station high up on the escarpment from Port Douglas. New also this year is The Middle East Peace Tour (MEPT) who came on board as the principal sponsor and events partner. The MEPT is the first cross-border sporting event for peace in the world. Cyclists from all around the world will be permitted to participate in its inaugural race in March 2018.

Bouchard and Smith take the lead

On today’s lap race it was the cross-country experts of Leandre Bouchard and Haley Smith from Canada who took the lead in the elite categories. Both will be at the start of tomorrow’s marathon onto the Atherton Tablelands in the elite leader jerseys. Andrew L’Esperance (CAN) and Anton Sintsov (RUS) came in second and third in the elite men’s.

Today’s top three placed finishers had raced together for the first half of the race until Anton Sintsov, Russian National Cross-country Champion lost valuable time due to a mechanical issue. He was able to fix it at the technical feed zone but couldn’t catch up to Leandre Bouchard the U23 National Marathon Champion from 2014 who put in an attack on fellow Canadian Andrew L’Esperance on the last lap increasing his 10 second lead to a finishing gap of 1:30min. Bouchard secured the elite men’s leader jersey in a race time of 1h38:07.7.

Haley Smith, ranked in 16th internationally by the UCI (International Cycling Federation), finished as the only Elite Woman in 1h54:39.1

Overall results: Slezak fastest Australian

More than a third of the rider field is Australian and in the overall results, Ondrej Slezak (amateur A2 category) claimed the fastest Australian time today for his Quantum Racing Team, coming in third overall ahead of the Russian Sintsov. He will be at the start tomorrow in the Australian leader jersey. In fifth was fellow A2 and Australian racer Alex Malone. Erik Dekker, four time Tour de France stage winner and Dutch cycling icon won the masters amateur A3 category and came in sixth overall.

World record holder Wisata in the Austrian Leader Jersey

This year the Austro-Australian Martin Wisata is at the start of his eighth MEPT – Crocodile Trophy event and he currently holds the world record for most races completed. Racing under the flag of his home country, he claimed the Austrian leader jersey today coming in 14th overall. Sponsored by the Austrian „Energie Steiermark“, an energy provider, it is the organiser’s nod to their mutual home country of Austria.

Tomorrow’s marathon from Cairns to Lake Tinaroo will start with a rider call up at 8:30 and a mass start at 9:30am at the Esplanade Lagoon in the City Centre. With a 12km neutral ride out of Cairns it will take the riders via 2,100vm and 79km onto the Atherton Tablelands.