Today the seventh stage of the MEPT – Crocodile Trophy was a 78km circuit race with 1050vm of climbing in the Kuranda National Park around the Wetherby Cattle Station. The two Canadia Elite racers Andrew L’Esperance and Leandre Bouchard sprint it out with L’Esperance taking the stage win in 2h54:07.9. Erik Dekker finishes fourth ahead of the Japanese rider Hiroyuki Okamoto who pushes himself into third overall in the elites again and the amateur rider Daniel Beresford from Wagga Wagga is back in the fastest Australian leader jersey, finished in fifth. The fastest woman of the day was amateur racer Daniela Erni Ruoss from Switzerland in 3h49:13.6.
Today’s stage winner L’Esperance said that on today’s course there had not been many spots to get a way, “Leandre was very strong and marked me very closely. I did try to get away, but inside the 5km mark it was going to come down to a sprint.”
Of the race he said that after several attacks a group of six riders had formed at the front and as the trails got tighter the two Canadians attacked with Erik Dekker catching them. However, after the second feedzone the two GC leaders broke away again. L’Esperance admitted that he had tried to make some moves on some of the climbs towards the end of the race, “I tried to put pressure on him [Bouchard], but no chance. I’m now 1:30min back, so tomorrow is going to be exciting. It will be every man for themselves and we’ll see what happens. ”
Tomorrow is the final and 8th stage of the MEPT – Crocodile Trophy – an individual time trial down the very rough and technical Bump Track, only 30km long. The finish is on Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas. With such a small gap between race leader Bouchard and L’Esperance it will be a very exciting race, especially given the completely different bikes that they both will race tomorrow: L’Esperance is on a dual suspension bike, which will be a lot more comfortable and forgiving on the rough downhill sections of the Bump Track. Bouchard is on a hard tail without suspension in the back, so he will have to work very hard to absorb the shocks of the bumpy ride, literally.
Bouchard will not be backing down, however, he said. “Today my goal was always to keep my lead – I knew, as long as I can stay with him I knew the time gap would remain the same. It’s going to be interesting to see how we both react tomorrow after seven brutal stages. But I’m still feeling very well – Andrew seems still fresh, but I’m feeling good also. So I think I should be good for tomorrow, it’ll be a short race, no tactics, so it will be all or nothing.”
He added that he had really enjoyed the Crocodile Trophy so far, “There is still one stage to go, but it was a really good experience, my first stage race, so I certainly learned a lot about this kind of racing, a fun week.”
Australians show strength in general classification
In the general classification, it’s the top two elites ahead of the top to in the A3 category. Bouchard ahead of L’Esperance and Amateur leader Erik Dekker from the Netherlands is still in third outright with a gap of 1h09:18 ahead of fellow A3 racer Daniel Beresford, the fastest Australian from last year. The endurance mountain biker from Wagga Wagga pushed himself into fourth overall after a tremenduous ride today. In fifth overall after seven stages is the Japanese rider Hiroyuki Okamoto.
Notably, there are five Australians among the top ten riders ahead of tomorrow’s final stage: with Beresford heading the charge, there are Ben May (6th), Alex Malone (7th), Peter Lister (9th) and Grant Webster (10th).
Crocodile Trophy takes its toll on bikes and bodies
The fastest female finisher today was the Swiss racer Daniela Erni Ruoss who is based in Melbourne. Haley Smith, the Elite Woman is still in the race and she had a very tough day today with reported stomach issues overnight, finishing in 4h08:22.9 today.
The Crocodile Trophy is the most demanding mountain bike stage race in the world – there are eight races to complete in a row, six of them very challenging marathons and the riders usually burn an incredible amount of energy each day – to keep replenishing the body with enough food and hydration is the toughest task apart from racing, not just on the bike, but especially after the race. To recover well every day and to refuel for the next, while still getting all equipment in order is the real challenge.
“Most days the area around the mechanics tent looks like a battle field”, says seven-time finisher Martin Wisata. “There’s bikes everywhere, bits hanging off, tyres blown out, levers bent, forks locked up… it’s a tough terrain up here and you can’t underestimate the strain bikes and bodies are under each day”, he explained adding that he himself was struggling with stomach issues. “It’s just hard to eat and drink enough every day, at some point your body just rings some alarm bells. Then it’s about staying calm, getting some rest and looking after yourself. Because the next stage and the next race start is just one sleep away.”
Last stage: time trial into Port Douglas
Tonight the ~70 riders plus staff and crew and supporters are staying at Wetherby Station and Saturday it will be final race start for the 2017 event: an individual time trial to Port Douglas, which will take the riders on a 30km rollercoaster ride. The highlight will be the descent off the escarpment starting just after the half-way mark on the on the infamous Bump Track. The last 10km are flat with the magnificent finish on Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas.
The first rider in Saturday’s time trial will start at 10am – the start order is the reverse order of the general classification. Bouchard will go out on track as the last rider, 30 seconds behind L’Esperance who will no doubt be on a mad getaway ride into Port Douglas.
First finishers are expected at Four Mile Beach near the Surf Life Saving Club from 11am. The elite winners will arrive anytime after 11:15.