The strongest and best-credentialed line-up of Australians yet to contest the Crocodile Trophy will face-off against the Europeans when Australia's legendary outback classic hits the dirt and dust of remote Tropical North Queensland on October 21.
Confirming its participation, the Merida Flight Centre team, led by Perth's Tim Bennett, will return for a second shot at winning what will surely be another long, hot and tough stage race.
Bennett became only the second Australian to make the podium of the Crocodile Trophy last year, when he finished an impressive third behind former World Cup Champion Mauro Bettin of Italy and Ondrej Fojtik of the Czech Republic. In 2008, Bennett will once again be joined by Merida Flight Centre team-mate Nick Both, who showed superb form to finish second in last weekend's 2008 edition of the Flight Centre Epic at Peppers Hiddenvale. Both was beaten by Australian Champion Chris Jongeward, on a day when the Merida Flight Centre Team did enough to suggest the goal of winning the Crocodile Trophy is not beyond reach.
"Yeah sure, I think I can finish higher on the podium this year at the Crocodile Trophy," Bennett said after battling illness to finish fifth on Sunday. "I learnt a lot last year and know what I have to do; it's a tough race."
The Merida Flight Centre Team won't just have the Europeans to worry about at this year's Trophy, with the announcement that 2006 24 hours of Adrenaline World 24 Hour Solo Champion Craig Gordon will be putting an end to the talk and showing up to contest the race many of his fellow Australians have long been frightened to enter. Gordon, who has been rumoured to start many times previously, will finally get his opportunity to "show the Euros how it's done", after being handed a wild-card entry.
With Australia's "Croc Man", two-time champion Adam Hansen (Team Columbia) unlikely to make it home from Europe in time to race his beloved Trophy, the opportunity awaits for another home-grown talent to earn international gravitas on the dusty corrugated roads of Australia's steamy tropical north. "It's great to see the Australians getting hungry and with the Merida Flight Centre Team returning I believe Bennett could be a chance for the overall classification if circumstances go his way," Race Supremo Gerhard Schoenbacher said. "If you ask Adam Hansen, Christophe Stevens or Mauro Bettin, the former champions will all tell you that you must experience the hardship of the Crocodile Trophy before you can win it."
The start-list for the fourteenth staging of The Trophy, from Mareeba to Cape Tribulation in Australia's remote Far North, has been capped at a record 100 riders, with the Belgian contingent alone expected to number close to forty when the final marquee signings are made public.
On the other side of Europe, a dozen battle-hardened mountain bikers from the Czech Republic have confirmed their attendance at the iconic race. They include triple stage-winner Ondrej Fojtik, who will enter as provisional favourite. The two-time runner-up (2004 and 2007) made a vow at the end of last year's Trophy to "one day come back and win this great race." Fojtik's 2008 campaign has raised the stakes to a new level. He will return as part of a ten-man contingent from Czech team VIG+ Racing, fronting a lineup stacked with Marathon World Cup talent.
"We always welcome the Czech riders at the Crocodile Trophy, they bring with them a strong work ethic and survival instincts, especially Fojtik," said Schoenbacher. "As Fojtik and Radoslav (Radek) Sibl have also shown us in recent years, the Czech mountain bikers have strong endurance qualities and are always threatening in the final days of the race."
Cyclists from 13 nations have already signed on from Australia, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Italy, Austria, The United States, Spain, The Czech Republic, Great Britain, Denmark, and Switzerland.
2008 Crocodile Trophy
October 21: Stage 1 - Mareeba - Irvinebank 86km/1100m
October 22: Stage 2 - Irvinebank - Koombooloomba 128km/1400m
October 23: Stage 3 - Koombooloomba-Gunnawarra 122km/2235m Thursday, 23. October
October 24: Stage 4 -Gunnawarra-Chillagoe 130km/900m
October 25: Stage 5 - Chillagoe-Chillagoe 120km/850m
October 26: Stage 6 - Chillagoe-Mount Mulgrave 138km/800m Sunday, 26. October
October 27: Stage 7 - Mount Mulgrave-Laura 148km/1100m Monday, 27. October
October 28: Stage 8 - Laura-Cooktown 142km/1050m
October 29: Stage 9 - Cooktown-Ayton 128km/1900m
October 30: Stage 10 - Ayton-Cape Tribulation 48km/520m
For more information, visit www.crocodile-trophy.com.