The Crocodile Trophy, a nine-day mountain bike stage race through the Outback of Tropical Far North Queensland, will kick off on Saturday, October 20 and finish after more than 900km in Cooktown on Sunday, October 28. This year, the field of more than 130 racers is bigger and more competitive than ever before and during today's rider briefing the top favourites were mingling with adventurous mountain bikers from all over the world.
This 2012 edition of the race will start at Smithfield's former World Cup tracks near Cairns before heading out onto the Atherton Tablelands towards the mining towns of Irvinebank and Maitland and passing the Mt Mulligan cattle station along the way.
"Our race track has changed a lot from previous years. Our riders can expect more technical sections throughout almost each stage. Logistically the increased rider numbers meant that we ramped up the event's organisational crew and procedures, it's a massive operation," said organiser Gerhard Schönbacher at today's official pre-race briefing in Cairns.
On of the most talked about topics was the racing venue for stage 1 at the Cairns MTB Club's home track in Smithfield, which will host the 30km lap race on a 6km course, which has been described by riders as "not too technical, but rewarding for the mountain bikers among the field".
The big favourites this year are the Austrians Wolfgang Krenn and Josef Benetseder, who finished second and third, respectively in 2011, as well as a "Croc old hand" with Czech rider Ondrej Fojtik, winner of the race in 2008.
Krenn arrived in Cairns with a lot of luggage and an empty wallet after the excess baggage charges. "It's worth it - I really like this race and it's been my main goal for this season. I look forward to the heat and the technical sections, especially on stage 7 and 8 with all those corrugations. I hope that one of us Austrians will win the race this year, but there are a lot of good racers here."
Benetseder, the Austrian road hill climb champion, has his eyes on Grassy Hill, the historic and picturesque landing site of Captain Cook. "Indeed I am a climber, but my specialty is racing on roads. I am motivated to master the technical mountain bike sections, and I'm in good shape. My favourite stage is the last one - very long and that's what I am used to, because as a road racer I do races up to 200km frequently."
Fojtik said, "I'm in excellent shape, so I think I'll have a very good chance to win this year's event. I finished second twice already and in 2008 I won, however, it was a very tough race for me that year and I didn't enjoy some of the race stages. Now I hope to win after a 'good' race." The Czech racing pro welcomed the race track changes, expecting that the race will be "better, shorter, harder and what's most important, it will be so much faster".
Also last year's fastest Australian elite rider Justin Morris will be at the start line as well as Australia's very own 24-hour Solo World Champion Jason English from Port Macquarie.
Morris hopes to take advantage of his technical racing skills to compete with the high-profile international racing field at the Crocodile Trophy this year. "I am the local rider, I know. But I don't know if this is a benefit. This year the race is changed, and I don't know what to expected. The stages are shorter, but more technical and the singletrack will be a piece of cake for us mountain bikers."
English arrived in Cairns with another 24-hour solo win under his belt - from last weekend. It's not exactly going to be a recovery ride in the Outback, but he is looking forward to experiencing first hand what the Crocodile Trophy is all about after having heard so much about it. "I can't wait to get out there, it's great to be amongst so many different riders from all over the world, no doubt this is going to be an adventure!"
The international field of riders further includes Canadian endurance mountain bike racer Cory Wallace, who finished fifth overall in 2010 as well as Belgian Mike Mulkens who is at the Croc start line for the fourth time in a row.
Wallace said, "I decided to come only three weeks ago so after my summer racing season in Canada I just kept riding for miles each day to contain my shape." The Canadian can look back onto a very successful summer, having won several endurance and a stage race in Asia, the Mongolian Bike Challenge, which he described as very similar in terms of race logistics and dynamics. Wallace wouldn't put money on any of the favourites to win the Croc Trophy, stating that "every stage will be a battle, it is impossible to predict a winner".
Mulkens wrote history at last year's event, however, wasn't rewarded due to mechanical issues towards the end of the stage race. "No flat tires, please, this year, because I want to win a boomerang. I focused all my training on the Crocodile Trophy and I believe that the race can be won or lose during stage two. It's a wall."
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage of the Crocodile Trophy.