By John Flynn in Gunnawarra
Tomas Trunschka took his second stage win in three days at the Crocodile Trophy, running from October 21 to 30 in Australia's Outback. The Czech racer isn't leading the race, but his teammate Ondrej Fojtik is. In fact, the Czechs are presently occupying all three top spots and six of the top ten places in the men's general classification after stage three.
The attrition rate was understandably high on day three as the race's protagonists fought the elements and their own internal demons. As expected, the Czechs attacked early as the peloton ventured out from Koombooloomba on a picturesque rainforest road, and team VIG's Martin Horak launched the first major assault when the lead bunch entered the famed powerline track.
Horak was offered a little breathing space early as the remaining non-Czech contenders in the race, most notably Belgian Nic Vermeulen (Team Lingier) and Australian solo entrant Craig Gordon, kept a close eye on overall leader Fojtik. But with so many options at their disposal, the Czechs were holding all the aces.
After a technical, mountainous section of the powerline track, just four riders were left in the hunt for the stage - Gordon, Vermeulen, Fojtik and Trunschka, who led on the road. A series of attacks followed on the dead straight, red dirt road on the way to the outback cattle station at Gunnawarra Lagoon. Gordon fought to stay in contention, and Vermeulen gave it everything as Fojtik and Trunschka took turns launching themselves off the front.
"It was hot, very hot, but nice track, with the Czech team it is difficult," admitted Vermeulen, who finished third. "On the technical I'm maybe the best. Then for the finish, it was one against three Czechs; the Australian was good but he could just follow."
Gordon, whose form appears to be improving with each day, also came close. "A hard day, a little bit disappointing, I got fourth, but the Czechs look like they've got this race sewn up," the Australian solo entrant conceded. "They've got a strong team, and there are quite a few guys there working... very, very strong."
For the Czechs it was another case of mission accomplished. "There were three of us and it was very fast at the end of the race," Trunschka said. The question now is who will be officially appointed team captain for VIG+ racing, with three riders (at least) in contention for the overall result.
On the other hand, the women's race has been anything but a Czech affair. Australian Jo Bennett of Merida Flight Centre team enjoyed some help during stage three from husband Tim on stage three after he came to the realisation he couldn't match it with the Czechs in the men's event.
A husband and wife battle between Australian and Belgium is taking shape, as Karen Steurs also brought her partner along for the ride. Bennett won stage three, but the battle is expected to go down to the wire.
"We were together until the finish today and Tim was a big help," Jo Bennett said. "Karen and I had a sprint, and I managed to get the win, which was great, but there's still a long way to go and she's very strong."
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage of the Crocodile Trophy.