Crocodile Trophy racers receive warm welcome in Cairns

Lelli and Wallace among the favorites for this year's race

Riders from more than 20 countries are arriving in Cairns in recent days to compete in the 2014 Crocodile Trophy mountain bike stage race. They will race for nine days for more than 900km and 15,000m of elevation to arrive in Port Douglas on October 26. Today some of the riders visited the Tjabukai Aboriginal Cultural Centre in Cairns and received a warm welcome from the Tjabukai elders.

"Welcome to Cairns, we wish you lots of strength and best of luck for your journey over the next few days," said Dennis Hunter, an Aboriginal Elder at Smithfield on Thursday.

2014 sees the Crocodile Trophy celebrate its 20th anniversary and for the first time it is registered as an official event of the international cycling industry body, the Union Cycliste Internationale / International Cycling Union (UCI). As a result, for the first time participants can collect valuable UCI points, which are used for cyclists' rankings internationally.

In addition, the Crocodile Trophy offers prize money to the value of AUD 40,000. Having said this, the event is still open for all competitors including amateur riders. The Crocodile Trophy is open to individual elite and amateur men and women racers from 19 to 50 years and to teams of men, women and mixed.

Most diverse stage plan in Crocodile Trophy history

The Crocodile Trophy starts with a time trial on the Cairns Mountain Bike World Cup course this Saturday. This year's race stage plan includes nine stages and the riders will race through dense rainforests in and around Cairns before heading up to the Atherton Tablelands for three days. Stage 2 on Sunday, October 19, will take them to Lake Tinaroo and the racing circus will be based in Atherton for two more stages, which will feature the popular Atherton MTB Park and surrounding bushland before the Crocodile Trophy heads towards Irvinebank and the remote Outback on Wednesday, October 22. The racers will have to face the dry intense heat before finishing on the tropical coast of Port Douglas on the following Sunday.

Over the nine days, the competitors will have to endure racing along dusty dirt roads, through dramatic rainforest roads, on old 4WD trails, sand tracks, across spectacular river crossings, up steep climbs, descending on rough downhills and along historic bullock tracks. While it is one of the most challenging MTB marathon stage races in the world it is open to professional riders and amateurs. As a result there are riders from Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, China, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland and the UK taking part.

One of the biggest names in the field is Max Lelli - the Italian former pro road cyclist, a 14-time Tour de France finisher and Giro d'Italia bronze medallist from Tuscany.

"It's my first time in Australia, and it is fascinating to be immersed in such an ancient culture", he said today. Lelli travelled to Australia with three team members - Davide Cassani, Iader Fabbri and Matteo Marzotto, who compete in this challenging race to raise awareness for a cystic fibrosis-charity they support back home.

UCI status attracts world's best

The Canadian Marathon National Champion, Cory Wallace, will compete in the Crocodile Trophy for the fourth time this year and is one of the main overall elite race favourites. His strongest competitors include the Crocodile Trophy winner from 2012, Ivan Rybaric from the Czech Republic as well as marathon racers Nicholas Pettina and Yuki Ikeda.

Strong contenders for the "Best Australian" leaders jersey include Andrew Hall from Canberra, Andrew Lloyd from Newcastle as well as Sydney's Ondrej Slezak. The local man to watch will be Warren Pike from Cairns.

The competitors will meet at the Cairns Lagoon on Friday for the official rider briefing.

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