Australia's Crocodile Trophy has always promised competitors an outback adventure but today, on what was definitely the most dramatic day in the race's history, drama was laid-on for the protagonists in rich helpings.
Stage three of the Croc Trophy from Granite Gorge on Australia's Tropical Tableland to Outback Irvinebank was always destined to be eventful, but what unfolded on a stage that was eventually nullified by the race judiciary will be etched forever in the Trophy's colourful history.
The first major incident of the day occurred at the 15-kilometre mark when women's race leader, Monique Zeldenrust of The Netherland punctured a tyre. It was no routine puncture, with the rocky outback trails gouging a sidewall and forcing a lengthy repair.
In the process, Zeldenrust watched her race lead evaporate ... or so she thought.
Five kilometres beyond the first incident, an emergency of a far more serious kind was unfolding. Again it was a Dutch mountain biker, Willemjan Hopstaken, who was in trouble. Hopstaken crashed heavily and immediately began suffering seizures.
Fortune was on his side, with two members of Australia's Jungle Patrol Wilderness Medicine team riding close behind. Doctor Andrew Graham and nurse Sharman Parr (the oldest woman in the race) abandoned their personal race ambitions and worked frantically to stabilise the Dutchman's condition.
The on-site treatment prevented a potentially life threatening situation. Hopstaken was later handed over to the race doctor and transported to hospital for scans after sustaining a severe concussion.
A further five kilometres down the trail, the next major drama for the day was already taking shape. The Crocodile Trophy's big players - an elite group of 11 cyclists fighting it out for the general classification - missed a clearly marked farm gate and ventured off-course, into the inhospitable wilderness of the Australian Outback.
The "Dimbulah Eleven" as they were later dubbed contained a who's who of the 2009 Crocodile Trophy. World and Olympic Champion Bart Brentjens, four-time Race Across America winner Jure Robic and race leader Urs Huber were all present when the group became hopelessly lost.
"It was really like an adventure, we lost the route, we missed an arrow, and after that we lost our orientation as well," Brentjens said.
"Holland is not such a big problem if you're lost, it's small, but here in Australia it can be 100km to the nearest place and that's a long way on the bike."
Playing for high stakes, the lead protagonists continued to race - over barbed wire fences, through cow paddocks and up dry gullies, before realising something had gone dreadfully wrong.
"After about 25km, we missed a junction, and we were walking over barbed wires, and they kept racing," German Kai Hundertmark, the day's early attacker said.
"I went, come on men, shut down your brains because we're completely lost."
Fortunately all three members of Australia's Tropical Tableland Discovery team - locals in this part of the world - were among the group and eventually guided the riders back towards civilisation.
But not before a series of navigational blunders that only added to the group's woes.
"I don't know where we went wrong, but we sure went wrong and got totally lost" Australia's Josh Prete said.
"Isaac (Tonello) and Steve (Rankine) and I said we've got to go this way, and the Europeans all said no we go this way. We eventually found a farmhouse.
"I texted Dad, tried to call everyone's numbers that I knew, called my team manager in Brisbane to see if he could do anything, but he didn't answer either."
Bushfire forces race closure
On a day when all hope could have been lost for the contenders in the Crocodile Trophy's general classification, a remarkable stroke of fortune laid-on by mother nature's fury saved their race hopes.
With a search underway at one end of the course, 30 kilometres away another drama was just beginning as a bushfire whipped up by strong winds raced across the race route near Dimbulah.
Police and rural fire service volunteers exercised emergency powers and intervened to shut down the race, effectively bringing stage three to a premature end.
The race judiciary later decided to nullify the stage, meaning the results after stage two will be carried into tomorrow's fourth stage.
What Happened to The Missing Riders?
As for the missing riders, the so-called "Dimbulah Eleven", stage three of Australia's Crocodile Trophy turned into an unforgettable outback adventure.
After reaching civilisation, the elite bunch continued to ride and, guided by Australia's Isaac Tonello, followed the route used in the 2008 Crocodile Trophy to the finish in Irvinebank.
For Bart Brentjens, a man who has experienced everything in the sport, this was something completely different. "We had a lot of fun with the group together , a great ride and it was very technical," Brentjens said.
"Then we heard about the bushfire, that the whole peloton had to quit the race, it was a really strange day. I never had it like this with other races, sometimes you can lose your route, but not like I had today."
Barring any more strange incidents, tomorrow's stage from Irvinebank to Chillagoe should provide the first serious on course test for the Crocodile Trophy peloton of 2009.
Slovenia's Jure Robic, who has won the stage to Chillagoe on three occasions, is already talking up his chances.
"I would like to win again and I will do my best to win a fourth time," a confident Robic said. "If I'm in front and I'm sure I'm going to be, I will do everything to win a fourth time."
There will be no results for stage 3 since the stage was neutralized. General classification results from stage 2 carry forward to the start of stage 4.