On the way to Cape Tribulation Herremans' performance inspires
By John Flynn in Daintree, Australia
Italy's Mauro Bettin claimed overall victory in the Crocodile Trophy as the race rolled into Cape Tribulation on its tenth and final stage. After nine stages of tough racing, racers knew the finish times for stage 10 did not count, and instead of racing for final glory, they chose to ride together in support of Marc Herremans, a paraplegic Belgian athlete whose achievements in the race inspired both fellow racers and fans around the world. The top riders formed a sort of honor guard to escort Herremans to the finish.
"I am so very happy to win the Crocodile Trophy," said Bettin, who was the leader of the Felt Dream Team. "The first time I come here I finish second, then I finished second again. To win the Crocodile is amazing."
Czech Ondrej Fojtik (Toyota Dolak), returning this year for his second assault on the epic race, was equally pleased to take his place on the podium next to an honourable champion in Bettin. "I'm satisfied with the second place, Mauro was stronger, better than me," Fojtik admitted.
"It was great for me, I won the last stage and it was super." The tough Czech also hinted that his Crocodile Trophy dream is far from done with. "Sure I will be back and I can win this great race," he said.
Third place outright in the Trophy belonged to Dane Allan Carlsen, a rider who may have the right attributes to one day be a champion of the race himself. "I'm super happy with it, I can really enjoy it now, it's been super," Carlsen said. "I really love that it was so competitive this year, there was so many strong guys."
Team Flight Centre's Tim Bennett became only the second Australian to earn a place on the final podium. He finished fourth in the General classification and third in the elite men's classification were a result of ten days of consistent riding. His finish exceeded his own expectations.
"Yeah I'm over the moon, what can you say, you come here to achieve a goal and you over-achieve your goal, there's nothing better," Bennett said. "It's pretty high up there (on his list of achievements) for such a big international race. It's the first time I've finished on the podium against European guys."
Italy's Michela Benzoni was ecstatic with her result as the women's winner. She may have been the strongest woman ever to contest the race, and she managed to finish high up in the classification in mostly male company, a feat more worthy given she has little history of contesting stage races. "Crocodile Trophy is very, very hard ," she said before answering the question about whether she would return to defend her title. "Impossible, never never never no no no no."
Of all the finishers, Herreman's may have been the most proud. "Coming over the finish line seeing all the athletes cheering me on is just another great feeling after the accident," an emotional Herremans said as he cast his eyes to the ocean in wonder. "Paralysis doesn't stop you doing great things in your life." He was paralyzed after an accident in 2002 and hand-cycled his way through the Crocodile Trophy.
"Some people say that health is the biggest thing that you can have but if you are very very healthy and you have no friends you have no life," Herremans said. "I am not healthy I am paralysed from the chest down, but I have so much friends that I may be one of the happiest men in the world."
Although he's also won the Ironman, Herremans found great pleasure in his Crocodile Trophy win. "For me it's the biggest one," Herremans said. "Here it was nine days in a row that I had to give everything and I was totally finished, blown up at the finish line, you have to keep on going, keep on going," he said. "To be at the finish line is an amazing feeling even though I'm amazingly tired. I just enjoy the moment, it is great."
For full coverage of the Crocodile trophy, click here.
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