The Merida-Fight Centre team has set itself the ambitious goal of claiming both the men's and women's titles at the Crocodile Trophy, when it hits the dusty outback road of Australia's tropical north on October 21. Spearheaded by Western Australia's Tim Bennett, who last year excelled in reaching the bottom step of the podium behind Italy's Mauro Bettin and The Czech Republic's Ondrej Fojtik, the team will return in 2008 with a bolstered line-up, featuring in-form riders and world class talent.
Joining Bennett once again for the journey will be last year's fellow debutant Nick Both, whose form of late has been outstanding, including a second overall placing at the Flight Centre Epic. Bookending the men's lineup for Merida-Flight Centre is Adrian Jackson, whose credits including winning the 2004 & 2008 World Mountain Bike Orienteering Championships along with the 2008 editions of Tasmania's Wildside and the Central Australian Mountain Bike Enduro.
"With Tim, Nick and A.J., we believe we have the right mix of skills to take a serious tilt at winning the Crocodile Trophy," Team Director Peter Creagh said. "The 2007 event was an excellent learning experience and our riders grew in confidence with every day as they realised they could match it with the Europeans."
But it won't just be the Europeans the Merida-Flight Centre team will need to worry about in 2008. The start-list features a quality group of Australians including 2006 World 24 Hour Champion Craig Gordon (Rockstar Racing) and one of mountain biking's ultimate survivors, the legendary downhiller turned endurance racer, Johnny Waddell.
"Gordon is a tough competitor and I know the boys will enjoy the daily dogfight," said Creagh. "But our goal is to win the GC, and I suspect it's the Czech team (VIG+ Racing) we will need to be most concerned about."
Merida-Flight Centre won't be focussed solely on winning the men's title in 2008 with its newest team member lining up in the women's race.
Former Ironwoman Jo Bennett, the wife of Tim, has decided to enter Australia's outback classic, and is already considered to be one of the favourites to take home the women's "Saltie". Bennett recently decided to shift her focus full-time to mountain biking, with The Croc Trophy her first serious stage-race campaign. It also provides a chance to renew the rivalry with another of Australias top female mountain bikers, The Sunshine Coast's Naomi Hansen, after the two shared the honours at the re-cent Flight Centre Epic.
"Whatever Jo achieves at this race will be a bonus for us as a team," Creagh said. "We are looking to Jo as a long-term project and we know with the Crocodile Trophy that it's a race where results are often commensurate with experience."
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