The 2013 Crocodile Trophy wrapped up on Sunday on Cooktown's Grassy Hill, and for the first time in eight years an Australian claimed the win. Mark Frendo from Brisbane celebrated victory after nine days, 900km and more than 15,000m of elevation and finishing in 30:40:17, ahead of the Canadian Cory Wallace and Jiri Krivanek from the Czech Republic.
The race started in Cairns on October 19 and took its riders across the Atherton Tablelands to historic mining towns deep in the Australian Outback. The race courses throughout the nine-day event included singletrack in Smithfield, marathon races through rain forests, across Outback Highways and rough mining trails and the 2013 edition also included a time trial stage on day seven. Sandy terrain, corrugated roads, narrow and flowing singletrails, gruelling climbs and fast descends - the Crocodile Trophy showcased the best mountain bike trails that Far North Queensland has to offer.
More than 15 nations were represented, and participants included pro road and mountain bike racers as well as passionate amateurs, all of whom had the same goal: to race more than 900km and climb over 15,000m of elevation to experience the Australian Outback in the saddle of their bikes.
After the first training rides together in Cairns and as a newcomer to the mountain bike stage racing scene, Frendo was labelled as the "dark horse", and he delivered on his status from day one.
Frendo won the first two stages - first the multi-lap race at Smithfield's MTB Park near Cairns and then the marathon stage 2 up towards the Atherton Tablelands and Lake Tinaroo.
"I went into this race confidently - competing alongside Cory Wallace at the Mongolia Challenge, I knew what it takes to race at his level," said the 28-year old rider from Brisbane. The mechanical engineer had to defend his early race lead in the final days against none other that the Canadian marathon national champion and Mongolia Challenge winner Wallace, who finished with a gap of more than 12 minutes in second.
The biggest favourites this year had been last year's third place finisher and experienced stage racer Wolfgang Krenn from Austria, the Czech cross country ace Jan Fojtik and Wallace. However, both Krenn and Fojtik were forced to retire from the race due to severe lower back pains - as Fojtik gave up after two and Krenn after three stages, the battle between the Australian contender Frendo and the North American favourite Wallace unfolded, which ended with the first Australian Crocodile Trophy win since 2005 by Adam Hansen.
Wallace congratulated the Australian winner at the finish on Grassy Hill. "Mark [Frendo] had a fantastic race and made all the right moves. Sure I'm disappointed, but I love racing the Crocodile Trophy." He added that he liked the variety of trails and the adventurous nature of the event and promised to be back in 2014. "I'm still content with my race. The Croc has the best mix of trails of any stage race I've ever competed in. Every day the scenery changes and the Outback is just so different from anywhere else - there's snakes and spiders and scorpions. In Canada with our bears, at least you see 'em coming."
Krivanek finished in third in the overall classification after putting up a fierce fight for the position and was happy with his performance. "I'll be back 100% next year as well," he said.
Hessens dominates women's race
While Frendo was winning the men's category. Liesbeth Hessens was dominating the women's field. The Belgian adventure racer was undefeated during the nine stages and won the overall ahead of Italian racers Giordana Sordi and Maria Cristina Prati.
"This was the longest and hardest race I've done and I'm so happy that I did so well," said an emotional Hessens at the finish.
Living, working and training in Switzerland she said that she didn't mind the climbing, but suffered in the heat at times. "The racing was tough, but I just loved the adventure of the race. Every day we got to see a different part of this country and that's what made it so special for me."
Notably, Hessens finished 21st overall, which was her big goal from the beginning she said, "I don't usually compete, but rather like riding and training in the Alps. But here I sort of got the racing bug and to finish as 21st in a field dominated by male riders, makes me very happy."
Hessens added that one of the most fun aspects was that so many different riders were summoned to the event, "I enjoyed the atmosphere out on track, I was usually racing with the master fields and I loved the camaraderie. You motivate each other, some people fight hard to make it through each day."
Race organizer Gerhard Schönbacher said that he and his team had already been scouting new and even more exciting race tracks for next year, which will mark the 20th anniversary of the iconic event.
"The Crocodile Trophy is the toughest mountain bike stage race in the world. We will continue to feature a wide variety of stage routes including fun and exciting mountain bike sections as well as less technical yet tough trails and Outback Highways, which challenge the endurance skills of our riders."
The Crocodile Trophy will return to Cairns and Far North Queensland in October 2014.