The Hard Road to Cooktown, Part 2.

Words by Il Pastaio/Phil Welch | Images by Rocky Trail Entertainment

Arriving in Cairns on Tuesday, Pete Selkrig and I were soon to meet up with Martin Wisata, the third member of the Il Pastaio / Rocky Trail Team. The next four days would be devoted to preparing as fully as possible for the 900 km of gruelling torture which would unfold over nine consecutive days in the hot and humid tropical conditions of far north Queensland. Both Pete and I had just competed in WEMBO’s 24 hour solo event two days earlier and so a rapid recovery was essential.

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My first impressions of the other riders was one of awe. There were so many Europeans, many with strong road backgrounds, and I instantly feared the worst, believing I was probably way out of my depth. An early training ride with some of the Austrian’s confirmed my worst fears. These Europeans meant business. The next few days involved acclimatising to the heat and humidity and a more sedate training ride with 24 hour solo specialist Cory Wallace from Canada and elite rider Mike Blewitt. By Friday, we were all becoming restless and were looking forward to the start of the race and the opportunity to assess what appeared to be formidable opposition.

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Smithfield

A 16 km ride from the centre of Cairns to Smithfield provided a perfect warm-up for the first stage of the Crocodile Trophy. The 70 plus riders looked anxious and the nerves were palpable. At last, we were called to the start line and the beginning of the first phase of the race was imminent. I glanced down at my Garmin and my heart rate had almost doubled. Suddenly, the elite riders surged from the start line and I was catapulted forward in hot pursuit. At the entry to the singletrack, New Zealand’s Hamish Morrin appeared over my left shoulder but suddenly he lost traction and hit terra firma. Only minutes later, one of the female riders was also making a hasty acquaintance with the dirt. Luckily, I was ahead of the chaos and proceeded to hunt down the early pace-setters ahead.

Anticipating the Start

The iconic trails of Smithfield will be utilised for the UCI World Cup in 2014 and it is clearly evident why. The trails are a pleasure to ride, with only a few short pinch climbs and flowy descents which incorporate a large number of lovingly constructed berms. Despite the hot conditions, with temperatures reaching 30 degrees, the tree cover and breeze provided enough protection to allow the speed of the race to remain high. During the final three laps, I had found a solid rhythm, and was picking off a number of the European riders who had wilted in the heat. It was necessary to drink plenty of fluids and I was able to find enough opportunities on track to keep my fluid levels adequately topped up.

Discussing Race Tactics

On reaching the finish line, I was shocked to find I had finished fouth in M2 (40-50 years), only three and a half minutes behind Hamish in first, and six minutes ahead of fourth. I also learnt that one of the favourites for my category, Austrian Wolfgang Mader, had crashed early, broken his finger and was unable to complete the first lap.Team mate Pete Selkrig, despite a fall, had finished in first, two and half minutes ahead of his nearest rival in M3 (50+) while Martin Wisata had accomplished a highly respectable fourth in M1. In the General Classification, Pete is 25th (1.47.30), Martin 26th (1.47.59) and I am 27th (1.48.38).

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Tomorrow will provide an all together different test, with the Crocodile Trophy travelling from Cairns to Lake Tinaroo. Eighty nine kilometres of racing and 2500 metres of vertical ascent await the riders, incorporating very steep climbs and descents. The Euro Roadies will be more at home on these roads and I expect some big changes to the overall classification.