Stage five of the MEPT – Crocodile Trophy was a 125km marathon with 1100 metres of elevation to cover on very rugged and rarely used mining access and fire trails surrounded by dense Outback vegetation. Today's stage winner is the Dutch ex-road pro and 4-time Tour de France stage winner Erik Dekker – he is the first amateur to win a stage since the event's UCI sanctioning and at 47 years of age he also claims the accolade of the oldest ever stage winner in the 23-year history of the event.
Erik Dekker said that it had taken three attacks against the two Canadian leaders in the general classification, Leandre Bouchard and Andrew L'Esperance, to take the win.
“It was hard. A hard day. I attacked in the beginning and the two [Bouchard and L'Esperance] came with me. They were looking at each other as I attacked again and then they tried to get away, but after ten kilometres they sort of fell back to me and we worked really well together. You know, looked out for each other”, Dekker said.
As the finish line was approaching, Dekker admits, he had felt very tired and his legs heavy. “I knew that they [Bouchard and L'Esperance] had to sort of really worry about their overall standing, because they are so close in first and second, so I thought, maybe today is the day and I went for it and it worked out”, he recounted the final kilometers into the finish at Skybury Coffee, winning in 4h30:26.7 with a gap of 20 seconds ahead of L'Esperance (2nd) and Bouchard (3rd), who crossed the line right behind each other.
A stage win had been a real goal of himself at the MEPT – Crocodile Trophy, Dekker said, “You know, in the General Classification I'm so far behind and in my own master category quite far ahead, so this was a real goal for me and I'm really happy about the big stage win boomerang trophy!”
The Crocodile Trophy was only his second ever stage race on a mountain bike Erik Dekker admitted, sipping a hot coffee on the Skybury deck with views of the majestic andscape that Tropical North Queensland has to offer. Only about half a year ago he had started mountain biking and his cycling fitness is certainly of advantage, however, the technical riding skills are still raw.
Mountain biking challenges in pro-road racing retirement
Dekker retired from professional road racing in 2006 and says the two scenes are very different. The Crocodile Trophy especially is a completely new experience. “Well, I'm here on my own, I had a flat tyre yesterday and normally I'd get a new wheel. Here I had to fix it myself”, he said laughing out loud.
He added that he enjoyed the Australian racing surroundings with wallabies and kanagroos keeping the riders company on most days. “I love this race”, he concluded. “I can't see why I couldn't do this again, we'll see, but this is a historic race. I'm here because I realised [in my retirement] that I love cycling. I thought I'd never do the Crocodile Trophy or any more stage races at that, but 11 months ago when the race was on I was following Annemiek [van Vleuten] a bit and I thought, you only live once. I don't believe in bucket lists.”
General classification: Australian May moves into elite third
The Elite Female Haley Smith (CAN) finished as 15th overall today and by 35min ahead of the second woman outright, amateur women's leader Daniela Erni Ruoss (SUI). In the general classification (GC), Haley Smith remains in 12th position outright with a gap of just over 3 hours to her two fellow Canadian Elite Men, GC race leader Leandre Bouchard and L'Esperance (+1:31.4).
In the Elite Men, Australian Ben May has now pushed himself into third position after five stages with a gap of 2h11:39min. Racing in a group of fellow Australian amateurs with Malone, Lister, Beresford, and Webster, the 35-year old chased hard today. In fourth is the Japanese rider Hioyuki Okamoto (+2h11:54) and Mike Blewitt (AUS) is in fifth (+32h09:03.2).
To sum up the day, Erik Dekker stays in the amateur leader jersey and in third outright with a gap of about 53 minutes to the Canadian elites Bouchard and L'Esperance with the Australian amateur racers Ondrej Slezak is in fourth (+1h38:14) and Daniel Beresford in fifth (+1h49:17).
Local Cairns racers lead teams categories
Brendon Skerke and Bart Duraj are the most successful team racing in the “Crocodile Trophy Adventure” category. Sitting in 22nd and 23rd position in the GC, the Cairns locals both have to finish each stage within two minutes of each other as per the regulations. Brendon said that he had training intensively for 12 weeks in the lead up to the event and his ex-pro team mate Bart said that he had lost the desire to ride after retiring from professional road racing, but got back into it by taking up mountain biking.”
As a multiple finisher of the event Skerke said in a recent interview with the Cairns Post newspaper that he enjoyed rubbing shoulders with the best at the start line, “There is no other race in Australia where you can race against true past and present world legends of the sport.”
Tomorrow, the riders will leave Skybury Coffee and head further north on a 102km/1000vm marathon stopping for two nights at Wetherby Cattle Station.
Top results Stage 5:
> Link to Stage 5 online portal
Overall classification Stage 5:
1. #41 Erik Dekker (NED) /A3 Master / 4h30:26.7
2. #4 Andrew L'Esperance (CAN) / ELITE / Forward Racing-Norco / 4h30:46.8 +20.1
3. #3 Leandre Bouchard (CAN) / ELITE / BH SR Suntour KMC / 4h30:47.2 +20.5
4. #31 Alex Malone (AUS) / A2 Master / Cyclist Magazine / 4h49:03.8 +18:37.1
5. #25 Michal Kafka (AUS) / A2 Master / Quantum Racing Team / 4h49:11.8 +18:45.1
Elite MEN Stage 5:
1. #4 Andrew L'Esperance (CAN) / ELITE / Forward Racing-Norco / 4h30:46.8
2. #3 Leandre Bouchard (CAN) / ELITE / BH SR Suntour KMC / 4h30:47.2 +0.4
3. #9 Ben May (AUS) / ELITE / Bicycle Riders/Specialized/Infinit Nutrition / 4h49:22.5 +18:35.7
4. #6 Hiroyuki Okamoto (JPN) / ELITE / INPULSE / 5h05:49.2 +35:02.4
5. #8 Mike Blewitt (AUS) / ELITE / Subaru-MarathonMTB.com / 5h05:57.1 +35:10.1
ELITE WOMEN Stage 5:
1. #11 Haley Smith (CAN) / Norco Factory Team / 5h06:05.3
Amateur Women Stage 5:
1. Daniela Erni Ruoss (SUI) / 5h41:29.9
General classification ELITE Men after stage 5:
1. #3 Leandre Bouchard (CAN) / ELITE / BH SR Suntour KMC / 29h00:38.7
2. #4 Andrew L'Esperance (CAN) / ELITE / Forward Racing-Norco / 29h02:10.1 +1:31.4
3. #9 Ben May (AUS) / ELITE / Bicycle Riders/Specialized/Infinit Nutrition / 31h12:17.4 +2h11:38.7
4. #6 Hiroyuki Okamoto (JPN) / ELITE / INPULSE / 31h12:33.0 +2h11:54.3
5. #8 Mike Blewitt (AUS) / ELITE / Subaru-MarathonMTB.com / 32h55:01.1 +3h54:22.4
General classification ELITE Women after stage 5:
1. #11 Haley Smith (CAN) / Norco Factory Team / 32h09:03.2