2011 Crocodile Trophy Diary
Our November sportsman of the month: Franz Preihs – “Sometimes cycling really hurts!”
Dubbed by its organisers as one of the longest and toughest mountain bike stage races in the world, it was in this endurance test in the Australian Outback, the Crocodile Trophy, that FOCUS athlete Franz Preihs made his debut in 2009 when the Austrian ranked 5th in the Masters 1 category. “For me as a trained racing cyclist and non-stop specialist in extreme endurance cycling, a totally satisfactory result,” is Preihs' verdict in retrospect. This year the 32-year-old competed for the second time and crossed the finish line in fourth place. Just how long and hard the road to the finish was, is described by Preihs in his diary.
Day 0: the outward journey. Round the world in 40 hours. Not exactly a picnic! Graz to Munich by car (4.5 hrs), on to Dubai (6.5 hrs), a 5-hour wait in Dubai, then on to Brisbane at last (15 hrs), another 4 hours there before the flight to Cairns (2.5 hrs), then, 40 hours and a short taxi ride later, and we are on the other side of the world at last.
Day 1: a hectic day. Extremely fast pace; everyone in the race is impatient to keep up with the peloton. Difficult terrain, deep mud after the recent rains and the first (sleepless) night in a tent. Welcome Back to Crocodile Trophy.
Day 2: a short stage of “only” 80 km. But the pace is fast from start to finish. I keep up really well in the final sprint. A bigger challenge turns out to be the walk to the toilet in the night. A lot of spiders seem to like the green grass in Granite Gorge too.
Day 3: mechanical problem with the bike - the long flight has left its mark not only on me but on my bike too. On day 3 I realise damage resulting from the journey is not just to the bike’s appearance... First I manage to push the bike to the finish. Then FOCUS comes to my rescue. Two phone calls to my contact in Germany and a new frame is on its way to me by express courier. In the middle of the Outback. Incredible! Even the race organisers are amazed when, 12 hours later, the courier driver hands me a new frame. I can continue the race.
Day 4: the mechanic rebuilds the bike in a flash and I'm geared up for another long hard day in the saddle. We're heading for Chillagoe. That means 160 km … but there's a hotel waiting at the end instead of the obligatory tent – at last I can have a shower.
Day 5: bike tops - body flops! I must have caught something. I feel terrible – plagued by diarrhoea and headaches. Suffer like a dog on the 100 km circuit in Chillagoe and crawl straight into my sleeping bag at the end. “Sometimes cycling really hurts!”
Day 6: my problems seem nothing. A Dutch athlete dies from a heart attack in the night. The sixth stage is cancelled and we roll on to Mount Mulgrave, neutralised, but still averaging 32 km/h. But perhaps it’s just me who’s finding the pace really fast. Every metre is torture. I feel awful.
Day 7: another sleepless night with diarrhoea. I’ve got to try something different today. Another 160 km are on the agenda with temperatures of over 40 degrees predicted. Conclusion: get out of the peloton. I must do what I've learned to do and can do best – ride my own race at my own pace. I lose almost no time compared to the previous stages and start to feel a little more secure and confident, at least mentally. Three more days...
Day 8: at last I've been able to sleep and eat properly again. The same tactics as the day before. I'm confident of reaching the finish feeling well. And just look at that, it works! Exhausted, happy and feeling good, I reach what is probably the most beautiful finish in the world by the Cooktown lighthouse.
Day 9: I’m starting to function again today. Can put pressure on the pedals and smell the finish already. The route to Ayton suits me and I’m actually able to keep up in the sprint quite well. Even I enjoy the last kilometres a little.
Day 10: individual time trials. I know the route from last year - two extremely steep ascents await us, almost impossible to cycle up. I grit my teeth once more. I've done enough penance for my sins in the last few days. Redemption at last. After 10 days we cross the finish line in Cape Tribulation. It was exactly a year ago that I stood right here and I'm glad I’ve done it again this year.