Completely by surprise, Christoph Tschellnig claimed a Boomerang for Austria. Today's second place finisher Philipp Ludescher, also completed the successful day for his home country while Canadian Cory Wallace returned to a well-deserved third spot after two days of bad luck and mechanicals.
It's half time at the hardest mountain bike race in the world and to reward the riders for the efforts to far, the easiest stage was scheduled for today: 100 relatively flat kilometres with start and finish in Chillagoe, to be completed by riding a 50km fire road into one direction and then back. But to compensate for the "easy dash into the bush", the riders faced a fierce head wind on their way back, and temperatures climbed to a cosy 36 degrees (Celsius).
With the overall leaders being busy observing and minding each other's every move, the opportunity for a new stage winner was there to be taken . To everyone's surprise that one didn't come from the camp of the favourite group of elite road riders. Mountain bike weekend warrior Christoph Tschellnig (morethanbike) from Lower Austria, who has a full-time job as fitness trainer back home, took the title.
"I blame the three pieces of fish that I had for dinner last night", joked the 25-year-old after the finish line. Up until three years ago a dedicated road rider, the now passionate mountain biker called his attack already at kilometre 20 - and was not to be seen any more.
Five minutes lead at the turnaround point proved enough to withstand Ludescher's attack later on. "It's a shame that I wasn't able to chase him down any more. But it's still great that an Austrian took the stage," said the McSabotage-team racer in a sporting manner after assessing his opponent wrongly.
Tschellnig had reached the finish at Chillagoe after 3:11:26 completely exhausted, however, happy about his 2:20-minute lead. "To be honest, it was my goal to get a top-three stage result at least once. After I had three flat tires already on the first day, I was aiming for a Boomerang to compensate for the fluff in the general classification. That this dream has come true is just awesome!"
Covered in red sand and sweat, Cory Wallace was finally able to smile again. Due to a series of mechanical failures, he had lost his spot among the top three and after a strong race returned to a third place on the podium. "I'm not a threat any more for them in the general classification, so Urs (Huber) and Bart (Brentjens) let me have a go. Let's see if I can ride home some more points in the coming days," said the Kona-rider who hasn't given up his ambitions just yet despite all the troubles so far.
Oldies, but goldies
In the masters categories the tires were smoking. The leads of both Jaan Kirsipuu (M1) and Hans Dielacher (M3) are quite comfortable one with about 45 minutes each. But the Estonian and Austro-Australian, who has been living on the Gold Coast for more than 31 years, give it all again and again every day.
"I always thought that I'd be too old for this race. However, when I came in second at the TransAlp last year, I reconsidered it," said the 55-year old Dielacher, who currently hold the outstanding ninth place in the overall classification. "Now I hope that I can keep this result across the final finish line at Cape Tribulation."
The result in the M1 category is much closer. Whilst the Belgian rider Raf de Bakker was able to set a lead of seven minutes in the early mountain stages, his fellow Belgian Cristof Mariën is on his wheel, chasing him even more fiercely the flatter the stages become. "Let's see, maybe I'll be able to catch up to Raf over the next few days," said the category winner of the last three days.
After four long days that where riddled with steep ascents, today it was time to shine for the "E-Bikers". So far handicapped by battery life spans, automatic shut off mechanisms and the much higher weight of the E-Bikes, both Klaus Sever and Udo Huber rolled across the finish line. Officially already out of the ranking, because of taking a break for the past two days, Huber enjoyed today's stage.
"In length and by its nature, this stage was perfect for an E-Bike," the two power bikers agreed. Having completed more than 1700km whilst training in the Eastern Austrian "Seewinkel" region since June, Udo Huber took 4:03:52 to get to the Chillagoe finish line.
Klaus Sever on the other hand finished with the first half of riders with 3:40:56. "I benefit, of course, from the experiences of last year's race. By now I know exactly how much power I use up depending on the terrain and steepness of the ascents. In a way I have developed my own riding technique, to optimally use the range of my gear", the Styrian repeat Croc-offender says, revealing his secrets to his electronic success.
Of the original 79 participants, today 67 riders started the stage. Among them, side by side with several podium and elite racers, is one hero of the bunch: Lesley Sutton, single-mum and not a mountain biker in her wildest dreams just a year ago, is now fourth in the female overall classification.
The Australian rider Lesley Sutton, a single mom who has been accompanied by her little daughter at this event, had participated for fun at the Triple A mountain bike race from Mount Mollow to Port Douglas in 2009, only to win her Crocodile ticket at the raffle there. "I didn't even know what the Crocodile Trophy was then," the 34-year-old said. “It's a very friendly and amicable atmosphere out there and it feels like the male riders really respect us girls for riding the stages just like them”, says Sharman Parr who says she rode 1600km in the final week of her training for the Crocodile Trophy. However, when asked what the one thing was that a women needed to complete this race she said, grinning, "A good pair of cycling knicks and loads of chamois cream!"