Czech team VIG+ racing continued its dominance on the latest leg of the 2008 Crocodile Trophy, with Martin Horak scoring his first stage win and fourth consecutive stage win for his team.
The victory will be remembered for all the right reasons, with Horak, in the most sporting of gestures, stopping to help when his breakaway partner, Kristof Hertsens of Belgium (Team Lingier), crashed.
Hertsens was left bloodied and suffered a deep cut to his elbow after hitting the deck on a technical off-road section of the 143km stage.
In a move that cost him the lead in the general classifications (GC), Horak helped to repair Hertsens' bike and checked on the Belgian’s injuries before riding alongside him to the finish line.
After being the lead conspirator in a breakaway move that went virtually from the gun, Hertsens was happy to settle for second place behind the Czech – a man for whom he now has the utmost respect.
“I crashed really, really bad and he was coming back and he fixed my bike,” Hertsens said. “He then rode in the front and he stayed with me.
“He was really strong and when he attacked I could not go with him, but he stayed with me, so I am very happy to finish second.”
Horak’s selfless act cost him valuable minutes and saw him finish the day 39 seconds behind team-mate Ondrej Fojtik in the GC. With VIG+ Racing holding a firm grip on the top three places and the nearest challenger, Nic Vermeulen of Belgium, 11.03 behind the leader, the position for the Czechs appears to be ideal.
At a meeting of the VIG+ team in Chillagoe, the Czechs decided to dedicate their efforts to producing an overall victory for Fojtik. A veteran of two Crocodile Trophy campaigns in 2004 and 2007, Fojtik came to Australia alone and unable to speak the language on his first visit. He was confronted with the most brutal conditions ever experienced on the Crocodile Trophy and rode away with second place.
“Of course, it is very good to still have the lead and my team is very much behind me,” Fojtik said.
“They want me to win the Crocodile Trophy if I am strong enough.
“Of course, to have a team support me makes a very big difference. I cannot win this race without my team.”
Vermeulen tried again to attack during the fourth stage, but his efforts proved fruitless against the Czechs.
“For me it’s really difficult. When I attack they go after me,” Vermeulen said.
“I know that the last section was very fast, so difficult for getting time back. That’s okay."
The women’s race ended with a sprint finish between Jo Bennett of Australia’s Merida Flight Centre Team and Belgian Karen Steurs of Team Ride For The Stars. Steurs was judged to have snatched the win by a whisker.
“It was easier than yesterday for me, although the first part was difficult,” Steurs said. “It’s a really good day for me.”
Bennett, who still leads the GC, said: “It went down to a sprint, very much like a road race today."