Czech cyclist Ondrej Fojtik's dream of winning the Crocodile Trophy is within reach as the outback epic enters its final stages.
Fojtik reached the crest of Cooktown’s Grassy Hill in second place at the end of the eighth leg, after sharing the effort over the final kilometres with Australia’s Craig Gordon, who emerged as a deserving stage winner on a day of high drama.
Gordon managed to join Fojtik 20km from the finish line in the coastal port of Cooktown, just as the Czech’s long distance breakaway with Belgian Nic Vermeulen was about to be reeled in.
At that point Fojtik’s Czech team-mates decided to relax, leaving it to a fresher Gordon and a tiring Fojtik to fight it out for the stage win.
The scenario proved beneficial to both riders, with Fojtik extending his general classification lead over second-placed Horak to more than five minutes and Gordon, the former world 24-hour solo champion, taking the Crocodile Trophy’s most sought-after stage victory.
Gordon said: "I was just very, very lucky. Those Czech guys are just so strong, they just got on the front and did a lot of work. I did a little bit of work, but nowhere near as much as the Czech guys did."
Fojtik's renegade team-mate Martin Horak attacked repeatedly in a bid to steal the race lead.
“I hope that I will be winner tomorrow and I think that this stage was for me and Martin the most important,” Fojtik said.
“I hope he will not attack tomorrow and the race is closed."
Fojtik now has a lead of more than five minutes in the general classification, so even Horak's best attacking efforts are unlikely to be enough to peg back the margin on the ninth stage to the Daintree, which Fojtik won in 2007.
The general classification will be decided at the end of the next stage. On the final day, the protagonists will ride together into Cape Tribulation on a stage that is not timed but ends in a sprint finish on a rainforest-fringed beach.
“It was my big dream a few years before to win the Crocodile Trophy,” Fojtik said. “And I hope tomorrow it will become true.”
In the women’s race, Belgian Karen Steurs (Race For The Stars) produced her greatest effort of the Crocodile Trophy so far to not only peg back the race lead of Australia’s Jo Bennett (Merida Flight Centre) but give herself what looks to be a winning margin.
Steurs reached the top of Grassy Hill almost 20 minutes in front of Bennett, giving herself the race lead by a margin of more than fifteen minutes.
She made her move when the race reached the rolling hills of Lakefield National Park and, ably supported by a posse of Belgians, inflicted serious damage on the Merida Flight Centre’ team’s hopes of winning the Crocodile Trophy for women.
"I had a good day today, I went for it,” Steurs said. “When it became hilly, yeah, she lost time, and then we go and we go and we go, and we have created a big time difference. We shall see tomorrow if I can hold it.”
Bennett said: “I found that a bit tougher today. I’ll recover as well as I can tonight and tomorrow I’ll give it everything. Hopefully I’ll make a little bit of time up through the mountain bike sections.”
The Crocodile Trophy is described by the organisers as the world’s hottest, longest and hardest mountain bike race.
Covering more than 1,200km in 10 days, competitors will make their way from Mareeba to Cape Tribulation in Queensland.