If Stage 1 of the Crocodile Trophy was a taster in pain, then today's second stage was a veritable feast of suffering. The day started extremely serenely, with the riders being announced individually to the Cairns public, accompanied by a funky musical soundtrack, which culminated in Survivors 'Eye of the Tiger' that had a number of riders rocking in unison. A police escort guided the multi-cultural pelaton through the main streets of Cairns and to the lower realms of the first big climb. There was a brief interlude as all the riders gathered at the official start line of the day.
As is normal in these races, the start was explosive and my heart rate was soon caressing its near maximum, particularly as the road continued to point skywards. It wasn't long before the riders had splintered into smaller groups, as each rider searched for some solace from following closely behind the rider ahead. A scattering of short descents provided temporary relief before more leg power was required to continue the conquest upwards. Another slightly longer descent seemed to provide some respite but the mountain had withheld its worst to last. The asphalt turned to gravel and then the steepness of the climbs brought many of the riders around me to their knees, forced to push their bikes up the forbidding hills. I was able to maintain traction on the climbs only a little longer than most. Even walking the bike up was blowing the heart through the chest. After what seemed like an eternity, the mountain withdrew its fury and levelled out. One of the riders close to me claimed this was the slowest 20 kilometres they had ever ridden and another referred to the last moments of our torture as 'bike trekking'.
My teammate, Martin Wisata, came past me on reaching Depot 1 where I was able to quickly consume around two bottles of energy drink. My right thigh had already started to cramp and the rest of the ride would need to be approached in a manner that would allow me to nurse my already aching body to the finish over sixty kilometres away. The thirty kilometres between Depot 1 and 2 were far more satisfying for me, and I was able to move steadily through the field. I worked with Andreas Ueberrhein from Germany and we started to close on Martin ahead. Suddenly, a hissing emanated from Andreas's back wheel and he had to pull over to repair a rear puncture. Once I overtook Martin, I expected him to jump on my wheel, but when I looked around he was gone. I later found out, he had broken a spoke early on, which had affected his descending as well as his mental fortitude. By the time I reached the second depot, I was making good progress and I was actually enjoying myself once again.
The final hill was long but not as brutal as the first. I was suffering occasional spasms of pain in my thigh but I was coping with the problem without losing too much time. I settled into a rhythm and crested the climb without too much anguish. The descent was fast and required caution. I kept telling myself not to take any risks because it is a long race and a few seconds gained is not worth the consequences if a mistake is made. I was alone now as I turned onto the road which cicumnavigates Lake Tinaroo. This is where I thought I had really blown my race. I passed a junction but was not really paying attention. Surely this was not an official turn-off. I rode five kilometres but there were no race signs. I did see a small pink ribbon on the other side of the road but perhaps it was from a previous race. Twelve kilometres past and I now thought I was going the wrong way. If I turned now I would have to climb back up to the original turn-off and lose at least 25 minutes. I decided to continue on. And then a Crocodile Trophy sign appeared. My swearing turned to cheers of unbridled elation. I felt invigorated and powered through the final ten kilometres to the finish.
Having lost time at the start, I was pleased to have finished sixth in age and 28th overall thereby holding fourth place in the overall age category. Team mate, Pete Selkrig smashed his 50+ opposition to finish first for the second day running and Martin finished a respectable seventh. Tomorrow will be a similarly tough day, as the steep hills of Atherton await.
I am a Level 3 Cycle Coach with British Cycling & the Association of British Cyclists.
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