Shedding more “largesse? in recent months than most European banks, an almost unrecognizable Eric Vanderaerden has arrived in Cairns, Australia, fit and ready to complete his long-held dream of finishing the Crocodile Trophy, the 1200-kilometer mountain bike race across Australia.
Gone are the mullet and spare tire, which the 46-year-old Belgian cycling great carried as excess baggage on his last journey to Tropical North Queensland, when he drove the Crocodile Trophy course as a team assistant.
They have been replaced by the lean frame and shaved-down profile more synonymous with the street-fighter who won Paris-Roubaix (1987) and the Tour de France’s green sprinters jersey (1986) during a glittering career.
The crunch-time for Vanderaerden came during the last bleak Belgian winter, when he hit the scales at ninety kilograms. At that point his wife stepped in and ordered Eric back onto the bike.
“I needed to exercise… to burn off some fat and get my weight down because I was much too heavy last winter and my wife said to me it’s going to be time you work something out,” Vanderaerden said. “I said okay I do it again, the Crocodile, and do it on the bike, not with the car with my friends.”
Already twenty kilograms lighter, the man who once spent five days in the Mailliot Jaune of the Tour de France will be returning with no shortage of friends at the 2008 Crocodile Trophy.
In total, 30 Belgians will line up at the race start in Mareeba. Including team support and event crew, close to fifty Belgians will be taking part in the event.
“I think every year it gets bigger and more Belgians know what it is, the Crocodile,” Vanderaerden said. “One special thing I think for the Belgians, it’s just one big adventure. It’s a special challenge, a special holiday.”
Vanderaerden has already tasted success at the Crocodile Trophy. He won two stages in the 2000 edition of the outback classic, before being forced to abandon with an all-too-common ailment at this race, “posterior trauma.”
Motivation for his Crocodile Trophy comeback wasn’t hard to find. Vanderaerden admits to being truly inspired by the achievements of countryman Marc Herremans, who finished the 2007 edition of the Crocodile Trophy on a hand cycle.
“What Marc did last year I think is incredible,” Vanderaerden said. “Probably there will be days when I say what am I doing here? But I love Australia, I love the outback and I want to finish the Crocodile.”
Competitors from 14 nations will attend Monday’s Crocodile Trophy pre-race briefing in Cairns.
The race is scheduled to start in the Atherton Tableland town of Mareeba on Tuesday as riders embark on a ten stage journey of more than 1200 kilometers to the finish line at Cape Tribulation.
Mareeba—Irvinebank 86km/1100m Tuesday, 21, October
Irvinebank—Koombooloomba 128km/1400m Wednesday, 22, October
Koombooloomba-Gunnawarra 122km/2235m Thursday, 23, October
Gunnawarra-Chillagoe 130km/900m Friday, 24, October
Chillagoe-Chillagoe 120km/850m Saturday, 25, October
Chillagoe-Mount Mulgrave 138km/800m Sunday, 26, October
Mount Mulgrave-Laura 148km/1100m Monday, 27, October
Laura-Cooktown 142km/1050m Tuesday, 28, October
Cooktown-Ayton 128km/1900m Wednesday, 29, October
Ayton-Cape Tribulation 48km/520m Thursday, 30, October