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The Czech Republic made it a six-pack of stage victories at Australia’s Crocodile Trophy Sunday as VIG+ Racing’s Kejval Lubos delivered on the promise he showed during Saturday’s stage at Chillagoe.
This time there was no blowing up at the death as Lubos and breakaway partner Tomas Kozak made it another “Czech-one-two” when the race reached its annual stop-over at Mount Mulgrave Station, a cattle grazing property almost as large as some European principalities.
The pancake flat parcours along the dusty gravel roads of outback Tropical North Queensland perfectly suited the Czech strongman, who had always been singled out for a tilt at this stage. In years past, this, the flattest stage of the Crocodile Trophy has been won by big-gear grinders.
“Yes, today I am very happy that everything went to plan,” Lubos said. “Yesterday I was supposed to be the winner, but twenty kilometers from the finish I had a problem.
“Today I try again and I am the winner, it’s great.”
The Czech pair broke away three kilometers into Sunday’s stage and with the group of G.C. leader Ondrej Fojtik taking a measured approach, the move was always destined to succeed.
“Everyone was just watching each other,” Australia’s fifth placed rider Craig Gordon said of the tactical battle in the G.C. group.
“It’s just out in the open and for me, like, a smaller guy it’s just the element and the wind and it’s difficult when the big Czechs get out the front.”
Both Gordon and Belgian Nic Vermeulen will need to find something special to challenge the Czechs as they cling to slim hopes of standing on the final podium. The G.C. has changed little over the past two days, with Vermeulen 11.04 behind Fojtik and Gordon at 18.33.
The Australian, racing without the help of a team, who declared at the start of the race he would “show the Euro’s how it’s done” is at least talking confidently after suffering an intestinal upset.
“I saw the doctor and I’ve had some Imodium for the last couple of days and I’m feeling good, a lot better,” Gordon said.
It appears the Czech weapons cache of Fojtik, Martin Horak and Tomas Trunschka will save its next explosive effort for tomorrow’s signature stage from Mount Mulgrave to Laura, where VIG+ racing will have no choice but to play its hand and reveal which rider it really intends to support for the overall victory.
Rumors flooded the Crocodile Trophy camp kitchen at the evening’s presentation that the Czechs would be splitting into two groups, with one team supporting Fojtik and another supporting either Horak or Trunschka.
But the G.C. Leader, the man who has fought harder than any of his countrymen to make himself a Crocodile Trophy contender, was quick to douse the flames of speculation.
“The tactic is that I am the leader, I am the leader,” Fojtik affirmed.
“I want to keep first place and it will be three days until the finish and I hope to be the leader of this great race in Cape Tribulation.
Fojtik’s great advantage is that he knows only too well what the protagonists face tomorrow on the road from Mount Mulgrave to Laura. It’s a stage of close to 150 kilometers, across some of the deepest corrugations the riders will experience and is traditionally one of the two stages riders rate as the hardest of the race.
For the elite protagonists, the road to the deeply spiritual Quinkan country of Laura is about survival of the fittest.
“Yeah of course it will be a hard day and we will see what happens,” Fojtik said.
Merida-Flight Centre’s Tim Bennett, a Crocodile Trophy veteran, made perhaps the most important
“Ondrej knows what’s ahead of him, that’s why he hasn’t been smashing himself the past two days.” Bennett said.
In the women’s event, G.C. rivals Jo Bennett of Australia’s Merida Flight Centre Team and Karen Steurs of Belgian team Ride For The Stars rolled into Mount Mulgrave together, with Steurs claiming the sprint victory.
Bennett still holds onto the race lead by more than one minute, but will have to survive two incredibly hard days as the race heads towards Laura and Cooktown.
“Yeah today was much better a bit of a cruiser pace until the last fifteen k and we picked it up a little because we knew it was coming towards the finish,” Bennett said. “I held my time so that was the main thing. I guess I can admit now that I blew up yesterday.”
Each day the peloton supporting the Bennett/Steurs battle is growing as more of the Australian and Belgian men join the effort. Bennett now has in her corner Australians Matt Powell (Velo Cycles) and Isaac Tonello, along with the resources of the Merida Flight Centre men’s team.
It’ll take a special effort tomorrow to hold off another surge from the Belgian brigade supporting Steurs.
“I take it easy today, being in the big group and recover from yesterday,” Steurs said. “I think it will be three very tough days but I’m feeling fine.”
Steurs domestique, her husband Christophe Huybrighs, is also captivated by the battle which is being played out in the best of spirits.
“Every day is a war and we are lucky that all the girls are very sympathetic and after the race we are friends and before the start also,” Huybrighs said. “From the moment the start is given it’s a war between everybody.”
Men<-B> 1 Tomas Kozak (Cze), Laser Steel Plzen, 3:41:272 Benedikt De Vreese (Bel), Winter Vreese, at 5:243 Alfred Schabauer (Aut), at 5:284 Robert Novotny (Cze), VIG+Racing Team 2, at 5:365 Nicolas Vermeulen (Bel), at 6:166 Ondrej Fojtik (Cze), VIG+Racing Team 2, at 7 Martin Horak (Cze), VIG+Racing Team 2, at 6:208 Ivan Rybarik (Cze), VIG+Racing 1, at 6:229 Craig Gordon (Aus), Rockstar Racing, at 6:22 10 Tomas Trunschka (Cze), VIG+Racing 1, at 6:2511 Christian Birngruber (Aut), at 6:2912 Nathan Dyke (Aus), TKM-Slattery team, at 9:0813 Tim Bennett (Aus), Merida-Flight Centre 1, at 21:5014 Petr Uhlik (Cze), 15 Christophe Huybrighs (Bel), Team Ride for Stars, at 21:50 16 Karel De Winter (Bel), Winter Vreese, at 21:50 17 Gillis Van Loon (Bel), Team Ride for Stars, at 21:50 18 Steven Boury (Bel), at 21:50 19 Stefaniak Wojciech (Pol), at 21:50 20 Tim Calkins (USA), TKM-Slattery team, at 21:50 21 Nick Both (Aus), Merida-Flight Centre 1, at 21:50 22 Adrian Jackson (Aus), Merida-Flight Centre 1, at 21:50 23 Raf De Bakker (Bel), at 32:5224. Bart Decroubele (Bel), Team Belgian Power, at 1:35:12Did Not Finish<-B>Sean Noonan (USA), Overall<-B>1. Ondrej Fojtik (Cze), VIG+Racing Team 2, 22:01:122. Martin Horak (Cze), VIG+Racing Team 2, at 0:403. Tomas Trunschka (Cze), VIG+Racing 1, at 4:074. Nicolas Vermeulen (Bel), at 11:045. Craig Gordon (Aus), Rockstar Racing, at 18:336. Ivan Rybarik (Cze), VIG+Racing 1, at 32:278. Robert Novotny (Cze), VIG+Racing Team 2, at 58:419. Tomas Kozak (Cze), Laser Steel Plzen, at 1:00:5511. Christian Birngruber (Aut), at 1:24:5312. Adrian Jackson (Aus), Merida-Flight Centre 1, at 1:30:2614. Nick Both (Aus), Merida-Flight Centre 1, at 1:46:1515. Benedikt De Vreese (Bel), Winter Vreese, at 1:50:2117. Tim Bennett (Aus), Merida-Flight Centre 1, at 2:00:5519. Nathan Dyke (Aus), TKM-Slattery team, at 2:13:5521. Alfred Schabauer (Aut), at 2:34:0224. Christophe Huybrighs (Bel), Team Ride for Stars, at 2:46:2729. Stefaniak Wojciech (Pol), at 3:36:4230. Gillis Van Loon (Bel), Team Ride for Stars, at 3:37:5935. Steven Boury (Bel), at 4:33:1138. Karel De Winter (Bel), Winter Vreese, at 4:48:4339. Raf De Bakker (Bel), at 4:52:0742. Petr Uhlik (Cze), at 5:08:1345. Tim Calkins (USA), TKM-Slattery team, at 5:39:5749. Bart Decroubele (Bel), Team Belgian Power, at 6:33:37 Women<-B> 1. Karen Steurs (Bel), Team Ride for Stars, 4:03:172. Joanne Bennett (Aus), Merida-Flight Centre 2, same time 3. Naomi Hansen (Aus), at 12:56 Overall<-B>1. Joanne Bennett (Aus), Merida-Flight Centre 2, 24:44:542. Karen Steurs (Bel), Team Ride for Stars, at 1:013. Naomi Hansen (Aus), at 2:17:35