Belgian Vermeulen wins at Laura

It may have come by way of a gift from the Czech Republic, but whatever the case, consistent effort was rewarded again at the Crocodile Trophy as Belgium’s national marathon mountain-bike champion Nic Vermeulen claimed victory.

Tomas Trunschka.  Copyright: Crocodile TrophyVermeulen, who has toiled long and hard against the Czech juggernaut VIG+ Racing over the past seven days, was in an impossible position once again, outnumberd 4-1 by the Czechs in the final kilometres of today’s stage.

The gutsy Belgian, who has earned respect allround at this race, found himself in the “survivors” group, not a breakaway as such, containing race leader Ondrej Fojtik and his team-mates Tomas Trunschka, Ivan Rybarik and Martin Horak.

In another display of sportsmanship, the Czechs decided to honour their opponent, opting not to attack Vermeulen in the final kilometres as the race headed into the Laura. Had they attacked, Vermeulen would have found himself faced with an almost unwinnable scenario.

“I think it was a gift from the Czechian team,” Vermeulen admitted at stage end. “The team is too strong for me, I can attack, but they ride four against me, but I’m happy with the stage win. Thank you.”

Confronted with a one hundred and forty-nine kilometre journey, on roads littered with bull-dust pits and long patches of soft sand, many riders suffered as the fierce elements helped rip apart the time splits in the General Classification.

One to feel the heat was Australia’s solo entrant Craig Gordon, who fought doggedly, above his weight, in a stage where pure power counted for much. Gordon ended his day 23minutes down on the race leader in the general classification, with his hopes of winning the Crocodile Trophy ef-fectively extinguished.

The stage began with an ambitious breakaway that featured two Australians in Nick Both and Reece Stevens along with Belgian Kris Hertsens and stage six winner Kejval Lubos.

Rolling through the undulating country to the west of the Laura Ranges , the breakaway group was never far beyond the site of the G.C leaders, as the serious players in the Crocodile Trophy emerged from the pack.

No Problem for one of the Czechs.  Copyright: Crocodile TrophyFor Australia’s Reece Stevens, the breakaway move was a gamble worth taking on a stage that’s earned itself a justifiable reputation as the toughest of the race.

The biggest threat to race leader Ondrej Fojtik came from within today as team-mate Martin Horak joined in the attacks being mounted by Belgian Nic Vermeulen.

Horak sits just 38 seconds behind the race leader in the overall standings and it appears the tempta-tion to race for individual glory is proving to difficut to ignore.

Fojtik, whose longterm dream has been to win the Crocodile Trophy, remains wary of the man most capable of dislodging him from the top spot - even though that same cyclist is one of his team-mates.

In the women’s event, Jo Bennett revealed her trump card, as she displayed her superior sand riding skills. Bennett was one of only a handful of cyclists in the event to ride the deep soft sand patches of the Palmer River end-to-end.

It was at the Palmer where Bennett edged away from her G.C. rival Karen Steurs of Belgium. Steurs clearly struggled in the bull- dust pits and sand patches, where pure power is required to turn the pedals over. “I actually don’t mind the sand it’s one of my stronger points and I know it’s probably one of Karen’s weaker points,” Bennett said as her team celebrated at race end.

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