He won five of the 10 stages, rallied when it was most needed and he made himself popular with riders and race staff alike. There’s no doubt that the 33-year-old Milka-Trek rider deserves to be the overall winner of the 17th Crocodile Trophy.
After 1,200 kilometers across the rain forests and outback of North Queensland, Jeroen Boelen finished with almost an hour’s lead of Austrians Wolfgang Krenn and Josef Benedseder. The result could have been different, if main challenger Urs Huber from Switzerland hadn’t dropped out on the eve of the ninth stage.
Boelen is a successful former road rider and his mountain bike career has now just begun. Earlier this year he finished seventh with Bart Brentjens in the Cape Epic.
“This victory is so important for me and for the team,” said Boelen. “The Crocodile Trophy has a big name in mountain bike community. It is important for my sponsors too. Without sponsors we have no sport. I am glad I can give them this victory.”
The race promised to be a battle between Swiss champion, Huber, former Olympic champion Brentjens and Belgian rider “IronMike” Mulkens. The first, second and third place finishers of the past two years were back to win this crazy mountain bike race once more.
Brentjens arrived sick in Cairns and was unable to start. Huber got sick during the race and Mulkens just lacked power.
Huber’s illness could have been caused by the terrible weather during the first two days of the race. Stage 1 needed to be neutralized as support cars were unable to follow the muddy course. An epic stage 2 in the never ending rain showed Huber’s lack of strength.
Only Dutch rider Boelen could keep the damage under control. Huber sought a unique third in a row overall victory.
Boelen raced very consistently for 10 days and claimed his moment of honor in the fourth stage. It would not be his last victory.
The former road rider is fast at the finish, but also just strong. “I think I am more talented as a road rider, but I needed a new challenge,” he explained. In his former road career, Boelen won two stages in Olympia’s Tour (Netherlands) and was overall winner of the Tour de Liège (Belgium).
“Many people told me that I am too social to be professional road rider,” joked Boelen, “but I don’t regret having become a mountain biker now.”
Boelen won 50 percent of the stages, including stage 6. It was in the 189 kilometer sixth stage that he took the leader’s jersey.
“Bart and I are as strong,” concluded Boelen. “We would have started here together and observed during the first days which one of us was going to do best and then make up plans together. Now, I did it alone. It was harder, but the pleasure is even bigger now.”
Until that point, Huber looked unbeatable, but broke that day. He was unable to regain his lead after a puncture and the outback heat drained his remaining energy.
With or without Huber, the race stayed very animated. Former pro rider René Haselbacher attacked every day. Krenn and Benedseder rode a consistent race. Their overall second and third place reflects the right stance in the Crocodile Trophy peloton.
The Crocodile Trophy saw participants from Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Korea, Czech Republic, Italy, USA, South Africa, Denmark and Korea.
The Crocodile Trophy will return to Far North Queensland in 2012 with race organizer Gerhard Schönbacher. “I already have ideas for the track next year,” he promised Thursday.