The question hung in the air. Had I done the Crocodile Trophy. It’s a question I had been asked many times, and my answer never seemed to leave people happy or impressed. This time, I was standing in the corridor of a Polish school in Istebna, right near the border of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The gentleman asking me was Czech. We were both covered in mud, waiting to get to the showers after the first stage of a four day mountain bike race in the Polish mountains. It was school holidays, so desks were moved aside and riders rolled out bed rolls and sleeping bags on the class room floors as budget accommodation.

It was 2009, I had been riding and travelling around Europe and North America, working when I needed to, and riding and racing my bike in marathons and stage races as much as I could manage, financially and physically. But, no, I hadn’t done the Crocodile Trophy, the huge stage race in my own backyard.

My answer didn’t elicit much of a response from my shower queue companion. He looked a little unimpressed, and the turn of his shoulder simultaneously gave me a good indication of what he thought while also leap frogging me in the queue in a way that only a European can manage.

Why would I travel the world and enter marathons and stage races, if I hadn’t raced one of the oldest and hardest in my own country? This seemed to be the unspoken question that everyone’s look gave me when my answer displeased them. It began to eat at me.

Fast forward two years and I was in the Salzkammergut for a marathon race, and an email popped up from a team mate – do I want to do the Crocodile Trophy this year? I was in Austria, the home of Crocodile Trophy race organiser Gerhard Schoenbacher, and had been at his sister event the Alpentour Trophy just weeks earlier. It seemed like a simple answer. Yes, let’s do the Crocodile Trophy.

Words: Mike Blewitt      Photos: Regina Stanger, Igor Schifris and Mike Blewitt