As part of our feature on riders to watch at the upcoming Crocodile Trophy, we interviewed Ondrej Slezak. With an amazing boost in his performances this year, Lsezak could have a real impact on the race when it starts on October 20th. Previously, we have featured Matt Page and Mike Mulkens. Although Czech, Slezak lives in Australia.
The Croc Trophy has a bit of a reputation for being very hard, what did you know about it before deciding to compete for the first time?
I didn’t know much about this race when I committed myself to be part of this adventure. I was riding/racing mountain bikes for about two years and I haven’t had a clue what I have put myself into. I did few 100km rides and I was always completely destroyed after them so I have absolutely no idea why I said yes to Martin Wisata asking me to be part of a team. As the year progressed I was getting more and more information about this race, from various media and friends who have finished this race. I suddenly realised that it might be too big a piece to swallow. So I did it!!
What made you decide to come to the race in 2012?
After competing in 2011 I said I will never be part of this race again. I had many reasons not to race, but that feeling inside me that I would like to be out there, racing in those foreign conditions convinced me to race again. Since I have returned from the 2011 Crocodile Trophy and told my stories to all our team mates I knew I will be back next year with bigger and stronger team than before. And here we are 9 riders coming back for more crazy racing.
The Croc Trophy delivers heat, long distances, and remote stage locations. What do you see as the biggest challenge for you – and how have you prepared for it?
I have dedicated my whole year to training for the Crocodile Trophy, I wasn’t peaking for any race during this MTB race season and fully concentrate on this race. Unfortunately I am currently going through knee inflammation, but hoping for the best.
Regarding conditions at Croc – there is one funny thing about that crazy heat. I have realised that my body is coping with high temperatures very well. I was born in the Czech Republic and grew up there doing cross country skiing for nearly 15 years. I spent half of my life in mountains so I thought my body like cold more than warm, but I was obviously wrong. I would say that heat is my friend now and when everybody is struggling riding in 40+ degrees conditions I feel natural and strong. Distances are not a problem, because I love spending long hours on the bike and enjoying racing from A to B.
MTB Stage racing has captured the imagination of many mtbers around the world, with over a thousand competitors at some events. Does the relatively small field of the Crocodile Trophy concern you?
I think it is same as with everything here in Australia. We are just too far away from rest of the world so it is really hard and expensive to get many people to this race. Also I think that Crocodile Trophy lost bit of its glory – can you imagine to ride from Adelaide to Cooktown as in the early days. That would be an adventure of a lifetime.
Who do you see as the main challengers for 2012?
If you would have asked me about two weeks ago, I would tell you bit about every rider – I did my homework well, but now I am more concentrating on getting my knee back into working order. I think there are three or four hot contenders to podium and we are lucky to have 2 of them in our team. So names I would put my bet on are my team mates Jason English (3x 24 hour world champ) and Ivan Rybarik ( winner of 2 stages at Croc in 2008) and other two riders would be Ondrej Fojtik ( winner of Crocodile trophy and two time 2nd at Croc) and Josef Benedseder (3rd overall at last years Crocodile Trophy)
What is your bike setup for the Croc Trophy – are there any specific changes to your equipment?
My bike for this year will be Specialized Epic 29er – running a Shimano XTR group set with Rotor Q-rings, TWE wheel set with Rubena Zefyros. Nothing specific I could think of.