Talking to Mark Frendo about his 2013 Crocodile Trophy win, you'd get the impression that he didn't plan to do anything too serious this year in the way of bikes, leaving some things to chance. For anyone who knows Mark well, you'd be a fool to believe one word of it. As quiet and unassuming as he may be, anyone who rides with Mark knows he's a consummate performer in racing and has a natural gift with his bike handling skills. Combine this with sometimes long periods of absence from the racing scene and it's easy to see why some competitors may have been caught out when he came up with a win at his first ever Croc trophy. Finally landing an Aussie on the top step of the podium after many years of foreign dominance. The mid range carbon bike Mark won the Croc Trophy on was borrowed from his dad, because his old bike was a bit tired and he wasn't sure he'd do much racing this year. "Luckily", Mark says, "my dad bought a new mountain bike for himself."
At first his intention was to do triathlons, that didn't work out so after a long time agonising over whether or not to compete in the Mongolia Bike Challenge, he entered and launched into an extensive training programme. As part of the lead up to Mongolia, Mark entered the elite Queensland state road race championship and won. Next, due to sickness in Mongolia, he determined that his form was good and why waste it, so entered the Croc Trophy, trained for another month then won stage one, continuing his lead all the way through nine gruelling stages. Following up with this "I don't know why I took so much time off cycling and not competed in more of these events." Now Mark has a list of races around the globe, enough to take a decade to complete.
For Mark the bike may not be the major focus. Combine his extensive MTB background, natural descending and bike handling skills together with a never say die mental approach with an aptitude to glean the most from his training and diet, you'll have a winner. No matter what the discipline and whenever he decides it's time to strap on some boots and start training.
Your season included different types of racing, did you set out this road season with the goal to win the state championship elite road race?
In June I signed up for Mongolia Bike Challenge, before that I'd been trying to get into triathlon, I wasn't swimming at that stage, I was getting injured so wasn't really running so was only riding a few hours a week, didn't have much of a focus so when I signed on for the Mongolia Bike Challenge, from then on it was straight into full time training.
So you were training for the Mongolia Challenge and built up some fitness to win the Queensland state championship road race also winning that race convincingly.
A week out from when Mongolia Bike Challenge started, it was my last bit of training, I went out and did the state championship and won, it was a nice hilly circuit so it suited me. I don't know if the other guys knew who I was or didn't think that I had the legs, they kept letting me go and I finally did a proper attack with a few k's to go and they let me go.
Next thing you'd won with a huge margin.
Yeah it was about 160 k's, lots of steep climbs, up and down. I'd been training for Mongolia so I'd been doing a lot of climbing.
So the state championship led into the Mongolia Bike Challenge, you have a friend who lives in Mongolia.
Ivan lives over there, I've known him for years, he decided to do the race with a few of his work colleagues, so he convinced me to come over, so it took me a while to finally decide.
There's about a hundred competitors?
Mongolia Bike Challenge is around seven days and it's supposed to be about eight hundred and fifty kilometre's. It was a bit less because of the weather and we couldn't get across some of the rivers, some of the stages were cancelled. I ended up getting sick on the night of the fifth stage so couldn't finish the sixth stage and didn't finish the race which was a disappointment. That's the reason why I decided to do the Croc Trophy, because I had all this fitness in Mongolia and it was a shame I couldn't really use it properly. I was going really well up until when I got sick, so next on the list was the Croc Trophy and I thought well it's a good opportunity.
Tell us about the bike you used this year, that was the next thing that led you on the journey to winning the Croc Trophy.
Well I signed up for Mongolia, I just had my old mountain bike and wasn't confident it was good enough to get me through.
How old was the bike?
I had that one for about three years. I didn't know how much I was going to race so I didn't want to commit to buying a new bike. Luckily my dad bought a new mountain bike.
Yes for himself, so I asked nicely if I could borrow it for the Mongolian race and he said take it, so I got on that and did a bit of training on it and then raced Mongolia. Then I signed up for Croc Trophy so I said to dad 'I need to keep it for a bit longer' so he said 'fine, just have it'. So it's on a bit of a permanent loan so I'm keeping it for a while, it's a good bike and it got me through the race as well.
The only thing you changed on it was the tyres, other than that the bike is stock.
It's a workhorse of a bike, it's nothing fancy, it's a good quality mid range carbon frame with an XT group-set, standard wheels. I just changed to some good quality tyres.
I see you've got a Schwalbe on the front and a Maxxis on the back, is there any reason for that?
No not really I had the Schwalbe Racing Ralph and the Maxxis Ikon and had a pair of each. At Croc trophy I pretty much flipped a coin and put the Schwalbe's on, but halfway through changed the rear tyre because after some of the rocky stages it wasn't looking so good, so I put the Ikon on the back, nothing deliberate. I'm not too particular these days. Everything has to be set up right, but you make do with what you've got.
So it's not like you spent months and months agonising over equipment and setup?
No, but you get a bit of bike envy!
Some of the other bikes at Croc Trophy were pretty special then?
Yes very nice machinery, but at the end of the day it's about your legs.
The combination of training for Mongolia, racing Mongolia together with a permanent loan on the bike all led up to the Croc Trophy.
It was good having that extra time leading up to Croc Trophy. Before Mongolia I was really pressed for time training trying to gain enough endurance. I hadn't done that much riding, trying to build up the hours was the main focus, I was lacking a bit of intensity. It was good having that month after Mongolia, I could keep focusing on the endurance and build a bit more intensity. I was a bit faster for Croc Trophy and had a bit more form.
Were you doing much off road training or was it on the road?
Mostly on the road, I try to ride on the mountain bike twice a week, it's always a bit different, you're using slightly different muscles. Small changes can make a difference, I didn't want to get in the race and two days in have a sore back because I hadn't ridden the mountain bike enough. Probably I should have ridden the mountain bike more, but in the end it didn't make any difference.
You hadn't raced Croc Trophy before, how did you find it, you got straight into that gnarly challenge the first day?
I've ridden mountain bikes for so long, I haven't raced for a while though, I know what I'm doing now. It was fun. The first race was a cross country race, I hadn't raced a cross country race for a long time so it was a bit of a shock, it was a very intense type of riding.
You won that one, something was going right.
I won it and it felt good.
What about the international competitors, they wouldn't have known who you were.
No, there was no reason why they would have known who I was because I haven't raced for a while.
Were they all wondering who is this guy?
Yeah I think there was a bit of that. After the first day I became someone they wanted to beat, so it doesn't change too much.
Croc Trophy sounds like it's got a friendly atmosphere, so you got to know a few other competitors quickly.
It is, Mongolia and Croc Trophy are the same type of event a lot of people there are just looking for a challenge, long stages and it's real endurance, you're remote and there's spectacular scenery. People just want to experience that. You hang around in camp at night so you meet a lot of people, everyone sits around and chats. It's a really good atmosphere and vibe, it's fun.
Croc trophy is nine days, you've led from beginning to end. Did you find anywhere in there that was hard to defend the leaders jersey?
It was pretty tough. The first two stages I managed to get some good time on Corey Wallace, the Canadian. From then on I had to defend it. The big stage, stage five was really long and had a lot of climbing. Then stage six was really quite technical. Those stages were Corey's last opportunity to put a lot of time in, you just went as hard as you could, it was really tough. I managed to stick with Corey, that was my aim. It's a lot easier to get that lead at the beginning then defend it than to have to actually try and put time into someone.
You had an advantage because of your extensive MTB background, not just a challenger on the long road sections, but with the capability to deal with technical sections too.
Cross country is all about technical skill. Stage one had some sections which required a lot of technical skill, picking the right line on some gnarly rocky slopes. Some of the riders who could only ride on straight long roads were going to be at a disadvantage. That's where I began to build up my lead on GC.
In the last stages how did you defend the lead there.
I pretty much had to mark Corey, the stages were flatter, one was a time trial which worried me a bit. The final two stages were flat and no opportunity for anyone to build a lead on climbs so I was able to hold the advantage to the finish.
Did you have any expectations before the race that you might get right up there on GC.
I did have some expectations, I did a lot of training, so I thought I might be up with the top few guys. I didn't know who was going to come, I may have been blown out of the water, I was hoping I would be up there but then to win is obviously a massive bonus.
You're off to Tassie soon.
I'm really enjoying the racing, so I'm heading down to Tassie to race the Hellfire classic. It's a pairs race so I'm teaming up with Corey Wallace. We're very equivalent in riding style and speed, he won Mongolian Bike Challenge and I won Croc Trophy. Corey asked me to team up and go race in Tassie. The racing is too short for us, but I thought it would be a really fun event.
You've met a whole bunch of new people through doing these two rides.
These types of races that's what it's about, you're just meeting people. You find out about other events in other countries, so now I have a really long list of races I want to go do around the world.
So you'll have to tick them off one by one.
For the next ten years it might be full of doing mountain bike races, there are just so many great events out there. It's such a great way to see a country, mountain biking is so much fun. I don't know why I took so much time off cycling and not competed in more of these events. Work and other commitments take priority, you need a balance, so hopefully I can get that balance and do more mountain biking.
Post Images and images of Mark's dad's Trek Elite SL Superfly, by Robert Cobcroft.