Some people describe the State of Tasmania as the anchor for Australia as it sits 240 km south off the main continent. It also takes a lot of smack talk from the mainlanders for being a little “out there.” The island is the 26th largest in the World and is home to just over 510 000 people, a dwindling population of Tasmanian Devils and also the recent 4 day Hellfire cup mountain bike race. I’ve been trying to get down there since the first time I was over in Australia in 2010 and finally found an excuse to get there.
The Hellfire cup was lined up to be a 4 day, 7 stage team of 2 mountain bike race based out of a farmers paddock near the village of Kellevie in South eastern Tasmania. Crocodile winner and good friend Mark Frendo and I teamed up. The race was stacked with World cup winners Dan McConnell, Anton Cooper, Eliminator World champ Paul Van der Ploeg and pretty much every other top mountain biker in Australia in what was to be a very high paced race with the majority of the stages being under 1 hour. It was going to be a real test for our marathon legs.
It rained a bit on the days leading up the race and then during day 1 it rained around 20-30 mm, not a ton but enough to keep things interesting during the first 22 km stage. The stage was awesome as we ripped up fire roads through some rich Tasmanian wilderness and then back down on some great pieces of built up single track through the backyards of the local kangaroo population. It was a short ride at just over an hour but it was awesome. We were stoked for the next 6 stages to come. Unfortunately the next 6 stages were either cancelled or changed due to the weather which was around +15-20 degrees celsius and damp. If it was Canada we would take this weather with huge smiles on our faces as generally it is n’t quite as pleasant during our early season races in March and April.
The next 3 days we raced once a day for 46 minutes, 30 minutes and 1 minute on the last day. This gave us lots of time to wash our bikes and clothes and chill in our beach side accom in Orford which Marks friend Tim Chalke Kindly set us up in. In fact there was so little racing and some much time on our hands we managed to watch a hole season of “Breaking Bad”. I haven’t watched TV other then sport games for over 6 years but this weekend in Tasmania we had the time. Every day after the stage we would wait for emails from the organisers to hear if we were racing the next day and if so for how long. The email would usually come in at 9-10pm at night so we had lots of time in limbo land. We had initially planned on camping, and did for the first two nights, but Tim’s beach side accom was much more luxirous given the amount of chill time we had. I had bought a $22 tent in Taiwan for this race as it was a last minute addition to the schedule and I had already sent all my TNF stuff back to Canada with my Dad. The $22 tent claimed to be waterproof, and this is coming from Taiwan where it rains like a waterfall so I figured it would be more then ideal for the light Australian rains. Nope. Bullsh*t. The thing leaked like a Siv and eventually collapsed into a pile.
The racing we did do was a road race for the last few stages as apparently the trails were wet and muddy. There is a reason we all packed mud tires but for some reason they really don’t like racing in the mud over here. There must be more to the story as to why they refused to race in the mud as that is part of mountain biking. Possibly there were worries about getting riders out in case of emergencies or some sort of crazy poisonous mud snake exists, or possibly the drop bears get more active during wet weather.
On the last day the race was moved to a cow paddock which was flagged off for a 1 minute time trial. It was questionable whether it was worth kitting up for such an event. What was more questionable was how the timing was going to be accurate enough to measure the tiny time gaps which were going to pile up with so many fast teams there. Were not sure if they were using hour glasses or analog watches but we all figured it would come down to a roll of a dice to whoever got the best timing on the day. Mark and I got lucky and came out in 3rd on the dice roll. Other riders were riding around drinking beer and a couple managed to crash into fresh cow patties. It was a circus, but also a super chill way to end the weekend.
Although the racing was short, the 300+ riders kept the atmosphere very light and festive. Duncan and the rest of the organisers are a great bunch of Tasmanians who are really chill and open to listening to the racers opinions. It was there first go at hosting a race and I’m confident this race will be one of the go to events in Australia once they get a proper timing system and more experience in hosting stages in the wet. They have the right attitude, are in it for the right reasons and have some awesome trails to use at there disposal if they get the weather to do so. Apparantly they have spent years constructing these trails and from what we saw they did one hell of a job at it.
The days after the race were the highlight of the trip as Mark and I checked out the historic convict sight of Port Arthur and then had couple days around the Capitol of Hobart. The port side city of roughly 250 000 people is beautiful and has some stellar mountain bike riding around the area. We road the much talked about north-south track and then hit up the top of Mount Wellington for some awesome views over the Tasmanian landscape. The geography is great down there with rolling hills, tons of wilderness and stellar shorelines. It is defiantly a place to come back to in the future to spend a few weeks and check out more of the area and try and track down some elusive Tasmanian Devils
As far as the Hellfire cup goes, I will look forward to seeing where this race ends up in the future as it has potential to be unreal. Every race has its growing pains and the way the organisers are dealing with the challenges of the race this year should raise a lot of confidence in the racers who choose to come back to Tas next year for round 2, as long as the weather cooperates.
This past weekend Tarren and I headed down to the Jetblack 24hr race in Sydney to finish off the race year in style. Our friends Juliane and Martin from Rocky Trail Entertainment hosted the race and did one hell of a job. Over 500 racers enjoyed a great 8 km track around Mt Annan, a great chill atmosphere, lots of laughs and good times. This is what the basis of mountain bike racing should be all about. It was the perfect way to end the season on a high note with a couple days of fun proper bike racing. Thanks Tarren for the great support and cracking the whip to keep my head on for this last race in what has been one heck of a ride this year.