Tassie Blue Dragon MTB Stage Race By: Paul Kingston
It’s about the race and the place for me these days. Hit me with a destination, throw in a decent Mtb race with terrain to boot and I’m there.
My good mate Paul “Perc” Purcell had been on my case for ages to go on a mission of sorts to do a bit of riding. A mid life frother that had discovered the Mtb in the past few years, we have been mates since school days, best men at respective nuptials, done loads of surf and ski trips in our youth and still possess a bit of ratbag that quite often equates to a lot of laughs! We had struggled to polarise for said mission as family, work and life commitments would always clash. So when the phone call came through about a race in Tassie my reply was, “where is it and what’s the website”?
The “Blue Dragon” Mtb Race a two day stage race, for pairs only based at the historic Weldborough Hotel in the Blue Tier Region of North Eastern Tasmania and after some brief website education on the nuts and bolts of the race, a bit of research on the region, and clearance passes were issued, the call was made – it was on !
Logistics were the next mission. Drive and Spirit or Fly and Hire ? We did the math, threw in the convenience factor and the fact that we could fit a couple of surfboards on the rig for post race recovery, a no brainer really. Tickets booked ,race entered – only one thing left to do –Train !!
It was early January , the race was in early February – the festive season keg had mysteriously added to the girth - no prob we figured some intense last minute cramming would get us up to race completion pace, which as time passed didn’t quite go to plan in my case but was not going to prevent a startline appearance.
Time, as it does albeit faster than you want when preparing for an event accelerated and before we knew it the rig was loaded and pointed towards the Spirit of Tassie terminal. Just as it had 30 years earlier on a surf trip, we had barely circumnavigated Geelong and the map of Tassie jokes had started, yep the hall pass was kicking in and we already had one wheel in the gutter ! Pseudonyms had been allocated – Bruce and Lee , Thelma and Louise , or the more popular - compliments of wife of Perc-The two old bastards out of the Bucket List ! The shackles of domestication had been cast off – the seeds of a memorable adventure were being sewn .
A seamless crossing of the creek separating the Apple Isle from the mainland, a dawn patrol drive to Launceston for the morning caffeine hit and we were ready to take stock of supplies for the cruise into the hills. Perc was a first timer to the Isle and I had only been once previously for the infamous Wildside. Looking rather relaxed riding shotgun Perc noted that Tassie had a shitload of “hills” and combined with the fact that the heart rate had struggled with the repeated stair ascention on the Spirit ,we were already second guessing the decision to enter and briefly harboured the thought of continuing onto the coast via the plethora of bakeries and micro breweries presenting themselves.
The briefly harboured thought was deleted from inbox and we pushed on for the picturesque drive taking in several pitstops enroute to Weldborough. Race Basecamp for the weekend was the historic local pub and the well maintained campground surrounding it. Cracker of a location and arriving by midday Friday afforded the luxury of choice in the camp position.
The afternoon was spent setting up camp, preparing bikes and gear and just pre-race chillin as there was not a whole lot going on in sunny Weldborough – if you forgot to bring the milk you were driving to get it !
By evening race briefing the place had morphed from one horse town to bustling Mtb village. The briefing was pretty much to script however one thing stood out to us . Race Directors were Ben Mather and Rowena Fry, both with serious Mtb pedigree. After the normal pre-race blurb Ben proceeded to talk about his passion for this particular area of Tassie and the fact it was where he grew up and did a lot of his training. He was excited about all entrants enjoying the event and the terrain – enough said and all we needed to stir the froth . By 9pm you could hear a pin drop in the camp – the partying would be in the hills tomorrow !
STAGE 1-DERBY 52K
A bit of a climb from the start was the brief. A quick scan of the elevation profile revealed a 20k climb of approximately 750 metres elevation gain to 900 metres above sea level for apparently amazing views to Bass Straight and the Tasman Sea. Two Hundred teams of two saddled up for the challenge and from the gun the normal frentic pace was noticeably absent for obvious reasons. A quick startline below the knee scan revealed a high percentage of chisled calves and a lot less hair than you would have expected at this latitude. Our theory of elevation was about to be proven correct and the fact that 98% of the field were natives quickly put to rest personal results of any significance.
The climb was a long but quality climb, a fantastic tempo climb of consistent gradient. I had made no secret to Perc about the fitness hiccups I was pre-empting, then at kilometre 19 (which I had quietly predicted to myself) when the climb kicked in gradient and technical nature for the final kilometre to the summit, the surge required to clean this section put the underdone shanks into the zone normally reserved for the last few k’s. The next 32k should be manageable and predominantly downhill –shouldnt it ??!! An intense descent, arse on rear tyre stuff of around 300 vertical metres over a k followed the summit and aid station 1 was a welcome breather.
Aid stations were well stocked and race admin had made an effort to provide riders with choice, sadly lacking at many Aussie races.
Perc was humming along nicely and we had both assessed thus far that our current fitness levels were vastly different but we were not at all concerned. We had discussed this prior to the race and the reasons we were here- the key to enjoying a pairs race.
After Aid 1 as expected we were into some quality descending – not the 32k that I was wishing for but some quality stuff interspersed with some logging roads with quite a few more climbs, nothing too difficult but a lot of uphill for a downhill !! At about the 35k mark we dropped into a prime semi-sculptured piece of singletrack called “Ben and Timmy’s Goat Track”, lush and green under a canopy of ferns and bush with the odd challenge – a highlight of the stage and well worth the pain to get to.
Aid 2 beckoned at around 40k followed by a short road stretch then into a 5k singletrack traverse of the Ringarooma River. Typical Tassie was this traverse, a great stretch of trail along a picturesque river. The final run back into Derby consisted of a dead dirt road climb and a final easy roll into town and the line. We were both cooked but followed suit with the bulk of the field to soak the legs and a dip in the Ringarooma.
When we had entered there was no real expectation other than quality riding. As the race progressed it gathered bonus points with us. Firstly, camping at the pub was included in race entry fee. Bonus number two was the local Lions Club put on a serious BBQ Lunch post stage !! Breakfast was also catered for at a small cost. The Lions club were the beneficeries of their largest fundraiser of the year from the proceeds.
Derby had a couple of pubs and limited supplies but it was more than was on offer in Weldborough. We decided to grab a few beers and whatever else we could but basically drove out of the town in hysterical laughter as the experience of attempting to relieve ourselves of cash had been as challenging as the 52k we had just completed !!
Saturday night the Weldborough pub put on a pasta meal which racers pre-ordered online plus they had a natural produce menu which had a steak sanga that many of the endurance athletes were inhaling post race. The campground and the pub were buzzing. Micro brewed beer was all that was available, tempting a few but on the whole and in typical Mtb flavour the campground was once again regulating itself and void of noise for an early shuteye.
STAGE 2- WELDBOROUGH 48K
Stage 2 conveniently started in the campground – Bonus !! Crawl out of the tent, caffeine, the normal pre-race prep and straight on the bike for the 20 metre warm-up to the briefing and the start line !! No elevation profile had been available so we sat attentively at race briefing and took it all in- “bit of a climb, downhill that goes on forever….blah blah blah”.
The pace from the gun was up tempo from the previous day, did the locals know something we didn’t ?!! Around a k or two of fireroad to string the field out was the prelude to a long quad bike width singletrack climb – there was only one line for about 8k. A really good climb was this, made difficult by one factor – humans ! If you are not at the pointy end of the field –RELAX – settle in to your tempo and ride the climb, you are going nowhere when surrounded by 400 riders. Not everyone, it appears understands this. One guy even got a pinch flat – on a climb !! He was attempting a ridiculous overtaking manouver off the line that would achieve bugger all !
Congestion was an issue but became manageable on this epic climb and upon exit we rode some logging roads briefly before we entered “The downhill that goes on forever”, ya gotta love a trail referred to as this !! We were about to strap ourselves in for the highlight of the weekend.
This trail was as good as you will ride anywhere- around 600 metres verticle elevation drop over 9k – all singletrack mostly in the big ring , we were on a rail the entire time and in beautiful lush rainforest. Absolutely on the rivet and loving every minute of it and it did seem to go on forever. The type of trail you would love to finish the stage with but as we spat out onto the tarmac we had hit the halfway point. A brief section of ashphelt and we were in familiar territory-back on the previous days trail along the Ringarooma River and heading towards Derby.
It was at about this time that the brain started to tick over – this stage thus far had been epic- but- we had done a hell of a lot of descending and the finishline was back up at the Weldborough Pub. Had to be some pain coming was the call – and yep – just after aid station 1 up we went. At first the climb was nice and gentle on us but just as we were computing where the hell we were we rode past a caution sign pointing the opposite way to what we were going. I had it sussed and then a rider quipped –“hey didn’t we ride down this yesterday ?”
And so we climbed and climbed but seriously could not remember how long the previous days descent had been to get our head around what we were in for. All I can say is that it was a tough climb and it did go on…. and on .. Head Fuck Climb we called it- yep it messed around with the brain (and leg) matter , but like all good things it did end and we could smell micro- brewery and steak sanga as the reward.The roll into the Pub campground was a fitting end to good weekends riding.
The weekend co-insided with a long weekend in Tassie so many stayed on creating an up tempo atmosphere in the beer garden and it was one of the first times I have seen pretty much the entire field at the presentations – reason ? Spot prize. There were no trophies as such , just little fluffy Blue Dragons for category placegetters, but the spot prizes given over the duration of the weekend were all time, culminating with with a tidy Scott Spark for which we had already reserved space in the rig for ! It was not to be for us but it did draw the biggest roar from the crowd for the weekend as it was won by a 14 year old from the Launceston Club that was in dire need of a replacement for his old Giant – no arguments from anyone there.
The post race tempo lasted well into the evening with race staff letting their hair down a bit and by nights end the Go-pro found itself mounted in some creative locations – on the bar, the dartboard , basically anywhere they could to give beer goggled perspective of the evening antics.
Monday dawned and it was time for us to hit the Coast to see what Tassie had to offer us for post race recovery. As mentioned earlier the boards had found themselves on the rig and we had three days to fill in before our return Spirit booking. We spent a bit of time scouring the coast until we found what we thought would be a reasonable set-up for waves and fishing, and free camping. The following morning our hunch was rewarded with a quality session and the company of a local kneeboarder whom thanked us for our company at his local !! Unheard of in our part of the world and was followed by him gesturing to us from the beach to come up for a cuppa !!
We sat for hours and chatted with Andy ,recently retired and loving it, and his wife Janie. It was like being transported back in time to a seventies surf movie , places and people like this definitely leave an impact on you . Pretty much topped off a great trip and had Perc straight on the blower to wife of to book a month on the Isle in 2013 with caravan and mungrels in tow !!
Regrettably the days ticked over,as they do and before we knew it we were on the road back to Devonport for the overnight sail back to Vicco and the hectic routine that is life. No sooner than we had docked and the rig was rolling off the Spirit, still wiping the sleep from our eyes and we were being disciplined by an over zealous safety vested employee for exiting at speed !! Looks were shot ,eyes were rolled and we laughed – we were back in our reality, a world far away from where we had been .
The Blue Dragon was a well run event with some great riding in a prime location. I would recommend it to anyone keen for some time on the spectacular Apple Isle . Logistics are the key as there is no real cheap way to get to Tassie with all your gear. But well worth it if you can swing some extra time for some down time or more riding. The Launceston MTB club has received a substantial grant for trail building and the recently completed North/South Track in Hobart comes highly recommended.
David Olle (Top Bike Tours) this year combined the Wildside Mtb Race and the Blue Dragon with an extended visit – great way to tick off these 2 quality events.