Interview: Duncan Giblin – One Hell(fire) of a Battle

Words by Kath Bicknell | Images by Kath Biknell

The team behind the AvantiPlus Hellfire Cup were faced with more challenges that you’d ever wish on a first year event. Some point toward the ongoing administrative and logistical battles that are faced by all event teams. Others were the results of unpredictable and disastrous environmental factors.

The upside is that this crew have been forced to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. Flow sat down with Event Director, Duncan Giblin, at the end of the four-day race to talk about some of the battles he’d faced getting this event off muddy ground.

 

Duncan, first fires and then floods. The environmental impact on the event is obvious. Can you talk us through some of the extra challenges you’ve had in putting on Hellfire Cup that riders might not be aware of?

From the outset we wanted to put on a race that we felt suited the riding that we really like doing in this area. It’s a very beautiful area. One of the big challenges for us was the process of change within the forestry industry that was going on, so getting land tenure was pretty interesting. One of the land managers that we use was a major forest holdings group that went into bankruptcy. Then with the Tas Forests agreement going on, where there’s changes to things like logging access, there was uncertainty about who was going was to manage the land and what people were going to be able to do there. So there was a potential risk to access for stuff we’d previously been given permission to use. We now have all this resolved which is great for the event’s future.

Heavy rain before the event meant time went into remedial trail work. The event village was still in construction when competitors started to arrive.

Heavy rain before the event meant time went into remedial trail work. The event village was still in construction when competitors started to arrive.

One of the other challenges is that we’re in a smaller economy here, where unemployment’s really high. That means there’s not a lot of extra government money around for new projects or a lot of cash around for corporate sponsorship.

Financially too, running it again the second time after the postponement, you almost run two events off the one income. For your first major event like that you always take a loss anyway but that made it harder.

Do you think that following the influx of mountain bikers to the regional community over the last week, local businesses might be more likely to come on board for future events?

Yeh. A lot of local businesses and community groups have been fairly heavily involved and inundated with the bushfire recovery itself. Everybody from the mayor to the guy who runs pub are part of the bushfire recovery group. I think they’re at a place now where were they are really able to embrace mountain bike development in the area. They have been really supportive of the event and its future.

 

Do you think that for some of the local community, having seen the amount and the type of people coming in, might be more interested in being involved in future events too?

Totally, they needed to see it first. We had a few concerns about traffic management from community members. Now people in the community are there cooking sausages for riders and asking when the next race is on. They were a major part of providing alternative venues to keep the first Hellfire going.

 

On the topic of the race just past, things were looking good for the rescheduled event, but then the rain came to town. What did you have to do, logistically speaking, in order to keep the stages running each day?

Our goal was to try to make sure that we’ve got a rider experience that people can engage in that’s worthwhile. We also had to work out competitor safety.

What a day like that looks like is we come home from the race village and we look at maps, and weather maps and we then go back out in the bush and we make changes to the trail at night. We reset a whole course while we’ve got a little bit of daylight and then drive back home and do the admin and answer the emails. We also do the work plan to get the next stage happening. We’d do that until about five in the morning, then get up and actually run the stage.

 

Did you also have to deal with road closures and permission to access different areas to hold the redesigned stages?

Yeh, so when we change a stage, people might think it would be a great idea to just go somewhere else. But to get access to the public roads and the management of that, that’s a formal process. We had to use routes within our existing road permit.  Also a big thing for us is that we use properties that have shared use, so if we change something it affects so many other people. It changes the plans and the requirement on the volunteers, it puts them under more pressure too.

We also have to look at the logistics of the race itself when we change; how do we manage our timing, how do we manage our basic rider comfort and safety, how do we manage the concerns and the requirements of the media guys and the promotion opportunities for our sponsors.

 

The event centre was relocated twice during the event. The third one was the best of the lot.

The event centre was relocated twice during the event. The third one was the best of the lot.

Did you ever think of just calling it off?

We thought about it, but basically we didn’t come this far after the fires to just pull the pin on it. People came here to ride and so we were going to ride. That’s basically that.

 

Given the time that has gone into making these decisions, do you think the things you learned from this event make for a much better management plan for next year?

Well we know we’ve got a good fire management plan, we know we’ve got a good flood management plan. Look really, I don’t have any worry about our abilities to adapt the racing, but what we are focused on is dealing with adverse circumstances and maintaining the quality of the event.

 

When the sun turns on, this is a really beautiful part of the world.

When the sun turns on, this is a really beautiful part of the world.

What improvements do you think you’d make to the event overall having seen the experiences riders had this year?

I think anything that supports that atmosphere that we have, which just makes it an enjoyable experience. I have a background putting on raves and other events, and I like to bring that whole feeling to bike races. Our 24 hour events have always had great a great atmosphere, I want to improve that, work on it more.

We’ll have an elite only option so it’s fairer on age category guys competing against them. We had hot showers that we were going to use at the race village and the problem when we had to relocate is that we weren’t able to set those up. And they should have been set up earlier.

We’ve engaged a site manager for next year so we can get earlier set up and more transferable services. The lunches will be more substantial and we are looking at increasing the variety for the evening meals including some more gourmet product. We’ll also have an electronic timing system that will be used for the 2014 event.

 

Some riders have been saying they’d like to see less prize money and more funds going into ‘all you can eat’ kind of catering.  At the same time, the amount of prize money pitches the Hellfire Cup, in terms of the public perception and marketing, as a world class event, which gets people here. What are your thoughts on that?

We are planning to improve of the quality of all services, including food for competitors, without compromising an attractive prize pool for professional riders. We want the experience to be great for all riders punter or pro.

If you build it they will come.

If you build it they will come.

What does it mean having so many people from all over the country, as well as high-profile international riders, come to the event?

It’s really nice to be supported like that. I think for us it makes us more determined provide riders with great trails and good times. It’s been really good for the local community and most people have been really happy about being part of that community recovery, just by coming here and riding their bikes. It also shows that people are interested in what we’re up to and what we want to do. Although it’s been hard over the last 18 months, it makes us more determined to actually provide a better experience and support our local community by having people here.