Racing: Counting Down to Wildside 2014

Words by Kath Bicknell | Images by Wildside

The Pure Tasmania Wildside is one of Australia’s greatest mountain bike stage races. It has taken place every two years since 2002 and is set to kick off again from 25-28 January.

The four-day stage race takes riders on a journey through the lush landscape from Cradle Mountain to Strahan. Most days feature two race stages, with transit or ‘cruise’ stages in between. These allow riders to spin their legs and catch up with people who bust through the competition stages at different speeds.

‘The journey passes through the very unique landscape of Tasmania’s West Coast. It starts in alpine country, descends through rainforest and ends on a wild beach,’ says Race Director Nic Deka.

‘Along the way, the race follows historical trails, visits small, welcoming communities and provides a diversity of scenery and experiences that are unique in Australia.’

The entry list typically sees a 55/45 split between local and interstate or overseas competitors ready for the adventure. Previous winners include Olympians Sid Taberlay (a record five times), Mary Grigson, Lisa Mathison and Dan McConnell. This list exhibits the calibre of the racing on offer and the high regard riders have for this event at the elite end of the field.

The Montezuma Falls stage is one of the best. Fast, lush and with this swing bridge to navigate too.

The Montezuma Falls stage is one of the best. Fast, lush and with this swing bridge to navigate too, it’s certainly memorable.

But Wildside’s longstanding success lies in the way it offers a fun, rewarding and unique experience for riders with a range of goals.

‘We continue to get many people who are not serious riders who set Wildside as a challenge to recover from a serious illness or injury, something to do before they die, or simply to improve their health and fitness,’ says Nic.

‘It’s great to see the excitement and the tension at registration, the buzz at stage finishes, but most of all the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that people get from finishing the event in Strahan.

‘The fact that about 50% of our entrants are returning competitors also adds to our enjoyment because we get to know our competitors and it makes the whole experience more personal both for them and us.’

Canberra Liv/Giant rider, Eliza Eldridge Bassett, is returning this year after sharing the experience with her immediate family in 2012. This year the party list is even bigger.

‘(Last time) my dad, James, and my brother, Til, raced, and my mother Julie did the support and vehicle driving. My mum saw how much fun we had last time and decided she wanted to join in on the action too.

‘This year my uncle and aunt will come along and do the support. We’ve really made it into a whole family affair!’ Eliza’s partner, Mark Tupalski (TORQ Nutrition), will also be along for the journey pushing the field at the pointy end.

‘Mark will be at the race to fight for a position on the podium, I’ll be there to have fun and challenge my time from 2012, likewise with my father and brother, and my mum will be there to have an adventure on her bike and take in the stunning scenery,’ adds Eliza, pointing toward the broad appeal of the short stages that travel through a little seen part of the world.

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‘For me, the biggest draw card is the country we race through. The landscape is stunning, and being able to ride through it adds a different dimension from the usual bushwalking and driving trips I’ve done through the area.

‘I love the format of the race itself. The stages are reasonably short and super fun, although sometimes quite hard! And the cruise stages let you recover from the racing and have some social time.

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‘Starting in waves each stage lets you get to know your fellow riders and have a ‘mini race’ within the race; and when you’re not at the pointy end of the field like me, it means you get to feel like you are!’

The event has a reputation for tight organisation, catering that people rave about, and, most years, at least one stage that sees riders covered from head to toe in mud. Accommodation and transport packages are available, although many riders choose to bring someone along to drive a support vehicle and fill up additional accommodation options nearby.

The physical and mental journey of the race is sure to complement the visual journey. Getting from point to point with a tight crew of family or friends adds to the experience, making it more special still.

‘The fact that families and friends share the experience is something that we encourage,’ says Nic. ‘It’s very much reflected by our organisational crew who are our friends and family members too.’

Over 400 riders will start the journey on Friday January 25. They will take in 140km of competition stages, and 60km of transit sections. Entries are open for a few more days.

 

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