All Aussie Adventures with Tasman Nankervis

After a week of dry and dusty conditions, the clouds began to gather above Abbotts Peak at the 2021 XC nationals in Maydena, and Tasman Nankervis knew he’d made a mistake.

“The week before I left for nationals, I was talking to the guys at Michelin, and they asked if I wanted mud tires. They were going to have to ship them in, and I was like, ‘Nah, don’t worry about it, what are the chances?’” he laughs.

“Then, half an hour before the race I was standing with my brother in the pits, and everybody started chaining their tyres. I was absolutely kicking myself.”

Nankervis still running the dry tyres.

Despite this equipment oversight, Nankervis still managed to ride into fourth place on the rain-soaked course at Maydena, finishing about one second behind Cam Ivory, who snagged the last step on the podium.

For the Bendigo local, a spot in the top five capped off a successful post-Covid racing campaign, both on and off-road. He pedalled into 13th at road nationals, snagged the overall series win at the 2020-2021 Victorian MTB Championships series, and took first place at the Great Ottoway Gravel Grind, to name a few.


From the tip to the top

Nankervis’ first ever mountain bike was a murdered out, all black ‘Santa Cruz’.

“It was a Repco from the tip, which we painted all black. It had no front suspension, but we did have a Santa Cruz sticker which we put on the downtube, so it was a black ‘Santa Cruz,’ he says. “I actually won my first race on that bike.”

We need more power!

Nankervis doesn’t come from one of the storied cycling families in Australia, but his family does have a pedigree in competition on the boat racing circuit.

“My Grandad and his twin brother had a boat business, and they are kinda legends of their time in terms of going fast — they held an Australian water speed record. My old man and his brothers were all into boat racing too; in its heyday, it was pretty popular, especially in Bendigo,” he says.

I remember when I made it onto the National Team, the head coach asked, ‘why don’t you train on Fridays?’ I told him it was because I played basketball on Fridays, and he was like,’ yeah, you gotta stop that shit,’” Nankervis laughs. “It was then I knew that my basketball career was winding up.

While the Nankervis clan is no longer setting water speed records or winning Ozlite hydroplane races, they still own a performance boat business in Bendigo. Nankervis Performance Boats specialises in sporting and recreational watercraft as well as tractor pullers and salt flat cars, “basically anything with a big engine that goes fast.”

The introduction to mountain biking came through a school teacher and a sibling. Tasman is one of six Nankervis kids, his second oldest brother Rohan was the first in the family to join the Bendigo Mountain Bike Club. Then the following summer, older brother Russ and Tasman joined up, riding both on the road and mountain bikes.

“I was always playing basketball and footy and things like that and then racing on Sunday’s, especially in juniors. I didn’t really take it all that seriously until about year 11 or 12,” he says.

I remember when I made it onto the National Team, the head coach asked, ‘why don’t you train on Fridays?’ I told him it was because I played basketball on Fridays, and he was like,’ yeah, you gotta stop that shit,’” Nankervis laughs. “It was then I knew that my basketball career was winding up.”

At about six-foot-five-inches tall, Nankervis is built for ballin,’ but sacrificing hoops for wheels proved to be a wise choice. After mounting a race plate on his bike for the first time in 2008, only a few years later in 2013, he was packing his bike bag and heading to South Africa for Junior World Championships.

Russel Nankervis — elite XC racer, top-notch marathon partner, aspiring model.

Tasman is not the only ‘Nankervis’ you will see pretty high in the results at an elite level XC race. His brother Russ races for the Trek Shimano MTB team. With multiple World Cup starts under his belt, the senior Nankervis rode to a solid ninth palace at XC Nationals in Maydena. Together the Nankervis brothers make a classy pairs team, posting solid results in every race they enter, including a win at the Hellfire Cup.

“We’ve always ridden together and travelled to each race together, and we live together at the moment. We spend so much time together for pairs racing it’s perfect because we can be brutally honest with each other. There’s no sugar-coating it,” Tasman says. “We’re both pretty similar headed when it comes to racing, and we are both pretty relaxed most of the time.

Can’t complain about the scenery around Bendigo.

“I think being brothers, there are a lot fewer outside interests involved, and we really don’t have to worry about maintaining our relationship because we’re brothers. He doesn’t really need to check with me as much as if it was a random person or someone from out of town. He just knows when I’m on and how hard he can push if he’s pacing,” says Russell Nankervis.

“I don’t think there would be another partner that would be as supportive as Tasman. He’s pretty calm when he races, and even if you’re underperforming, he’ll get the most out of you by helping you along through the stage.”

After coming up through the Bendigo Mountian Bike Club (which has also produced riders like Jack Haig and Chris Hamilton, both now race for World Tour road teams), Tasman found his way onto the Torq Merida MTB team. This team was often referred to as the ‘Orange Armada’ because their black and orange kits were perpetually at the pointy end of every domestic MTB race. Under the watchful eyes of Dean and Gen Clark, this development team helped shape riders like Ryan Standish, Holly Harris, and Liam Jeffries.

“Robbie (Hucker) and Jack (Haig) said we should look at these two youngsters back then, so him (sic) and the late Jason Lowndes came to my house, we got on really well and signed them both up,” says Dean Clark.

“Tas was quiet compared to Jason back then, but from that first meeting, I was impressed by his dedication, commitment and attitude and sense of humour,” he says.

“Tas really is a great talent; I watched him grow up, learn to drive, have relationships, get work, study as well as winning lots of races. He really was awesome to hang around, a great ambassador for sponsors and young riders. I loved going away together because we always had such a laugh.”

Going up, errr uh, down.

Nankervis meshed well with Clark’s environment for young riders and flourished, learning the ropes of elite XC racing and how to hold yourself outside of racing.

“Cycling is a minority sport, so it’s never going to get a ton of outside support. Dean and Gen ran that team like a family and did everything they could to help us get fast and race well. We were probably the biggest goofballs at every race, we were always laughing and having a good time, but it (the team) produced good results,” he says.

“It wasn’t just about if you were the fastest person; you needed to be someone that had a good time with racing, and without it. We would spend a lot of time with their family and their kids when they were young; they also valued who you were as a person over most things really.”

Plaster casts, but on both hands

In 2017, after trying every year since the age of 15, Nankervis finally won the U23 National Championship.

“It was more of a relief than anything else,” said Nankervis. “In that season, I hadn’t been beaten by another U23 competitor, so I knew I just had to go out and get it done. I think I finished in nearly every other position (at nationals) over the years. I waited until my last year in Under 23’s to do it too.”

The Nankervis brothers are a pairs racing team like no other.

By ‘strategically’ waiting until 2017 to finally get the job done, Nankervis was the U23 National Champ when the UCI came to Cairns for the World Championship. This meant he had the added benefit of racing World Championships in Australia as the National Champion and had earned a coveted spot in the team relay event alongside Holly Harris, and Dan and Bec McConnell.

“Everyone was in Aussie kits, but to be one of the National Champions was pretty special,” he says.

However, getting to that point for Nankervis was a battle, and Tasman was, as he puts it, was “prone to the odd injury.” The streak started with a dislocated thumb in 2018 during the final Commonwealth Games Test event.

“When I went to get the x-ray on my hand, I was like, ‘look, I’ve got this sore thumb. Can we give that a look while we are here?’ Sure enough, I had a fracture in my thumb as well, so I left that hospital with a cast on both hands,” he laughs.

“To be honest, I didn’t really think anything of it; I lost a bit of time on the descents, but that was about it. From there, I flew directly to New Zealand for the NZ Cycle Classic on the road, I couldn’t really grip the bars very well, but it was fine,” he says.

“The day after I flew home, I went mountain biking with Chris Hamilton. I was really tired, and I squared up this tree so hard. I’ve never had a sudden impact like that before, and broke two metacarpals in my right hand and had this massive contusion on my leg,” says Nankervis.

“When I went to get the x-ray on my hand, I was like, ‘look, I’ve got this sore thumb. Can we give that a look while we are here?’ Sure enough, I had a fracture in my thumb as well, so I left that hospital with a cast on both hands,” he laughs.

Tasman’s spats with injuries have not deterred him from stunts.

Once the bones in his hands had healed, Nankervis made the jump across the ditch to race the USA Crits series. Unfortunately, upon returning to Australia, a crash in his first race back left him with a broken arm.

But this wasn’t Nankervis’ first spat of being broken. In 2014, Nankervis came off at Road nationals in January and broke his collarbone. Then, in December of that year, he tore his patellar tendon, taking him off the bike for four months. Bad things happen in threes, so of course the summer of 2015, Nankervis came down with glandular fever.

“I would go really well in the middle part of the year, but I just could never get through the summer.

It sucked because it was three of my Under 23 seasons just written off. The next season I finally got a good preparation and was riding well, and I remember one of the MTBA guys saying something like, ‘oh, nice to see you starting training again, Tasman,’” he laughs.

All Aussie Adventures with Tasman Nankervis

Nankervis is the type of person who always needs to be in motion, whether it is balancing racing elite level XC, the National Road Series, getting a masters in physiology at university, and working to pay rent, or simply Everesting because he was bored. He’s someone who thrives under pressure, whether that be battling for the top spot in an XC race or going on vacation.

If it’s got two wheels and pedals, there Nankervis can ride it.

“We were planning to ride a lap around Tassie over eight days after I finished Uni, but first I had to pass my final practical exam. We’d already booked the boat (Spirt of Tasmania) for the day after the exam, which has a 40-per cent fail rate. If you fail, you can re-take it a week later, so I would have had to miss the trip,” says Nankervis. “It was such high pressure; I’ve never studied so hard in my life.”

The following day with a shiny new diploma, Nankervis and his crew rode from Bendigo to the boat and did a lap around Tasmania, totalling 54-hours on the bike over nine days.

Who would win in a race, a cockatoo, a horse or Tasman Nankervis?

“It was great; eating out of servos, riding slow and going somewhere new every day. When we rode up Mount Wellington it started snowing; it was hardly glamorous, but we got to goof around for nine days on bikes.”

Many athletes like Nankervis have this trait of perpetually being in motion and will be the first to admit that slowing down is the hard part. So last year, when the entire world abruptly stopped, many of these same folks had difficulty adapting to the new pace of life.

Nankervis is pretty quick on the curly bars and skinny tyres too.
Bendigo bunchies.

“Some people’s heads rolled off because they had nothing to work towards, and they weren’t getting their competitive fix,” he says. “I never stopped riding; I think this is actually one of the biggest years I have ever had on the bike. We rode so many random places around Bendigo and explored a bit — it was kind of nice not to worry about training for something all the time.”

Even with the focus on performance, Nankervis says that he hasn’t forgotten that riding bikes is supposed to be fun, and if anything, 2020 reaffirmed that fact. It can be challenging for riders who are constantly pushing for podium finishes to take that step back and smell the roses, and Nankervis says that childhood friend Jason Lowndes instilled this mentality before he passed away in 2017.

“He just loved riding, and he was really good at just riding for fun. I think that has shaped my riding and that mentality — riding for the sake of enjoyment, not just racing.

The future

All smiles from the Nankervis clan.

In speaking to Nankervis, it’s clear he’s driven and hard-working, but he seems to find strength in optimism. He emphasises a funny anecdote or a laugh at his own expense in every story he tells. He has an undeniable talent on the bike, but more than anything, it’s also something that he simply loves to do.

A year out of university, Nankervis is working at the local hospital running exercise rehab programs with those who have a chronic injury or illness to help them get moving again.

“I’m looking to get as much clinical knowledge as I can, but I’d like to move into sports (physiology) eventually. Dealing with populations from the hospital, their medical histories are huge, and there is a lot of complex disease and things like that. I’m learning as much as I can now, but moving into sport would be my goal. Within ex(ercise) phys(iology), I’m really invested in the musculoskeletal side of things and working to rehab specific conditions,” he says.

Nankervis plans to races as much as he can across MTB, road and gravel in the coming year.

With racing back on the cards for 2021 and beyond, Nankervis says he’s not upset that overseas racing probably isn’t going to be a possibility and is laser-focused on the domestic calendar.

“I’m not phased at all because my goals aren’t overseas at the moment. The only thing overseas I want to do would probably be (Marathon) World Champs in the US, or if something cool popped up, like Swiss Epic or Absa Cape Epic one day,” he says. “But at the moment just (XC) marathons, a few of the big NRS races like Warnie and Grafton, and some gravel races like the Beechworth Gravel Grind and the Seven gravel race in Western Australia.”

Nankervis also says he plans to do a lot more bike packing and adventure riding too, but he needs to schedule another practical exam the day before, just for good measure.

The Nankervis brothers tackling some Bendigo jank.

Photos: Justin Castles @justincastles

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