The smells, sights, and sounds of the 2021 Dragon Trail. Tasmania’s New Stage Race.

Just one year after the tremendous disappointment of cancelling the inaugural Dragon Trail MTB due to the Covid19 pandemic, 300+ eager riders lined up in just east of Derby, ready to take on three days of racing in Tasmania’s North East. The team’s determination at Geocentric Outdoors paid off, and the race got underway, in favourable conditions through wonderful terrain, on world-famous trails.

Flow Photographer Kristina was on the ground chasing the event.

What is the Dragon Trail? – The Dragon Trail is a three-day stage race through Tasmania’s North East covering Derby, the Bay of Fires and St. Helens. Run by the folks at Geocentric Outdoors, it loosely follows the Trail of the Tin Dragon, the route Chinese miners followed in the 1870s in search of tin.

How long is the Dragon Trail? -The race goes for three days, and the stages are 52km, 58km and 45km, respectively. The race leaders completed each stage between two and three hours, while the rear of the field was closer to eight hours.

Who can enter the Dragon Trail? -Almost anyone, most of the trails are fast and flowy, with the course designed to welcome riders of a wide range of ability.

What are the race categories? – Solo, male/female, age group, and single speed. Juniors are welcome to compete as well, but if you’re under 18, you’ll need your parent’s permission and a designated guardian who is riding with you.

What kind of bike do I need for the Dragon Trail? – Anything from an XC bike to an Enduro Rig will get through the Dragon trail, but a full-suspension XC race bike will probably be best suited to the course.

When is the Dragon Trail? – This year, the race ran from March 18-20. It’s coming back for 2021; however, Geocentric Outdoors is yet to announce the dates.

Where can I find more information? – Click here

Day 1 — Derby Flow, Australia’s most famous trails

Riders arrived in Derby the day before the event to unpack their bikes, set up camp, and catch up with friends.
A bit of pre-race yoga to loosen up the legs
Don’t ya hate it when you get stuck rooming with a tent hog
There was plenty of work happening to get bikes ready for three days of riding through the North East of Tassie.

Setting off from Branxholm, the race kicked off with a non-timed warmup up ascending the 9km Valley Ponds trail to the actual race start. Riders were then sent at ten-second intervals onto the 52km course, complete with 1590m of climbing.  Interment showers throughout the day kept the infamous Derby dirt grippy and created prime conditions for racing.

From the gun, the climbing started with riders pedalling up Axelrod first, followed by Long Shadows and The Great Race. The first stage was largely smooth sailing until the riders hit the bottom of the aptly named Heart Break Hill, putting their fitness and preparation to the test. After a lap around Casaced Dam, it was back towards town to tackle Relics, the s-bends on Sawtooth and achieve Mach-5 through the Derby Tunnel.

It was all smiles at the start line.
Eventual winner Sam Fox showboats for the camera, with Cam Ivory in tow
Smiles all ’round
As riders made their way into the trail network, misty weather kept the dirt tacky as ever.
Traffic jams on Sawtooth
Round the bend on Dam Busters

After fueling up on a handful of gummy worms and a sugary drink at the first air station, riders pointed towards the Wotchaup Upta climb. From the top, there are fantastic views of the township below, but it’s here that riders leave the trail network for some good old fashioned bush bashing.

The event organizers negotiated access to take the race across private property for race day to marry up the route to the Ringaroooma trail, contouring along the river bank to the village of Moorina and the second aid station.

Riders making their way around the Dam, little did they know what was in store.
Riding in and around Derby feels a bit like you’re the movie, Jurassic Park.

With 17km to go, the race organizers had one more test in-store, with a big reward at the end. The climb up Frome Road to the lake bearing the same name is a manageable gradient for about 12km and bought riders to the KOM/QOM of the day at 580m above sea level. This uphill slog’s reward was the fabled Big Chook descent, which guided riders down to the finish at the legendary Weldborough Hotel.

A casualty of the Frome Road climb
Day 1 complete, still smiles all around.

Here riders were greeted with their digs for the night, a bit of camping, cold beers and talks from local speakers.

After a day-long battle with Cam Ivory, it was Marathon MTB rider and Tassie local Sam Fox, who crossed the line first, fresh off his U23 National Championship win. Karen Hill, who was technically racing in the 30-39 age group, was the first across the women’s field.

Day 2 — Bay of Fires; it’s all about the descending.

More than 300 rider’s bikes, ready to roll
Day two, let’s get it!
Stage 1 winner Sam Fox on his way to the start

Arguably the highlight of the three-day race came in the form of the 13km Bay of Fires descent. This fast flowy downhill starts at the tippy top of the Blue Tier and drops 400 vertical meters, descending through everything from sub-alpine myrtle forests to dank dense rain forests, and swings past huge tree ferns.

But the racers weren’t treated to a cruisy shuttle ride to get here; they had to work for it, climbing 17km from the Weldborough hotel, up Little Chook, Emu Flat Road and a hike a bike up 4×4 tracks to the summit and the first aid station.

Here, the cost of admissions was a scratch behind the ear of the chocolate labrador who served as the bouncer.

Riders had to climb from camp up to the Blue Tier.
The reward for all vertical meters gained was, of course, the Bay of Fires descent.
From this spot, it’s 13km of gravity-fueled fun.
Oh, you want to come in for some snacks? That will cost an ear scratch and or one nose boop.
The Bay of Fires descent starts among thin and whispy vegetation that becomes wetter and denser as you lose altitude.

Heading off from the first aid station, the region’s diversity begins to reveal itself with sandy climbs, giant boulders fields, and spectacular coastal scenery before another final descent down to the orange lichen-covered rocks of Swimcart beach. 

After 58km on the bike and 1380m of climbing, it was again Fox and Hill who were the first to hit the white sand beach, backing up their wins from the previous day.

A bit further down, the trail surface becomes sandy, and the rocks get WAY bigger.
End of stage two, still all smiles.
A base camp numero dos the race team had organised some unique entertainment

Day 3 — St. Helens Dreaming, the finale on the newest trails in the region

The third and final day took riders to the Flagstaff trail network for another 45km on the bike, including the brand new 27km Dreaming Pools wilderness trail.

Starting with a non-timed 4km liaison up the Town Link Trail, riders set a course for Flagstaff hill, traversing across Rock Lobster, Wedged In and Garnup to the first aid station.

Even though it’s only a jump skip and a hop away from the Bay of Fires trail, the Flagstaff network is completely different again.
Fast, flowy and dusty

Then it was into the wilderness and past the Dreaming Pools, where the organisers tell us only two riders stopped for a dip.

Related: Must Ride | St Helens, Tasmania Pt.2 – Keep Riding, Swimming, and Eating.

After 45 km, for the third time, it was Fox and Hill crossed the line first, winning the overall race and a permanent spot on the Dragon Trail trophy.

A large portion of the third stage was on the Dreaming Pools Wilderness Trail, which guides riders past an epic swimming hole. Apparently, only a few partook.
This is a mountain bike race, after all, and crashes do happen.
All smiles on the ladies podium
Sam Fox won the U23 National Champs and backed it up with a first place at the Dragon Trail.

Photos – Kristina Vackova @kiphotomedia

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