The Dragon Trail took to northeast Tassie for its sophomore running. The three-day stage race roughly follows The Trail of the Tin Dragon, a route followed by Chinese miners searching for precious metals in the 1870s. This route just so happens to pass through Blue Derby, the Bay of Fires descent and St Helens.
Over 200 riders from all over Australia converged on Tassie for three days of racing on some of the best trails in Australia. The course covered 155km (including prologues and non-timed liaisons) and gained 4300m of elevation — did we mention almost all of that is singletrack?
Day 1: Blue Derby Flow
The first day of the Dragon Trail MTB stage race was wet, very wet. With rain moving in the day before and continuing through stage one, a muddy adventure was in store for the day.
After a 5km prologue to determine the seeding order and a 5km transfer up the Valley Ponds Trail, the kick-off stage took riders on a 45km tour of Blue Derby and up to Weldborough. The first 17km of the course winds its way through the network on trails like Axehead, Long Shadows, Dam Busters, and Sawtooth before running through the Derby Tunnel for the first aid station.
With sugars topped up, the course left the trail network for some good old-fashioned adventure riding. The middle 12km of the stage saw riders tackle a high-speed gravel descent on Mutual Road before veering onto the Ringarooma River Trail, following the river all the way to the small township of Moorina.
Stage one wraps up with a roughly 11km gravel climb up a forestry road that narrows into a rough 4WD track, ascending nearly 500m in the process. The reward for grinding out this climb was waiting for riders on the other end of the glorious Big Chook descent at the Weldborough Hotel with burgers and beers.
“There is lots of superb single track, but there are old school trails and fire roads too, and the surfaces changed each day. We were crossing deep creeks, riding slippy descents, loose shaley rocks and then grippy granite,” said St Helens local Luke Webster.
Jon Odams and Karen Hill would be the first male and female riders to cross the line on stage one.
With the Dragon Trail running for three days across three separate locations, it’s a fully catered event — you sleep in a tent, eat and be merry with your fellow competitors, and there is even daily entertainment. And while you’re out on the course, the race team transports everything to the next venue, so camp is set up and waiting by the time you arrive.
Day Two: The Bay of Fires
Leaving Weldborough, the riders headed for the Bay of Fires, but they’d have to climb over the Blue Tier first. Today’s weather forecast called for less precipitation. Still, a bulletin from the race organisers informed riders that unpredictable high winds were predicted for the top of the mountain, and they’d need to carry jackets and a thermal top.
Day two is the longest stage of the Dragon Trail, covering 52km; the first rider across the line covered this distance in just under three hours — holy watt-bomb, Batman!
Scattered showers and residual moisture for the day prior meant another day playing in the mud and some of the creek crossings that are usually just a trickle were a bit deeper than last the last time we saw them.
With the first stage being almost entirely singletrack — meaning limited passing zones — riders were set off in 8-second intervals to prevent traffic jams. For the second stage, the organisers divided the field into groups of 20 to re-introduce some elbows out racing.
The day begins with a 3km climb up Little Chook into an old-school goat track, climbing 400-vertical-metres usually ridden in the opposite direction. From there, it’s a short stint on Emu Flat Road before riders head for nearly 8km of rough 4WD track, rock crawling through boulder gardens, creek crossings and narrow singletrack leading to the old mining town of Poimena for the first aid station.
After a quick refuel, it’s on to the Bay of Fires Trail, which kicks off with 13km of gravity-fueled fun. After a short fire road liaison, aid station two marks the transition from the lush sub-alpine rainforest into the coastal Tasmanian dry sclerophyll forest below, and the trail zigs and zags down to the squeaky white sand on Swimcart Beach.
Once again, Jon Odams and Karen Hill would take the stage wins and securing the top places in the general classification.
A bit further back in the field, Tony Zerbst was the only racer in the 70+ category. He’d initially planned to race the Dragon Trail in the ‘Oldies and Offspring’ category after being talked into competing by his son Joe. Unfortunately, Joe came down with the spicy cough and was forced to pull out, but Tony persevered and beat his age in the general classification, riding to an impressive 62nd place.
According to the Zerbst duo, they’ll be back next year to race together.
Day 3: St Helens Dreaming
For the ultimate stage of the Dragon Trail, the weather gods smiled on St Helens, and the sun decided to join the race. After a 4km transfer from camp, stage three took riders for a 42km rip around St Helens’ Flagstaff trails.
The day kicks off with trails like Rock Lobster, Wedged In and Garnup before jumping onto the 20km Dreaming Pools adventure trail, which took racers up and over the KOM/QOM of the day.
Odams and Hill were again the first to cross the line, completing the Dragon Trail clean sweep and winning the overall race — the second in as many years Hill has come out on top at the end of the third stage.
“This year, I wasn’t in the same form as last year and had no expectations other than to ride and have fun. I came back to race on awesome trails,” she said.
Paralympian Michael Milton also finished the Dragon Trail this year. An amputee since childhood, he’s won six skiing Olympic gold medals, set a world record for the marathon on crutches and raced national track cycling events.
“Today was tough from the start, and I had to use what little reserve I had to finish. (I’ve) never had a better ride than that final rolling descent to the finish line.
I DID IT! What a race! If you MTB, you HAVE to do the Dragon Trail because it is stunning, varied, challenging, fun and amazingly beautiful … all the adjectives!”
And then there is Cangie Wu, the Dragon Trail rider who spent the most time out on course enjoying the trails in northeast Tasmania. After struggling through the first stage, she planned to pull the plug, but after some encouragement finished the second stage.
On the morning of day three, Wu told the race crew she didn’t have the legs for the last day, but was talked into at least riding to the trailhead. Well, a few hours later, she was coming across the finish line and had completed the race — what a legend!
Race director Louise Folks tells Flow that Dragon Trail will be coming back for 2023, and she’ll be announcing the dates soon.
“We’ve had two years perfecting and refining, and we know this is a world-class event, so next year we are looking forward to welcoming riders from all over the world to Tasmania and the Dragon Trail. So come and join us,” she said.
For the full results or more details on the Dragon Trail, head over to the race website.
Photos – @murilomattoss @margareteoti @_angeliquecr