Sights and sounds of the 2023 Dragon Trail, Blue Derby & St Helens

Stage Racing has returned to Northeast Tassie with the Dragon Trail taking riders on an adventure following the Trail of the Tin Dragon. This path was travelled by Chinese immigrants who came to Tassie in 1870 to mine precious metals.

Stretching from Branxholm to St Helens, the Trail of the Tin Dragon also happens to run through some of the best trail networks in Australia.

Running for the third time in 2023, this year saw a significant change to the route and some new faces mixing it up in the general classification.

Riders were welcomed to Branxholm with sunshine and blue skies, which can sometimes be a rarity in Tassie this time of year.
It’s all fun and games until the number plates come out. And then, well, it’s still fun and games.

Day 1 | Derby Flow

Riders from all over Australia and abroad arrived in Branxholm on Wednesday to bright sun, blue skies, and dusty trails for shake-down rides. Come Thursday Morning, the Tasmanian weather reared its head and brought showers for the start of the race.

Setting off from the campground in Branxholm, the field pedalled up to Derby along the Valley Ponds trail. The first half of the 10km route was used as the prologue to seed the actual race start at the Blue Derby trailhead.

The Dragon Trail was already one of the most singletrack heavy stage races in Australia. Now, with day one staying within the Blue Derby trail network instead of climbing up to Weldbourugh, the singletrack to anything else ratio has been sent through the roof.

In the first edition of the Dragon Trail, riders were set off individually to alleviate traffic jams. This wasn’t super well received, because it took the head to head element out of the race. bBut the event team has found a happy medium in setting folks off in small groups based on their time in the prologue.
Odams on the hunt, chasing Bowden up Axehead.

To avoid traffic jams, riders were divided into groups of 20 based on their prologue finish time. The course starts with a hot lap of Chain Gang and then onto Axehead. This trail was partially destroyed by the landslide that hit Derby back in October, and by all accounts, World Trail has done a fantastic job of breathing new life into the rubble.

Then it was up Long Shadows and into the newly revamped Upper Flickety Sticks for the first descent of the day, before heading back up to the Mount Paris Dam.

Utilising a mix of singletrack and fire roads, this was the foremost passing opportunity of the day. This route was utilised as a part of the XCM National Champs circa ~2014-15. With the rain continuing throughout the day, it saw some greasy conditions and caused a few riders to become well acquainted with the ground.

Getting to the Mount Paris Dam is quite an adventure. Riding or scrambling their way through, it’s an area just outside the trail network a lot of folks don’t get to experience.

After scrambling across the wet rocks next to the Dam Wall, it was onto the piece de resistance, Atlas. This 10km descent is one of the trails folks travel to Derby specifically to ride. Winding through mossy myrtle beach forest, it’s quite an adventure, much less at race pace. Atlas spits out onto Dam Busters, which is a fantastic ride in itself, and then riders work their way back to back to the trailhead, coming down Dam Busters, Sawtooth, Turbo Chook, the Derby Tunnel and Rusty Crust. All up, folks covered 35km of riding and about 1000m of climbing.

It was a familiar scene at the top of the podium with last year’s winners Karen Hill and Jon Odams winning the stage, flanked by Eve Conyers and Imogen Smith and Daniel Aurik and Ben Mather.

Back in the ferns, Bowen chasing to limit his losses.
It’s not often that you get t ride through an old mining tunnel, much less race through one. The Dragon Trail delivers on both.

Day 2 | The Bay of Fires

It’s not easy to top the course from day one, hitting some of the best trails in Blue Derby, including Atlas, but we think Stage 2 of the Dragon Trail does exactly that.

Covering 55km, it’s the longest day on the bike and takes riders down The Bay of Fires trail. This 42km adventure ride starts at the top of the Blue Tier and runs down to the white sand on Swimcart Beach, kicking off with a 13km descent that is nothing short of spectacular — it’s worth it for that section alone.

Part of the reason the first stage stays in Derby is to utilise the same campsite twice.
Topeak Ergon rider Yuki Ikeda travelled from Japan to race the Dragon Trail.

But the riders had to get there first. The stage starts in Weldborough, and folks have to climb up to Poimena at the top of the Blue Tier after pedalling Little Chook, gaining 400 vertical metres in the process. This route takes in some 4WD track and old-school singletrack that predates the trail networks. It’s a rough and rowdy route, traditionally ridden in the opposite direction — in previous years, when the weather has been fowl this has made for some pretty intense creek crossings.

Fortunately, the weather gods smiled on the Dragon Trail this year, and the sun was shining.

Just because you’re racing doesn’t mean you get to skip the bike wash. These are here to prevent the spread of root rot from the rainforest section down into the costal forest.
Racing can be hard, Ash Warner took a tumble en route to the beach.

In the men’s field, Odams, former Olympian Scott Bowden and Ben Mather crested the top together. Bowden, who lost time the day prior after a crash, came out hard on The Bay of Fires trail to make up time and was the first rider to roll out his towel on the beach. This effort saw him jump to second in the GC, with Ben Mather moving into third. Odams still maintained his lead in the GC.

Karen Hill continued her dominance in the Women’s field, riding to her eighth consecutive stage win. The remainder of the podium saw a pair of new faces, with Melissa Britt and Hannah Miller riding into second and third.

Get amongst it! Taking a dip after finishing The Bay of Fires is something you have to do — we don’t make the rules.

Day 3 | St Helens Dreaming

The Dragon Trail finale heads just up the road from Swimcart Beach to the Flagstaff trail network for a 42km loop. The day kicks off with a 4km transfer stage from the campsite to the trailhead, and then they are set loose on the Flagstaff stacked loops.

The entire stage is built around the Dreaming Pools adventure trail, a 27km loop that skirts around the edge of Mount Eco and out to the trail’s namesake. To get to this backcountry loop, riders have to climb up to Liola Tier — most folks shuttle here. Running through ironbark forest, the Dreaming Pool loop is undulating, with 744m ascending and nearly 1k descending. The trail hits Constable Creek and the natural rock pools at the bottom of a 5km downhill — it’s a speedy section but well worth stopping for a dip.

Lachy Alison having a bit of fun on his way to a top ten finish.

Re-entering the trail network, there is a short section of fire trail and an opportunity for passing before climbing back up to the finish.

Bowden once again put the pressure on Odams and would beat him to the line with Daniel Aurik hot on their heels. Even with only one stage win two his name this year, Odams still managed to eke out the GC win, maintaining a four-minute lead, with Ben Mather rounding out the podium.

Karen Hill made it a perfect sweep, winning her ninth stage in a row, and taking the overall win in the process. Having won every Dragon Trail stage to date, it will take someone four years to tie her current record — and we have the feeling she is not done. Imogen Smith would jump onto the second step, followed by Eve Conyers. These two would swap places in the overall, with Conyers taking silver in the GC and Smith with Bronze.

The Dreaming Pools are an oasis in the forest and every year a few folks stop here to cool down mid-stage.
Imogen Smith descending like a rocketship on her way to third place in the GC.
Effort! It will get you there! Full stoke at the finish line.
Emotions can run high during a race, hug it out dudes, you made it!

Photos: Murilo Mattos/@murilomattoss, Saxen Young/@saxen18, Angel Cross/@_angeliquecr

It appears you're using an old version of Internet Explorer which is no longer supported, for safer and optimum browsing experience please upgrade your browser.