Racing: Counting Down to Wildside 2014

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.

wild1 149

‘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.

wild10d1 0947

‘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.

 

Interview: Duncan Giblin – One Hell(fire) of a Battle

The upside is that this crew have been forced to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. Flow sat down with Event Director, Duncan Giblin, at the end of the four-day race to talk about some of the battles he’d faced getting this event off muddy ground.

 

Duncan, first fires and then floods. The environmental impact on the event is obvious. Can you talk us through some of the extra challenges you’ve had in putting on Hellfire Cup that riders might not be aware of?

From the outset we wanted to put on a race that we felt suited the riding that we really like doing in this area. It’s a very beautiful area. One of the big challenges for us was the process of change within the forestry industry that was going on, so getting land tenure was pretty interesting. One of the land managers that we use was a major forest holdings group that went into bankruptcy. Then with the Tas Forests agreement going on, where there’s changes to things like logging access, there was uncertainty about who was going was to manage the land and what people were going to be able to do there. So there was a potential risk to access for stuff we’d previously been given permission to use. We now have all this resolved which is great for the event’s future.

Heavy rain before the event meant time went into remedial trail work. The event village was still in construction when competitors started to arrive.
Heavy rain before the event meant time went into remedial trail work. The event village was still in construction when competitors started to arrive.

One of the other challenges is that we’re in a smaller economy here, where unemployment’s really high. That means there’s not a lot of extra government money around for new projects or a lot of cash around for corporate sponsorship.

Financially too, running it again the second time after the postponement, you almost run two events off the one income. For your first major event like that you always take a loss anyway but that made it harder.

Do you think that following the influx of mountain bikers to the regional community over the last week, local businesses might be more likely to come on board for future events?

Yeh. A lot of local businesses and community groups have been fairly heavily involved and inundated with the bushfire recovery itself. Everybody from the mayor to the guy who runs pub are part of the bushfire recovery group. I think they’re at a place now where were they are really able to embrace mountain bike development in the area. They have been really supportive of the event and its future.

 

Do you think that for some of the local community, having seen the amount and the type of people coming in, might be more interested in being involved in future events too?

Totally, they needed to see it first. We had a few concerns about traffic management from community members. Now people in the community are there cooking sausages for riders and asking when the next race is on. They were a major part of providing alternative venues to keep the first Hellfire going.

 

On the topic of the race just past, things were looking good for the rescheduled event, but then the rain came to town. What did you have to do, logistically speaking, in order to keep the stages running each day?

Our goal was to try to make sure that we’ve got a rider experience that people can engage in that’s worthwhile. We also had to work out competitor safety.

What a day like that looks like is we come home from the race village and we look at maps, and weather maps and we then go back out in the bush and we make changes to the trail at night. We reset a whole course while we’ve got a little bit of daylight and then drive back home and do the admin and answer the emails. We also do the work plan to get the next stage happening. We’d do that until about five in the morning, then get up and actually run the stage.

 

Did you also have to deal with road closures and permission to access different areas to hold the redesigned stages?

Yeh, so when we change a stage, people might think it would be a great idea to just go somewhere else. But to get access to the public roads and the management of that, that’s a formal process. We had to use routes within our existing road permit.  Also a big thing for us is that we use properties that have shared use, so if we change something it affects so many other people. It changes the plans and the requirement on the volunteers, it puts them under more pressure too.

We also have to look at the logistics of the race itself when we change; how do we manage our timing, how do we manage our basic rider comfort and safety, how do we manage the concerns and the requirements of the media guys and the promotion opportunities for our sponsors.

 

The event centre was relocated twice during the event. The third one was the best of the lot.
The event centre was relocated twice during the event. The third one was the best of the lot.

Did you ever think of just calling it off?

We thought about it, but basically we didn’t come this far after the fires to just pull the pin on it. People came here to ride and so we were going to ride. That’s basically that.

 

Given the time that has gone into making these decisions, do you think the things you learned from this event make for a much better management plan for next year?

Well we know we’ve got a good fire management plan, we know we’ve got a good flood management plan. Look really, I don’t have any worry about our abilities to adapt the racing, but what we are focused on is dealing with adverse circumstances and maintaining the quality of the event.

 

When the sun turns on, this is a really beautiful part of the world.
When the sun turns on, this is a really beautiful part of the world.

What improvements do you think you’d make to the event overall having seen the experiences riders had this year?

I think anything that supports that atmosphere that we have, which just makes it an enjoyable experience. I have a background putting on raves and other events, and I like to bring that whole feeling to bike races. Our 24 hour events have always had great a great atmosphere, I want to improve that, work on it more.

We’ll have an elite only option so it’s fairer on age category guys competing against them. We had hot showers that we were going to use at the race village and the problem when we had to relocate is that we weren’t able to set those up. And they should have been set up earlier.

We’ve engaged a site manager for next year so we can get earlier set up and more transferable services. The lunches will be more substantial and we are looking at increasing the variety for the evening meals including some more gourmet product. We’ll also have an electronic timing system that will be used for the 2014 event.

 

Some riders have been saying they’d like to see less prize money and more funds going into ‘all you can eat’ kind of catering.  At the same time, the amount of prize money pitches the Hellfire Cup, in terms of the public perception and marketing, as a world class event, which gets people here. What are your thoughts on that?

We are planning to improve of the quality of all services, including food for competitors, without compromising an attractive prize pool for professional riders. We want the experience to be great for all riders punter or pro.

If you build it they will come.
If you build it they will come.

What does it mean having so many people from all over the country, as well as high-profile international riders, come to the event?

It’s really nice to be supported like that. I think for us it makes us more determined provide riders with great trails and good times. It’s been really good for the local community and most people have been really happy about being part of that community recovery, just by coming here and riding their bikes. It also shows that people are interested in what we’re up to and what we want to do. Although it’s been hard over the last 18 months, it makes us more determined to actually provide a better experience and support our local community by having people here.

The Soapbox: Loving The Fitness You Have

‘Want to go trail riding on Saturday?’ – ‘Yeh! For sure!’

‘Want to hit up some beach hills on Tuesday?’ – ‘Count me in!’

‘Race you to the pie shop?’ – ‘You’re on!’

‘Sleep in tomorrow?’ – ‘Sounds like a plan.’

While shabby days on the bike happen to all of us, it bums me out how frequently some riders are down on their fitness instead of glowing about it. These riders are so focussed on the merits of being fitter, they don’t reflect on their current form.

Personally I’m stoked when the level of fitness I have is enough to say yes to almost anything my riding mates throw at me.

What I love most about ‘yes to anything’ fitness is it doesn’t matter if you’re tired, flogged, fresh or even particularly fast. It’s about enjoying every ride, for what it is, hopefully with an infectious giggle at the end of a particularly excellent trail. If you choose your rides well, this will be most of them.

Of course, key to being able to say yes to anything is having mates who ask the right questions. An assemblage of fellow trail buddies whose rides make you glow with enthusiasm rather than look anxiously toward the horizon, or wear your brakes out as you fight to reduce the waiting time at the bottom of each descent.

Friends who push you just outside your comfort zone in the effort stakes make you accidentally fit. Meanwhile, those who challenge you to practice your skills in the singletrack give your legs and heart some time to rest.

The right rides offer the recovery and interval benefits of a basic training program (if you’re that way minded), but can make you laugh out loud and get you reasonably quick on the bike as a by-product of hanging out.

In the spirit of good health, a few yeses to fine dining, early nights and enjoying other off-bike fun will also keep your riding highs on track.

Why so many cyclists spend precious riding time complaining about form is beyond me. By waiting for the day where you ride out of your skin, you run the risk of missing all the good days that lead up to it. Not just good days on the bike, but good days on the bike with friends.

Ride days that consist of more yeses than nos and enough stamina to mostly keep up? Sounds like awesome fun to me!

‘Up that climb again so we can ride the sweetest descent in the world one more time?’ – ‘Let’s go!’ Come to think of it, I think saying yes to moments like this is why I feel fitter than I’ve ever been.

Enjoy the ride.