Designed to attract mountain bikers from all over the country, the Hellfire Cup enters into its 3rd year for 2015. It’s a stage race, but it’s a little different to your average mountain bike stage race. And after you meet event organiser Duncan Giblin, you’ll understand why.
First and foremost, the Hellfire Cup is primarily a pairs stage race, meaning riders team up with a riding buddy (or significant other in some cases), and take part in a series of races over 4 days that include Team Time Trials, Individual Time Trials, a lap-based Enduro event, and marathon stages. With pairs required to cross the finish line together in many of the stages, the Hellfire Cup offers up a very unique racing dynamic that aims to turn what is fundamentally a solo sport, into a team sport.
The other unique aspect of the Hellfire Cup is it’s heavy emphasis on offering a true festival experience. The event HQ is located on an expansive campground based in Kellevie, about 45 minutes North East of Hobart. Competitors are encouraged to bring their tents and campervans, with everyone splayed out amongst a beautiful clearing amongst tall Eucalypt trees. The event site is equipped with mobile toilets, showers, a bike wash station, and massive water tanks. Helping to encourage more families to participate, there’s even onsite childcare and a wee bouncy castle. Best yet, there’s a bar too, with Ironhouse Brewery offering up their wares for thirsty riders. Next to the bar is a pump track. Need I say any more?
The first (and last) time I participated in the Hellfire Cup was in 2013 at the inaugural event. Many readers out there will know what I’m talking about when I say that it was an unforgettable experience. You may remember that the original Hellfire Cup was postponed from its original January start date in 2013, due to the devastating bushfires that ravaged South East Tasmania. Ironically, the rescheduled date in November saw the weather swing the other way, with some 250mm of rain pummelling the region in the lead-up to the race. With the conditions being so wet, race HQ had to be relocated multiple times. Campers scrambled to find any available accommodation in the area to save them from having to sleep in a mud pit. The weather was absolutely apocalyptic. I wrote an article about participating in that first Hellfire Cup. It was titled “To Hellfire & Back”.
Despite the conditions working against competitors and the race organisers, Duncan and his team did admirably to keep the event going by reworking the stages to avoid the muddiest sections. It certainly wasn’t ideal, but the event still managed to maintain its festival atmosphere, and the final days Eliminator stage proving to be the most exciting, and a great way to finish on a high note after 4 days of turmoil.
That said, the Hellfire Cup’s reputation suffered from that first event, even if it was because of weather conditions outside of the organiser’s control. Last year, the Hellfire Cup returned, with many competitors coming back for a second crack at the Kellevie singletrack. With the weather finally working in everyone’s favour, the 2nd iteration of the Hellfire Cup proved to be a roaring success, completing Duncan’s original vision for what he sees as the ultimate mountain bike festival experience.
Off the back of those positive reviews, I decided to give the Hellfire Cup another go after MarathonMTB team manager, Mike Blewitt, called me up to see whether I’d like to race in a pair. Shortly after, flights from Melbourne to Hobart were booked, and I’d arrive the Wednesday night before the race started on Thursday morning.
True to form however, I received a call from Mike two days ago, informing me that he had come down with not just a man-cold, but the man-cold to end all man-colds. Proper flu. This was pretty gutting for Mike, because it completes the trifecta of him not being able to make the Hellfire Cup due to illness. Despite very much wanting to get on that plane and head over to Tassie, Mike was struggling just to get out of bed. And so that’s how I turned up to the 2015 Hellfire Cup, saddling up at the start line, now repositioned into the ‘Lone Wolf Category’.
I arrived at Hobart airport last night after a quick flight from Melbourne, and was very kindly picked up by one of Duncan’s riding mates, Bill. Bill is a local mountain biker from Seven Mile Beach in Hobart, and along with a core team of enthusiastic riders, he helps to build and maintain much of the singletrack that competitors would be enjoying over the Hellfire Cup. While the Hellfire Cup is very much Duncan Giblin’s baby, it’s this core team surrounding him that helps to turn his idea into a fully functioning reality.
After driving into race HQ and setting up my bike and sleeping bag, I aimed to get a decent kip before waking up around 8am this morning to the smell of freshly cooked bacon and eggs and on-site espresso.
Day 1 would host two stages, with the first morning stage being a 25km appetiser around the Kellevie trails. For the pointy end, this would mean an hour of hard and fast racing. For many others, it would mean a solid few hours in the saddle. In fact, as I sit typing this, riders are still crossing the finish line in the transition area.
The 25km course took in a whole variety of different trails, with riders passing through environments that varied from classic dry Eucalypt bush, through to dense and lush rainforest. A perfect mix of singletrack and fireroads meant that it was easy for us to catch our breaths on the open fireroad sections, whilst also taking a swig of water and getting a bite to eat.
The singletrack itself? Absolutely magical. A mix of machine-built trails and natural ruggedness kept riders on their toes, with plenty of technical rocky climbs offering a degree of the ‘old school’ mountain biking that many of us love. The descents were fast and sweeping, with beautifully built berms allowing riders to carry some serious eye-watering speed on their way down the hillside. Much kudos must go towards the local volunteers and the crew from Mountain Trails, who have built an absolutely ripper course.
After the first stage, Jenni King & Karen Hill are sitting in first position in the women’s pairs category, with Eliza Kwan & Brooke Rowlands of ‘Squeak and Stack’ taking out second. The 2014 Hellfire Cup winning combination of Naomi Williams and Rebecca Locke finished the 1st stage in 3rd position.
In the mixed pairs category, a photo-finish saw 1st placed shared by the TORQ team of Tristan Ward & Holly Harris alongside Olly Shaw and Renata Bucher, with a combined finish time of 1:24:27. In 3rd position was Samara Sheppard and Ben Bradley, who pulled ahead of last years Hellfire Cup Mixed Pairs winners, Peta Mullens & Jarrod Moroni.
For the blokes, a very close finish went down to the wire between the TORQ team riders of Tasman Nankervis & Chris Hamilton, and Mark Tupalski & Kyle Ward. In the end, the Tuwardski fellas took the glory. The 4Shaw DYAD team of Tom Goddard & Scott Bowden finished a little further back in 3rd, after pulling ahead of Guy Frail & Anthony Shippard. It appears that the remainder of the Hellfire Cup will see an ongoing battle in the Elite Male category between 1st and 2nd position, and 3rd and 4th.
I ended up having a great start to the 2015 Hellfire Cup, finishing in the top-10 of the Lone Wolf category. The climbs were long and hard, but being a featherweight, I managed to claw my way through the pack after starting about ¾ of the way back at the beginning of the race. About half way in though, a very sharp right hand corner that came out of nowhere (that’s my story, and I’m sticking with it!) sent me over the handlebars and off into the bushes. As the racing pairs of Jenni King & Karen Hill, and Peta Mullens & Jarrod Moroni overtook me while I sat helpless in the scrub, I managed to get up, collect myself and steadily work my way back through the race. After calming down somewhat, I was able to engage a little more composure to enjoy some serious flow on the descending half of the stage. Crossing the line under an hour and a half, it goes without saying that I had a very big grin on my face after enjoying all of that glorious singletrack.
Being a 4-day stage race though, it is all about endurance, and we’ve all got many more km’s to get through before we finish up the 8th Stage on Sunday.
Stay tuned to MarathonMTB.com for more updates over the coming days, as we fill you in on the highs, the lows, and the downright awesomeness of the 2015 Hellfire Cup!