Clear skies and dry trails greeted riders for Stage 1 of the Hellfire Cup. It was a very different vibe in the race village this year from last, and the relief of race organiser Duncan was palpable!
All the work put into the local trails was finally going to pay off – with the riders actually able to race the full 26km Stage 1. I’m sure that bad memories of last years weather has deterred people from coming back – which is a huge shame for the event, but it did mean the start line mob was relaxed, compact and joking – right up until the gun went – at which point things got serious pretty quickly.
Race favourites Tupalski and Hamilton drove it hard early at the very front, with a few in tow. The mixed racing was proving to be tight – with Mullens and Moroni up against World Cup stars – Henderson and McConnell – tough to call. The women’s race had equal quality at the front – Jenni King paired with Em Parkes would be up against rising stars Naomi Williams and Rebecca Locke, fresh off great rides in the Highland Fling.
And how good were the trails in the dry? Incredible. New sections of singletrack took out the last bits of fire road and snaking board-walk took us over damp marsh and into secret woodland. Old favourites were still there: The rocky climbs, the Serpent descent and the Eye of the Needle trails.
A great lunch provided by the organisers (for all riders) and a couple of hours rest before a team relay in the evening.
After a fast mornings racing, the afternoon of Day 1 held stage 2 of the Hellfire Cup. 4 laps of a 6km course to be completed as a ‘tag’ style – rider a, rider b, rider a, rider b – race.
The lap was a tight, twisting, narrow loop of singletrack – the start line was buzzing with excitement as riders and spectators were keen to see what Dan McConnell would do ‘let off the leash’ as a solo. Not wanting to disappoint, Dan left the entire race in his wake – a blur of whizzing electronic gears – it was a huge effort.
Close behind though were the duelling male elite pairs from TORQ and 4Shaw. Given McConnell’s searing pace, and also the huge speed from his partner Bec Henderson (Comm Games bronze medal winner herself!), the mixed team of Mullens and Moroni lost a bit of time, with the Trek Factory team built on their win from the morning.
The women’s racing was tight again – King and Parkes from TORQ trying to extend their slim lead from Stage 1 over Locke and Williams. They succeeded – a minute was eked out over nearly 90 minutes of racing.
A good day for TORQ was rounded off with the win for Tupac and Hamo – extending their lead into Day 2.
As darkness fell on day one, the riders will have slept well as a light sprinkle of rain took the dust off the top of the track.
Going into Day 2 /stage 3 (a 45km ‘marathon’) the top two in the lead categories were:
Male elite: TORQ (Tupac and Hamo) 5mins ahead of 4Shaw (Bowden and Goddard)
Female elite: TORQ (King and Parkes) 2mins ahead of WillyLocke (Williams and Locke)
Mixed: Trek Factory Racing (McConnell and Henderson) 3mins ahead of Jeffy and Pesta (Moroni and Mullens)
Day 2 of the Hellfire Cup broke with clouds but no rain. Facing the riders was a 45km stage with the profile of a camels back – it looked daunting!
Still, at least there was only one stage today! But it would prove to be a day of drama and change in the GC.
Racing has been tight so far, so everyone was keen to get off to a clean start. The first casualty of the day was Bec Henderson from Trek. Within 50m of the startline, she punctured. Terrible luck as the whole race filed past them. Next up to suffer the fate of he rock strewn trail was Kyle Ward – 1km in, and old mate ‘stan’ was jumping out of his tyre escaping with the air. Kyle and Jayden Ward rode on with Bec and Dan before the Trek Factory team suffered yet another flat (and subsequently a 3rd) – and unfortunately we’re forced to withdraw.
The front of the race saw equal drama with the male TORQ team suffering a severe tyre rip up front. Tupac had to ride on his rim for pretty much the last 20km – losing around 10mins to 4Shaw, meaning they slip to second overall, with 4Shaw taking the lead.
Also in the men’s race – Jon Odams – riding well, suffered a rock strike on his rear mech and was forced to ride 15km of hilly Tazzy trails with only the 11tooth! A great strength effort! The women’s race was a very tight affair with the teams locked together for the entire race, crossing the line together.
So, big changes after Stage 3:
Men’s race is being led by 4Shaw by around 4mins, the mixed race is now being dominated by Mullens and Moroni.
The ladies race is going to go to wire.
The rest of the afternoon is now free to sample Tassie food and cider…..before Day three: a 16km Team time trial in the morning, and a 9km XCO burn up in the afternoon.
Oh – and despite a sprinkle of rain, the trails are fantastic – grippy, flowing and in the words of race organiser and course designer Duncan – ‘organic’.