Photos by Nat Jeanneret and Kai Fuller
Today’s race entry includes a tale of a love story. It’s a story about how two riders, set deep in the heart of competition, came together as one during the Team Time Trial at the 2015 Avanti Plus Hellfire Cup. There was hardship, there was sweat, there were fierce headwinds, but amongst all of that, there was the bonding of two Lone Wolves.
But first, some necessary background on todays riding.
As the 4th stage of the Hellfire Cup, the Team Time Trial set the scene for another unique race format to keep competitors on their toes. Each pair would set off from the start line in 30-second intervals, with seeding arranged according to those riders overall positions in the general classification standings. This would see the slowest riders begin first, with the fastest riders setting off last. For many competitors a new challenge was now set; try to finish the race without being caught by the faster riders behind you.
To begin the Team Time Trial stage, all of us were lined up at the event HQ in Kellevie, before we set off behind a pace car on the mornings cruise stage. This 6km warm-up would see us make our way out to the Hellfire Bluff, which the event itself is named after. This was a great opportunity for riders to warm up their legs after the previous day’s half marathon stage, while taking in the serene locale of Marion Bay. You might recognise that name as the location for the Tassie leg of the Falls Festival New Years party. And what a spot it is. There is something quite special about cresting a dirt fireroad climb and being rewarded by such an expansive view of the ocean and the Hellfire Bluff.
At 9:30am we rolled into the Marchwiel property, which is a historic homestead owned by MONA proprietor David Walsh. Given this beautiful private property is otherwise inaccessible to most of us all year round, it is with many thanks to the generosity of people like David Walsh that the Hellfire Cup can be held across such a stunning landscape. Thanks to this ongoing partnership, the Marchwiel property would serve as the start & finish line for the Stage 4 Team Time Trial.
Like the Half Marathon stage, the Team Time Trial was really an event geared up for pairs racing. The idea was that each pair would set off together on the 15.5km course, working with each other to pull turns on the front while battling the powerful southerly wind. I had a feeling that today would be another stage where I’d feel like Bart Simpson, rowing my boat around in circles with just a single paddle.
Rules were in place however. No pair was allowed to draft any other teams, which would hopefully reduce any of the argy-bargy from previous events where some riders felt like they were giving others a free tow at their expense. It might be a foreign concept for mountain bikers (drafting is very much a road riding thing), but when you realise just how big of a battle those headwinds can be, you’ll understand how advantageous tucking in behind another rider is.
Without a teammate lining up with me on the start line, it would appear that I’d be suffering in the head and crosswinds on my own in the Lone Wolf category. As I sat contemplating how much I wasn’t looking forward to this, a rider sidled up next to me in the conga line behind the main race marshal. A hand stuck out, and the man attached to it introduced himself as Will Rafferty. Turned out that Will and I had been battling it out together over the previous two days of racing, but we hadn’t really met each other properly, mostly because Will dropped me like a sack of spuds during the Half Marathon stage. Will was fairly new to mountain biking, but he was strong and it also turned out that he was a really nice dude.
While I had been under the impression that us Lone Wolfers weren’t allowed to partake in any drafting exercises out on course, a quick check with the race marshal confirmed that we were indeed allowed to work together. And because Will wasn’t some kind of egotistical road-racing douchebag who had decided to try their hand at mountain biking (you all know the type I’m talking about), he was more than happy for us to share drafting duties along the dirt fire roads of the Team Time Trial. We were due to set off together at the same start time, so we could work as a pair. All of a sudden I realised that this Bart Simpson had found his soul mate – we even had the same name!
And so at 10:37:30, the two Wills took off from the start line, sandwiched in between the Elite Women’s pair of Rebecca Locke & Naomi Williams, and the very hairy singlespeeding pair of Brett Bellchambers & Mat Hunnibell. I felt like this was a good thing. Being chased down by a 6’4” Chewbacca on a singlespeed mountain bike is likely all the motivation I would need to get a move on.
With the fastest pairs expected to complete the course in less than 30 minutes, the racing was fast and fierce. The course was described as a “gravel grinder”, and that’s a pretty apt description. We would largely ascend for the first half, which included some rough double track fireroads, before descending back down into Marion Bay. There was a smidgen of singletrack, but the riding was largely made up of open dirtroads and 4WD tracks.
Will and I set off at a quick pace, rolling turns as we made our way further up the climbs. We eventually caught team Willylocke, but it also wasn’t long before we ourselves were caught by the leader of the Lone Wolf Masters category, Ewan McIvor. As Ewan powered past us, his long legs pumping the pedals like a steam engine, I tried to stay with him. Will and I had been running a tight ship up until this point, our bond growing stronger as the km’s tumbled by. But as I looked back to my newly found soul mate, it appeared that he was starting to run out of juice as I tried to make a move on Ewan. Seeing it all unfold directly in front of his eyes, Will let out an exasperated gasp. “Don’t worry about me Wil, just…*gasp*…go mate…*gasp*…just go!” It was pretty much our Titanic moment, but it was clear that I would have to let go of my Leonardo Dicaprio in order to make a move on Ewan.
Putting myself well and truly in the box, I punched out the remaining climbs to keep Ewan in sight, before we both pulled our best aero-tucks as we blasted back down the hillside. The last 5kms of the course finished off with a long and windy stretch on flat dirt roads. Passing in and out of headwinds, it was tough. If I wasn’t so busy studying my bike’s stem though, I would have enjoyed the beautiful views on my left of Marion Bay and the Tasman Sea.
I eventually pulled into the transition area after about 32 minutes on course – a whole 5 minutes slower than the winning pair of Tasman Nankervis & Chris Hamilton. Because the Team Time Trial was a relatively fast and short stage, there wasn’t a whole lot of room for competitors to make up time on their rivals. In both the Male Pairs and the Mixed Pairs category, there was just 90 seconds separating 1st from 4th. It was certainly tight racing, and with everyone trying to hold off the faster riders behind them, we were all thoroughly hyped up as we hammered over the finish line.
Full results from Stage 4 are up on the Hellfire Cup website. More importantly though, the overall standings are as follows;
1. Jenni King & Karen Hill 5:56:45
2. Naomi Williams & Rebecca Locke 6:03:25
3. Brooke Rowlands & Eliza Kwan 6:25:43
1. Tasman Nankervis & Chris Hamilton 4:52:44
2. Mark Tupalski & Kyle Ward 5:09:33
3. Scott Bowden & Tom Goddard 5:17:55
1. Tristan Ward & Holly Harris 5:32:19
2. Olly Shaw & Renata Bucher 5:33:55
3. Jarrod Moroni & Peta Mullens 5:36:18
And so that ended Stage 4 of the Hellfire Cup. Stage 5 will play out later this afternoon, with each pairs’ rider completing a lap of a 9km course around the Kellevie trails. Or for us Lone Wolfers, two laps of the same course. Did I mention that Mike Blewitt pulled out from being my Hellfire Cup racing partner this week?
But those nasty thoughts aside, what about Will Rafferty? My fellow Lone Wolfer who had joined forces with me on the Team Time Trial? The guy that I left behind after I made a move on the climb? Despite blowing his legs apart on the same climbs I was, Will managed to claw his way back through the field on the remaining part of the course to finish just 12 seconds behind me. We found each other at the end of the race, and shook hands to congratulate each other’s performance. While our solo racing battle will continue on this afternoon, it was nice to enjoy the brief camaraderie of two Lone Wolfs coming together to battle it out on the Team Time Trial. It may have been a brief love story, but it was a love story nonetheless.
Until this evening, it’s Over and Out from this Lone Wolf.