The Hellfire Cup now in it’s 5th year has quickly become a staple in the Australian MTB stage race calendar. Always attracting a high quality field of racers from across the country. The race is located an easy 45minute drive from the island’s growing major city Hobart meaning logistics and access is very straightforward. The race village is located on a private farm close to the small hamlet of Kellevie on the Tasman peninsula. The large property is owned by Mtn Trails whom are the trail building company responsible for trails such as the iconic ‘North-South’ trail in Hobart and the stunning ‘Three Capes’ hiking trail. Subsequently the trails on offer for the Hellfire are absolutely top notch. This is the art of trail building is honed and perfected and is one of the major drawcards of this event.
Different to many other stage races the Hellfire does not place a large emphasis on physical endurance or difficulty. The longest stage of this race is 40km, with the second longest at 25km riders are never on their machine’s for much more than 2.5hours. Saying that there are 7 stages within 4 days meaning the added difficulty of double stage days. Given this style of ‘sprint’ stage racing it is achievable for nearly everyone with a degree of MTB enthusiasm and does not require the often cumbersome commitment of preparation for a traditional MTB stage race (training tips for stage races from Mind Matters Athlete Coaching). A weekend rider who has the commitments of full time work, family, kids etc. can easily enjoy a few days of competition, trails and fun at the Hellfire.
Stage 1 consisted of a relay style 22km race around a 5.5km XC course, favouring XCO oriented riders all eyes were on the local hero that is Ben Bradley whom had teamed up with road professional Nathan Earle for the event. It was however the evergreen Kyle Ward whom would turn the most heads posting the fastest lap time and taking the win with his partner New Zealand XCO champ Samara Sheppard in the mixed pairs category. In the overall it was however Tasman and Russell Nankervis who took the spoils ahead of Ben and Nathan. the brothers from Bendigo whom have a pedigree of success at this event put their pursuit of the overall victory off to a good start. With a vacancy of elite women pairs given that many of the domestic elite female racers were racing here in the mixed category it was the masters female pairing of Janine Konidaris and Gemma Gooley who would take 1st place in the women’s pairs.
For those that fancy a little more time on the bike and not have the stress of racing with a parter (read Mike Blewitt’s tips on pairs racing here) the Hellfire also offers a ‘lone wolf’ category. This is being lead by team Torq-Merida rider Isabella Flint in the female’s and Grant Rowbottom in the men’s. Full results here.
Stage 2 included a very welcome ‘cruise stage’ to the coast where the afternoon’s 15km Time Trial would take place. The cruise stage was a 10km neutral ride with all racers having the opportunity to mingle and ride together outside of a race situation this I believe was a GREAt initiative that not only served a logistical necessity but also added a social purpose to the race. The TT would take riders on a beautiful scenic loop around the Marion Bay area of the Tasman peninsula. Again the trail was predominantly on private land hence granting riders a rare opportunity to ride some of the most scenic trails and roads in Tasmania. Not so much focus on the scenery among the racers however as the Nankervis brothers again netted another victory ahead of Ben Bradley and Nathan Earle. The pairing of Anthony Shippard and Alex Malone from Sydney proved to be strong on this course picking up 3rd in the TT. Kyle Ward and Samara Sheppard continued their dominance of the mixed category however with a little more luck with mechanicals the high profile pairing of road professional from TIBCO womens team Brodie Chapman and continental level road racer Dan Bonello were able to get up into 2nd place overall mixed.
Stage 3 was claimed to be the longest and hardest stage of the race and at just 40km the more experienced racers were not too concerned. However, the profile of the stage would prove to be a tough undertaking. With close to 1000m of elevation gain and a 27km climb from the start line this stage would claim a few victims. Some significant rainfall overnight had meant the rocky terrain was now a slick trail and the singltrack sections through a stunning rainforest would be slippery awarding those who took the effort to make a tyre change from the dry, open day 1. The Nankervis brothers would again prove they are deserving leaders of the race with the stage victory, they can now rest a little easier in their overall spot as Ben Bradley succumbed to a snapped derailleur and flat tyre half way through the stage taking him and his partner Nathan Earle out of the competition. This opened the door for the in form Kyle and Samara to leave their mark on the stage by taking not only the victory in mixed but also 2nd place overall. The Sydney duo of Shippard and Malone continued their upward trajectory of form with 3rd again today showing their preparation for the upcoming Pioneer in New Zealand is going well. Our team marathonMTB.com including guest rider Rhys Long from Hobart and myself Justin Morris followed a few places back in 6th overall. For full results head here.
The race has 5 stages remaining including an optional novelty night time race in the race village on Saturday evening. The race village and the camaraderie of this event is a big drawcard and given the short stages plenty of time is available for banter among your racing mates. With some of the nations top cycling professionals in attendance it is also a great opportunity to hear from those with a cycling story or 2 to tell. Former Giro D’Italia stage winner and now Tasmanian vineyard owner Michael Wilson is one of those partaking in the Hellfire.