Anyone can see that around Australia, the marathon scene is shrinking. Some of the classics keep fighting on, but the demand for single day 100km races is not what it used to be. And given the costs involved for a one day event it is understandable. Time off work, entry, accommodation, maybe airfares as well – all for a 4-5 hour race. Yes it can be a great experience, but what if with a couple more days off work you did a 3 or 4 day stage race instead? You’ll have nearly triple the trail time, more socialising, more chances for glory if things don’t go your way on one stage – and it’s likely to be a bit more fun. And that’s exactly why there are more short stage races now, and new for 2020 is the Dragon Trail MTB stage race, taking place in the mountain bike hotspot of north east Tasmania.
What is the Dragon Trail MTB stage race?
Running over 3 days, the Dragon Trail MTB stage race will run from 26-28 March, with a point to point route from Branxholm, through Blue Derby to Weldborough, onto the Bay of Fires, and then finishing at St Helens. The days are between 40-55km, and should take about 3 to 6 hours for most riders. This is no fire trail bash, with about 70% of the course being purpose-built singletrack. For full course details you should go to the event website.
It’s a solo race, although you can race it in relay pairs if you think taking on all 3 days might be a bit much.
The team behind the Dragon Trail MTB stage race
The race is run by Geocentric – an event company that might not be that famililar for mountain bikers. But they are known around the world for their adventure races, including the world-class XPD events.
The XPD adventure races are multi-day events requiring around the clock logistics management and event safety while the sometimes near delirious competitors are on demanding courses. So, setting up a point to point stage race doesn’t seem to daunting according to Louise Foulkes, the Race Director for the Dragon Trail.
While their head office is on the Sunshine Coast, Foulkes grew up in north-west Tasmania.
“I grew up in Tasmania in a forestry town. At that time all the industry and forestry was closing down in the small towns. I ended up joining the Navy to find work, like many others.”
But that’s not to say a connection to the area wasn’t maintained, with a small shack at St Helens where Foulkes spends most summers.
“We could see the change that the new trails at Blue Derby were bringing to the community. And there is a real drive behind it and that’s exciting.”
There was an XPD event in Tasmania in 2018, and it was back in 2016 that Foulkes suggested to Break O’Day council that the area had huge potential for major sporting events that covered a lot of the variety of terrain.
“I saw there was an opportunity to put an event on, and with the trails now settled in it was the perfect recipe.”
Sure, Blue Derby has hosted two National Marathon Mountain Bike World Championships, two rounds of the Enduro World Series and rounds of the Shimano Enduro Tour – but none of those actually ventured beyond Derby. None of them truly linked the towns – what Foulkes and Geocentric wanted to create was a journey.
All about the journey
It’s the total experience that is the driving factor here, and after talking to Foulkes it is clear that the rider’s experience is paramount.
The whole setup for the event means you can opt in (or out) for things that aren’t so important for you. If you want to add in airport transfers, do it. Want someone to set your tent up each night? Add that to your entry. A breakfast box of local produce? Yes please!
But similarly, if you just want to race and not pay for services you’re not going to use, you can do that as well. The camp sites will have hot water and areas to wash up so eve if you’re cooking for yourself, you can easily clean up and avoid one of the biggest pitfalls of any stage race – getting sick.
This isn’t a case of us and them, but it does represent how we all approach events like the Dragon Trail MTB stage race. Very few people will be racing for the podium, but plenty will be there for the experience – and that’s something the event team are taking seriously for all the hours that you’re not on the bike.
And what makes the experience? That’s not a simple task, but Foulkes is adding plenty of layers of socialising at the camps. From having casual talks in the evenings by interesting people like artisan food and drink producers and athletes that people can sit in on, to making sure the mix of food trucks for dinner options is just right. But it’s on the trails too, making sure the lengths and amount of climbing are spot on. It’s not a flat area, and while some might think 3 days is a day short for the ‘new standard’ of four-day events, we think given the terrain being covered it’s just right. And a fourth day can now be at your leisure, instead of a mad dash back to work.
The Dragon Trail event already has well over 100 entries, and this looks set to make a mark on the Australian mountain bike calendar, and looks ready to spread further from there.
Why should I race the Dragon Trail?
There’s something to be said about visiting north-east Tasmania if you haven’t been before. It’s really easy to access from the majority of east coast capitals, with direct flights to Launceston from most major cities – best of all Launceston is a small airport and it’s really quick to get on the road.
“In my mind I’d fly to Derby before Rotorua every time, it has just go so much diversity of trail and thrilling adventure,” said Rohin Adams.
“I’m super excited about racing from Derby to Bay of Fires as a stage race. Not only for the amazing trails but the scenic and iconic experience it will be as well.”
“I have completed a number of multi day mountain bike events and enjoyed them immensely,” said Michael Milton, Paralympic Gold (and Silver and Bronze) medalist. “Meeting other riders, seeing new places, eating massive amounts of food, riding new trails are all things that I have enjoyed in the past. An event like the Dragon Trail MTB in an area like Tasmania is an adventure that I could not pass up.”
But, why should you race it? If you want to do something different and knock off a visit to Tasmania at the same time – this is for you. Late March will have cool and clear nights and warm afternoons, and quiet trails outside of Tassie’s peak season. I’m going to pull Justin Morris along to the event, as he’s based in Hobart and it’s a good chance to try to keep up with him on the trails, and knock back brews once the racing is done. There is time to catch up, and ideally with the notoriously bad reception around the Weldborough Pub – time to switch off and put your phone away as well. And that sounds like just about the perfect 3-day mountain bike escape to me.
All photos: Kane Naaraat/Pinkbike