Gravel racing has been taking the US cycling scene by storm for a few years now. With the ascension of a now world renowned races such as Unbound Gravel (formerly Dirty Kanza) gravel racing in parts of the northern hemisphere has become a legitimate professional discipline and arguably trumping in popularity the traditional road racing scene. Whilst the racing has become quite lucrative for some the scene sustains a more friendly and down to earth atmosphere. This makes it a perfect fit for MTB racers keen to broaden their horizons from singletrack and for road riders to seek a little more sense of adventure.
Hence, it was only a matter of time before this emerging cycling discipline gained a foot hold here in Australia. A few events have been running to success for a few years now such as the Great Otway Gravel Grind, in 2021 a number of new events have popped up on the calendar offering a challenging route on unsealed roads to be either competed or completed. Leaving the level of seriousness/ competitiveness up to those who partake. One such new event is the recent Devils Cardigan run in North East Tasmania a stones throw from the now world famous Blue Derby MTB trails.
Running an event in Tasmania at elevation in mid winter guarantees one thing for competitors: inclement conditions. Despite this 120 hardy souls lined up in Derby for the start of the inaugural Devils Cardigan. The brainchild of Blue Metal Tasmania (a gravel cycle guiding business) and Tas Gravity Enduro (enduro racing in Tasmania) the Devils Cardigan offers a 100km and 50km event starting at the Blue Derby trail head and looping over the Mt Victoria Forest reserve and winding through the spectacular farming country in the valleys of the Dorset area before finishing in the historic logging town of Branxholm. With the course dishing out a healthy mix rough fire trails, logging roads, public dirt roads and country sealed ‘dead’ roads. The course accumulates close to 2500m of climbing for the 100km course meaning the course was physically, mentally and technically challenging.
The race was (partially due to covid travel restrictions) predominantly Tasmanian riders which by no means reduces the quality of the field. In the mens race former pro tour riders Nathan Earle and Will Clarke took to the line alongside former U23 XCO national champion Alex Lack, enduro legend Kaine Cannan, Olympic medallist Tim O Shanessy, former XCM national champ Ben Mather and former XCE world champ Paul Van Der Ploeg all in attendance! In the women’s race NRS racer Nicole Frain and the in form Karen Hill joined a strong field taking on the 100km course.
Nathan Earle made his intentions clear from early in the race dispatching most of the field on the early climbs and riding to a solo victory 10 minutes clear of 2nd place Kaine Cannan who finished clear of a fast finishing Alex Lack and Hamish Mckenzie who sprinted for 3rd. Young Hamish out sprinting Alex who later revealed he raced 90km of the course missing the upper jockey wheel from his rear mech!
Nicole Frain similarly set her intentions clear early on in the women’s category escaping on the early climb and riding the course among the mens field finishing in a time that placed her 11th outright.
Much of the podiums were taken by riders on mountain bikes. Although completely achievable on a gravel bike, some sections offered some more speed for mountain bikes. Also, perhaps the strongest riders in the field were on mountain bikes!
However, this race is about far more than results. Despite freezing temps, driving sleet and erratic downpours all mud soaked riders crossed the finish line with a smile from ear to ear. Friends made from out on course and a course that although incredibly demanding really showed off some parts of Tasmania many would not have thought existed. It was a genuine feeling of achieving something ‘epic’ finishing this race. Riding from the townships and farmlands of the valleys through the forestry plantations of the mountain slopes and up into the sub alpine terrain from the plateau at 1000m above sea level was special and something rarely experienced in a race event.
The Devils Cardigan was a resounding success, for an inaugural event it was impeccably organised and had garnered great support from other local business’ with great prizes and services on offer for all competitors. A port race dinner was even organised at the Dorset Hotel in Derby.
So whilst some world famous gravel races need to clock up over 300km to be considered epic ‘the cardigan’ wraps up more than enough epic ingredients into its 100km. The time of year may be questionable for some considering making a trip, it added to the experience and makes that post race accomplishment feeling that bit sweeter. As the organisers state it is the DEVILS cardigan, not the angels cardigan!
Worth the trip for an unforgettable course, event and experience! Coincides with school holidays meaning staying on for a few days of MTB action in Derby would be a stellar bike themed trip to or within Tassie!