The 2023 Dragon Trail MTB Stage Race lands on the dirt at Derby and surrounds on March 16, bringing 3 days of mountain bike fun to the north east of Tasmania. This will be the third edition of the popular mountain bike stage race, and there are a few changes to the Dragon Trail in 2023. The changes are minor, but will have an impact on the event making it a little easier off the bike, and a lot more fun when you’re on it. Still, the Dragon Trail is still a stage race and it pays to go in prepared.
Before the first edition, we gave our suggestions of what bike you should take to the Dragon Trail – and while we’ve had three team riders at the event since then and bikes have changed a little, there’s not much to amend. Click the link above for details, but in general take a full-suspension XC or trail bike, with a wide range 1x group set, full bodied mid-treaded tyres, and fresh disc pads. Make sure your bike is serviced, and you have any unique spares.
Our team rider Justin Morris has put two set training plans together. The 10 week plan has commenced, but the 6 week plan will help make sure you’re in the best shape possible. Don’t expect it to go from zero to hero, but with Justin’s decades long experience in mountain bike racing and road racing, along with a long career of coaching and athlete mentoring, this is a good option to make sure you get to Branxholm ready to ride and race the event – not just survive it. At $55 it’s a pretty keen price to keep you in check!
Here at MarathonMTB.com there are a few people who we see time and time again at marathons and stage races – and one of them is Werner van der Merwe. I first met Werner at the Beskidy MTB Trophy in 2009, where he lent me a couple of inner tubes as I’d only brought a couple of spares myself. I had done a couple of stage races at this point, but as a South African then living in London, Werner had done a couple of Cape Epics, Transalp, and even a few others. Werner raced the 2012 Crocodile Trophy with our team, won the Masters category and was 4th overall. 10 years later he won the Master category and was 2nd overall. Werner has also done the Dragon Trail in 2021 and 2022, with great success. So it was worth reaching out to get his advice.
Tips for the 2023 Dragon Trail MTB Stage Race
MMTB: So Werner, why are you heading back to the Dragon Trail again in 2023?
WvdM: Thanks for starting with an easy question. This is the third year in a row that I will be at the Dragon Trail and in short the reason for that is the fun factor. The singletrack in the Derby/St Helens area is just world class. You cannot help finishing each day with a smile. Last year I stayed a few days after the race just to ride more of the Derby trails. The quality of the race organisation is a bonus and I know a lot of hard work goes on in the background to make it a fun experience for everybody from the pointy end of the field to the person doing the first stage race.
MMTB: How does the Dragon trail compare to other stage races you have done?
WvdM: Each stage race has got its own character and appeals in different ways to me and other competitors. On the one end of the spectrum you have races like the Crocodile Trophy in Far North Queensland and Ironbike in Italy that are epic personal challenges. I questioned my life decisions a number of times during these races. However, it is an amazing feeling once you cross that finish line. I normally learn so much about myself during these races and how far I can push my limits.
With the Dragon Trail the effort to fun factor scale is positively skewed to the fun factor. It is mainly to do with the amount of singletrack you do each day. I understand that we will have even more singletrack this year. The stages are also shorter and with only three days of racing it is easy to fit into a long weekend. It is therefore a good option for people doing their first stage race and racers that just want to have some fun.
MMTB: What are your recommendations for travel to the event – do you go early, or arrive just in time?
WvdM: Ideally I would like to arrive early. That is to get my MTB legs – my focus has been road racing the last few years so my MTB skills always need some refreshing. However, with work and other commitments I normally only arrive just in time.
If people have the opportunity to arrive early I would definitely recommend doing that. Even if just to fit in some extra days of sweet singletrack. They will not be disappointed. It also takes away some of the stress with travelling with bikes and making sure the airline gets all your luggage on time for the race start.
MMTB: With two camps this year, getting accommodation is a bit easier. Do you camp, or stay in an AirBnB – what would you recommend?
WvdM: With this being a relatively short event and heat not being an issue I camp. You get to experience more of the race atmosphere camping. The race is more than just riding your bike on great singletrack. It is about chatting to the mechanics, lining up for showers, swapping war stories with the other competitors, taking part in the evening entertainment, bonding with your earplugs because the guy three tents away is a deep breather (snorer) and trying to fit all your stuff back in your bag when moving between campsites.
The organisers do try and make it as easy as possible with the camping option where they pack up the tent and move it to the next campsite. So my recommendations would be to camp.
I mentioned chatting to the mechanics. One thing I would definitely recommend is the Service Pack options from Tune Cycles. It just takes away so much of the hassle and stress having to clean and tune or fix anything on the bike. The guys from Tune Cycles are also a great bunch of guys and last year they went above and beyond finding me a shifter when mine started giving me some issues. A tip is to buy them some beers because these guys do work very late into the night making sure the bikes are race ready after taking some abuse in the singletrack and mud. Last year we had some epic river crossings so the bikes needed a bit more TLC.
MMTB: How do you manage to stay fuelled and hydrated for the whole day – do you eat and drink on the bike much?
WvdM: For me nutrition is quite important. Both on and off the bike. I normally put on weight during a stage race as I err on the side of fuelling too much than too little. I normally have a rough target of how many bottles and bars/gels I want to consume each hour. It does sometimes get tricky with placement of the feed stations. I’m fortunate that with my Merida Ninety-Six I can run two bottles.
As I mentioned off the bike nutrition is also important for me. For instance I’m normally focussed on making sure I get my recovery drink soon after finishing a stage.
MMTB: Given there is so much fun singletrack, how do you pace yourself and not just get carried away?
WvdM: I wish I had a good answer for this questions. In short I normally get carried away and then suffer later during the day. On the longer climbs I try and keep an eye on my power and heart rate readings. However when racing for positions it is not always within your control and you may have to try and cover some attacks.
I have found that with there being so much singletrack at this race it has become more important for me to leave a bit in the tank. That way I make less mistakes in the singletrack. I still haven’t cracked it judging by the amount of crashes I had previously.
I should add that I try and check the ego when riding the singletrack. Especially when descending. With my road focus I may sometimes get ahead on the climbs or less technical sections. However when we get to the singletrack there are loads of racers way more competent than me and I’ll just crash trying to keep up with them. Better to let them pass and then try and catch up later with them. Emphasis on try.
MMTB: What do you do to make sure your bike runs well all event – and what spares do you carry?
WvdM: First off I try and look after my Merida during the race. I believe that if you look after your bike it will look after you. I sometimes dial it back a bit on the singletrack as a crash can easily take you out of the race.
As I mentioned earlier I’m a big supporter of the Tune Cycle guys and for this race I rely on them to make sure it runs well. If they are reading this – pressure is on. Haha.
In terms of spares. I don’t normally carry that many. Tube, plugs to repair punctures and some duct tape. Sometimes a few zip ties. It goes back to that I normally try and look after the bike and perhaps take a few less risks.
I also carry a spare contact lens as I previously lost one during a stage. It was interesting trying to focus on the descents with only one contact lens.
Other things to consider for the Dragon Trail
We put our tips for success together last year, and they remain pretty much the same. The big takeaway here is mapping out the trip, from when you leave home to when you get home. Double check you have all transfers booked, and nights away covered. The Dragon Trail website has a transfers page with options for each end, it’s by far the easiest way to get where you need to be in Tasmania if you’re flying in.
Probably the most important thing is be ready to have fun, roll with whatever comes up and be ready to make new friends. Mountain bike stage races are a fantastic way to meet people who by and large like the same things you do. So, see you there!