The 2012 edition of Wildside was my first multi-day mountain bike stage race. Even though I would be riding with people who have been involved with the event since its inception, I had no idea about the course nor the subsequent day’s adventures to ensue.
The first day started out in Cradle Mountain, which in its own right is breathtaking. Anyone who has been there to hike would be well versed with the beauty and ruggedness of the terrain. Wildside is a bi-annual event and run by a team of people who work for the department of forestry and tourism. Thus allowing the race to go through areas which are off-limits and remote locations to reach the west coast. For the first three days of the event, there are two competition stages, plus transit stages to get you back to your support crew. The final day was completed with a single stage on the signatory Strahan beach.
The initial stage traversed the plateau from the cradle mountain accommodation area, to the Iris river and back again. The course was generally open four wheel drive tracks implying very bumpy sections of trails that made it difficult to maintain a decent rhythm. The waves of riders began with fastest elite first through to age group ranked riders. The pace was on from the start. The race intensified even further as the course went through sections of gravel roads, creek crossings and alpine trails.
After the finish and a quick re-fuel, everyone started on the transition stage to the lunch-stop. In the middle of the national park, lunch was provided for 450 riders and their support crew. A great example of the high level of planning and effort put in by the crew! This went on for all 4 days of the event, so needless to say we never went hungry. The lunch-stop was a perfect opportunity to discuss with fellow riders how you went, how you crashed or how you kept it upright. This was the natural catalyst to fuel the excitement and build camaraderie with everyone.
The second stage started in the Que River mining area, one of the highest mining areas in Tasmania. The mercury hovering near 30 degrees centigrade, the race went through a narrow single track in a lush rainforest. The majority of the course was staged through undulating mining roads that were perfectly suited for those coming from a road racing background. The pace was fast and luckily most went through unscathed. The transition stage to Tullah, allowed everyone to regroup and recuperate before we jumped in the dam.
The weather during the third stage was hotter than the previous with two incredible stages ahead of us. We departed from Tullah to the start of the third stage in Zeehan. The 4wd track was starting to get loose and with each pedal stroke we ascended through the lush green forest, with roots zigzagging across the tight single track that had you working hard all the way. The decent during this part of the race was the highlight of the whole event; it was a white knuckle ride with plenty of speed through tight shoots, and lose mud and rock. The only exception being the few mud bogs that flipped a few people including myself.
Upon completing lunch and adorning a fresh kit with a clean bike to go, stage four was the memorable Montezuma falls stage. While it didn’t suit everyone the initial 6kms (bitumen climb) blew the group apart. From the top we descended down to some gravel roads and then rode up and along the old tramways track to the Montezuma Falls. The Montezuma Falls being the highest falls in Tasmania, the track crossing involved a suspended bridge 140 meters above the water. Unfortunately it allows only five riders at a time to cross so it was prevalent to get in front of the group to ensure a quick time on the course.
After the crossing the course continued on with tenacious climbing followed by a decent halfway through the stage to Melba flats. This was an unrelenting decent albeit not super fast but with enough deep holes and technical lines to slow down some riders. After reaching Melba flats the trail turned to rolling with fast sections, finishing off with deep thick mud bogs that prevented you from picking a good line. This resulted in many of us coming off and unstuck. The final two kilometers was a straight fire road. Everyone had spun out of gears!! At the end of the stage you could see some were hurting due to the punishing terrain.
Time trails are a painful way to start the day and when the rain started, it added insult to an already tough discipline. You started in pairs with your next closest grand classification rider. It was an interesting technical start to the spray tunnel stage in the wind and rain. These two elements were a constant reminder of Tasmania’s ever-changing weather. Upon the completion of the stage most of the participants had turned to a dark color of red and black. We transferred from Trial harbour to Granville harbour.
The next stage was described as a dangerous fast trail with sharp rocks , flowing decent and brutal climb out of the harbour. Everyone was warned to stay within their limits and I cordially happened to miss that warning. After bridging across multiple groups on the climb, I thought that changing my riding line across a large granite slab would be a clever maneuver. How wrong was I!!!
After a few fish tails with the rear end, I went over the bars, and an introduction was made to the granite with my shoulder. Luckily, the medical crew was staggered along the path and a paramedic quickly intervened to pull me off the trail. In a split second my first Wildside event was over. I was induced with Methoxyflurane, the infamous green whistle, to alleviate the discomfort as we drove out to the finish stage to meet my support crew and teammates. I later found out that the rest of the stage was an incredible journey along the cliff tops, a picturesque moment I didn’t get to see.
The only thing on my mind was the desire to start the final two stages but with my arm in a sling, I was relegated to watching the competitors start on Strahan beach. As the wind gathered momentum, the stage was put into a reverse start. Thus allowing all the riders to finish along the beach with a tail wind. This was a roadies stage and that was seen by the guys who finished at the top of their category. It was great to see everyone hang around and congratulate each other, pat on the backs and regale stories of the event.
Although I did not finish this race, I am happy to say that the event was extremely well executed but the kitchen sink was thrown at you to ensure that you experienced the Tasmanian wilderness at its absolute best. I would like to thank Nik Deka and all the event crew for putting on a great event over the four days and 200 kilometers. This experience has spurred me on to come back and discover Tasmania as part of the Wildside event in 2014, but also to go and explore the area on foot and on a road bike over the coming years.