World Adventure Racing Champs – 2011 – Tasmania

Posted on 2012-04-17

Tom Gibbs

From the UK it’s hard to go much further away than Tasmania, and after 2 days of travelling it certainly felt like the end of the earth, that was until enroute to Race HQ in Burnie, we drove through the town of Ulverstone on the River Leven.  Both names being the same as my local town and river back home !

After a few days sorting kit, getting registered, packing kit and marking maps we were on the start line on the sea front in Burnie and ready for the off.

The race started with a sea paddle along the Bass Strait to the fantastically named town of Penguin.  Each team had one rigid sit on top kayak and an inflatable kayak.  With the crosswinds the inflatables were struggling to hold their line constantly wanting to turn into the wind.

The teams at the start - 7 days of hard racing ahead

Apart from Team Seagate all the teams were closely packed, with ourselves in 17th place, a quick transition saw us up to 12th and storming up the hill behind Penguin to the Shooting.  Here we were past the local school, where all the kids lined the road and cheered us on – a fantastic atmosphere.  Nick “One Shot” Gracie duly dispatched the Clay shooting with his first shot catching the rest of us out with his fast shooting.

The next stage was a foot stage through the bush-laiden hills of the Mount Dial Range.  We kept up a good pace and chose some nice lines pulling us up to 4th by transition.  Here was a short bike to the Gunns Plains Caves – all into a headwind, it was harder than expected.

The Caves were timed out, and only took 30 minutes to navigate round the magnificent formations, giving us a further 30 minutes to reorganize and eat before the next stage, a 50km bike where we lost a few places to other teams due to a mechanical.

Warren in the caves

At the end of this stage we were back on our feet and onto the first long leg, the 60km Trek over Black Bluff to Lake Murchison.  Here we were into the first night and as we passed over the highest point on the course, the weather was decidedly wintery.  We were glad of our warm kit.  Once over the high point, we followed various paths and tracks, increasingly smaller in nature to lead to the abseil into the Vale River.  Due to water flow levels, the abseil was canceled, but we still had to negotiate a very cold canyon and bushwhack 8km downstream to the Rafts.

Here we had 1 inflatable between the 4 of us, which made for a interesting and cosy paddle.   The trek had taken longer than expected, so we pushed on to get the rafting stage done before dark.

Thanks to good choice of kit, we were reasonably warm allowing us to transition quickly and take time out of other teams and kick onto the next stage, a paddle down the length of Lake Murchison.  By now it was dark and into the second night of the race.  At the bottom of the lake we had a tough 1 mile portage up a big hill and down into the river feeding Lake Roseberry

Back in the boats, we paddled up to Tullah and the next Transition.  Tom was feeling mentally tired here and took a 20 min nap to refresh the grey matter.   The team tried to avoid a longer sleep as the Mid Camp with its mandatory 6 hour stop awaited at the end of the next bike.

After a longer than usual transition the team were back on their bikes and heading over the hills to Roseberry and onto the magnificent Montezuma Falls, the highest falls in Tasmania at 104m.  They were a truly magnificent sight and a highlight of the course, as was the following descent on the bike, a long flowing  10km long downhill which had us all grinning.

Here we picked up a disused railway line to Zeehan, then it was a long stretch of tarmac through to the last couple of checkpoints near Strahan.

The team in determined mood, setting out on foot for the next long trek

Thanks to some mistakes by other teams, we arrived at midcamp about midday in 4th place and were greeted with a full cooked breakfast – the only complaint was there wasn’t enough of it !  After some food and kit sorting we got our heads down for our first proper sleep of the race, most of the team got a good kip, with  only Tom seemingly oblivious to the heat of the tent !

Far too quickly we were back on our feet for the hardest leg of the race, the long 65km foot stage up the wild west coast.  We kept the pace on to clear the first section of Ocean Beach to the very tricky controls placed in a dune system.  We managed to do these in daylight, we found out later the following teams lost many hours here, and pushed further up the beach to the second half of the leg, a trek through the snake infested hills around the Heemskirk range.  Here confusion paths led up through Bush to a land of scrub and few paths.

Next up was a superbly placed checkpoint in a mine on Mount Cumberland.  After this we had a long section across wild hills with no tracks and many tussocks, this took a lot of time and effort and we were very glad to hit the road that led to Granville Harbour and the next transition,  After nearly 20 hours on foot we were glad to see our bikes.

This soon changed as we tried to find the next control.  The map suggested that one route was unrideable but navigatible, so we decided to go along the beach then cut into this track.  This was all going very well until we got to the edge of the bush and the track was not there.  All we could find were some tracks coming along the dunes, which basically left us a bit confused, we pushed into the bush, following the tracks and it hit a track, but the track didn’t do as we expected and after a while of hunting around, we decided to take the tough decision of going all the way back to the start of this tricky section and following the unrideable track, following this we discovered that it just led back to where we had been 3 hours earlier, devastated we had no option but to push on along the track that we didn’t trust,  and it soon joined the path we were looking for.  Cursing our luck we pushed onto the control, counting the cost of at least 5 hours lost and any chance of a top 3 finish.

It had been over 30 hours since our last sleep, so we got an hour before crossing the Pieman River.  Here we discovered we had dropped to 8th place, some 3 hours behind 4th so we knew we had our work cut out to get our position back.

We kept up a good pace on the next section of the ride, passing a sleeping Merrell to get into 7th.  As dawn broke, we were all feeling the effects of sleep and stopped for a quick 10 min nap, this sorted us out and we were soon heading on the road to Waratah.  Getting to the next control in the town, we were an hour or so behind a couple of teams, as we still had a 60km or so of the ride to do and we were low on food we took advantage of the café opening to have a quick refuel, after a sandwich, cake and a hot drink we were on our way.

As the temperature rose we knocked off the remaining part of the ride, nearly missing a key junction, we later found out that Blackheart had missed this and had lost 3 hours.  Climbing the last hill to transition we met AXA going down to the Paddle Put in.  We were only 45 mins behind them and knew that we were back up to 5th and AXA, in 4th, and in our sights.  After a very quick transition we were down to the water, meeting Merrell, Blackheart and Cyanosis all climbing the hill on their bikes.  This meant we only had about hour on them.  All very close.

We got on the water and then went past AXA’s boats, they had taken an interesting choice of a short steep bush bash to the first control, we went a little further and used the track that led up to the control.  We didn’t know at the time that AXA were having a nightmare and lost over 2 hours finding this control.

We quickly got the control and raced back to the boats, eager to get as far down the river as we could before the mandatory stop time of 7:30pm.  We managed to get a further 40 minutes down the river and pull in at a lovely sandbank.

Here was a chance for us to relax and enjoy some hot food and a good sleep as we couldn’t get back on the river until 6:30am.  We could also take in the Prehistoric, Jurassic Parkesque landscape of the Tarkine region.

Trekking into the sunset

6:30 came around all too soon, but we managed to get on the water bang on time and push onto the second short trek.  Here we met a few teams as we finished the trek, but more importantly saw that AXA were also behind us – we were back in 4th !

Pushing on we enjoyed the fantastic river, with lots of easy rapids and beautiful scenery.  Probably the highlight being a massive Eagle fliying overhead with a Tiger Snake in it’s Talons – real David Attenborough stuff !

By early afternoon we were on the last trek, and again saw the chasing teams as we completed the trek.  This control was up a side river, and as we rejoined the main channel we saw 2 teams just in front – we assumed these were teams on a short course.  It took us until nearly the end of the paddle to catch them, and we found that it was Team Blackheart and another Aussie team, City Depot.  Blackheart had lost their map and asked us where the last control was – we told them 16km upstream !

Devastated from this, they then had to trek back from the end of the paddle to the missed control – 10 hours of trekking overnight.  The good news for us however was that they wouldn’t be pushing us in the finishing stages of the race.

Again we had a very quick transition to bikes and a fast ride we reached the last trek just after Sunset.

Here we knew we had at least 30 minutes on AXA and pushed the pace on the beach to try and extend this.  Rocky terrain and runable paths led through a few controls to Sisters Beach, a very posh looking resort.  Here there was just one control to the end of the leg.  Not long we though – how wrong we were.

Climbing the last hill, we were on the lookout for a stream crossing, with the control being a simple 25 metres upstream, sounds easy and it would have been, if there had of been a stream, or even a stream bed.  At 1:30am with undergrowth and little visibility is was impossible to find.  We looked for an hour before AXA turned up, then together we searched for a further 3 hours, trying various methods to find the elusive stream.  With the heavens opening and a heavy downpour we retreated to some flat ground and put up our tent until daylight.

The sprint for the line.

AXA had done a similar thing, and once light we resumed our search – it took less than 10 minutes to find it in the light.  By  lining up the hill tops and being very creative with our imaginations we found the control.  In an act of sportsmanship we told AXA where it was.

After this we were not sure of what AXA’s intentions would be – would they want to race, or consider this bad form after us finding and showing them the control.

We decided to not wait and see and pushed onto the end of the run and were quickly on the bikes.  Lack of food and drink really hurt us here and we did our best, always keeping an eye out behind for the Swede’s.

Then finally with 12 km to go, they caught us.  We managed to get on their wheels and sat in.    As we cycled a marshall explained that the finish was a lap and a half of the velodrome track, not what you want after nearly 6 days of racing !

We quizzed AXA about their intentions and team captain Michael Lindnord said that they wanted to race.   As AXA were a faster biking team, I was fully expecting that we would lose out to them, then I thought to myself, no way is that going to happen.  We will beat these guys.  We have to beat these guys.

So for the remaining 12 km we just sat behind them and let them do all the work, which they seemed happy to do, I believe they thought that we would not be able to hold on.  Once we arrived at the track the plan was for us to sit behind for the first half a lap or so, then go past AXA to take the flag.

Hitting the track there was some jostling and then we were speeding round, AXA leading it out just trying to ride away from us, perfect for us and I couldn’t believe they were not being more tactical.

Almost what the team looked like on the last lap!!

With a lap to go, we pushed on passing the bulk of the AXA team and isolated Michael at the front.  Having three adidas TERREX riders on his shoulder was too much pressure for him and our fresher legs took us to the line first, then Sonya came in between the AXA riders to secure our 4th place by about 2 bike lengths or about a second.  Probably the closest finish ever to an Expedition Adventure Race !

We were elated and over the moon.  AXA were very generous in defeat, Michael saying he preferred to come 5th in a race than joint 4th – and I think he was right – it was a brilliant end to a great race, though I probably would be saying different things if we had lost !

Michael was astonished that we beat them on the bikes, but we just explained that you don’t take on the Brits at Track Cycling !

It was a great event and the best World Championships race in a while. We would like to thank all our family, friends, sponsors and fans for supporting us through the 2011 World Championships.

The team, very happy with their 4th Place.

Now it’s time for a well earned rest now and then we will be concentrating on the 2 adidas events in the UK in 2012 and then the main focus of next year, the World Championships in France.

Thanks to all our sponsors for their support and great products:

  • adidas TERREX: our principle sponsors who help fund our race fees. They also provide high performance, comfortable and durable outdoor clothing, great footwear and cycling gear.
  • adidas eyewear: brilliant sunglasses for every environment.
  • Marin: mountain bikes that are a joy to ride and super reliable.
  • Nik Wax: excellent waterproofing products that keep all our kit in top condition.
  • Paramo: Amazing wet weather gear that keeps you dry and warm.
  • Exposure: the best lights available – super bright, user friendly, efficient and reliable.
  • OMM: Great backpacks which are light and functional
  • Nordenmark: The best mapboards from Sweden.
  • Terra Nova: Awesome team tent and sleeping bags.
  • Leki: again the best trekking poles – light and strong.
  • Salewa: multisport helmets – light and very breathable.
  • Clif: the bloks and bars are our stable food for racing.
  • High 5: ZERO electrolyte tablets, 4:1 energy drink and gels are all fantastic products.
  • For Goodness Shakes: great tasting recovery drinks.
  • Powerthemachine.com: sports nutrition website that provides us all our energy for racing and training.