Kiwi cyclist conquers “scenic trip to Hell” in Tassie Gift race

By Gemma Chilton Photos Dan Burnaby December 20, 2023
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Kurt Standen won November’s epic 1796 km Tassie Gift bike race, while the event faces a potentially bumpy road ahead due to red tape.

The Tassie Gift, Tasmania’s most epic bikepacking race, celebrated its fifth anniversary this year with 30 cyclists from around the globe setting off from Hobart on November 3. 

South Australian-based Kiwi rider, Kurt Standen, took out first place – crossing the finish line after seven days, 6 hours and 10 minutes. That made him the first of 16 (out of the 30 starters) who managed to complete the journey.

The event was Standen’s first time in Tassie – and he doesn’t mince words when commenting on the gruelling nature of the race, including the “unrelenting climbs”, lots of washed out bridges, and “underwhelming resupply options”. But he also called it “one of the most enjoyable weeks I’ve spent on the bike”. 

The course was challenging, with plenty of hike-a-bike in some sections.

“The Tassie Gift started off in my mind as a race, but soon turned into a game of survival once the reality of the course became apparent and the body niggles surfaced, which are inevitable on a course this difficult,” he said.

“I’m generally of the opinion that any event is as difficult as you make it, however I believe the Gift is unique in that just completing the course is a serious undertaking and achievement.”


Race founder battles illness

The Gift was the brainchild of Hobart local Emma Flukes, who launched the race back in 2019 with the aim of highlighting the best of Tassie’s off-road bike tracks. The route follows a figure-eight that starts and finishes in Hobart – scaling kunanyi/Mt Wellington, then traversing the central and cradle plateaus to Arthur River, heading back down the west coast through takayna/The Tarkine, before an almost mirrored loop on the eastern half of the state, taking in Derby, St Helens and Orford.

Overnight stops were often a case of wherever is comfortable, will do.

Flukes, a former winner, had to bow out early for the first time this year after being hit with a nasty bug about 300km from home. This latest misadventure followed a rough 2022 race when she battled through to the finish line despite a debilitating bout of Shermer’s neck.


Red tape threatens race’s proudly ‘unsupported and unsanctioned’ soul

Bikepackers clearly love the ‘gift’ Flukes has given them in the form of this event, which has garnered increasing attention since its inception – this year pulling in riders from across Australia and New Zealand, as well as Europe and Singapore.

Aussie rider Nick Langman, who finished in fourth place, said the Gift was “easily the hardest and most magical ride I’ve ever done”. 

Kiwi competitor Brian Alder – a 2023 DNF (Did Not Finish) due to mechanical issues – said “the Tassie Gift is full of wonderful quirks, but don’t mistake its oddities for it being a casual undertaking. It’s huge, it’s hard with seemingly endless hills, stunning scenes and challenging logistics – an expedition.”

Event winner, Kurt Standen, finished the gruelling 1796 km off-road route in seven days.

However, Emma says she’s concerned the proudly “unsupported and unsanctioned” event could risk becoming a victim of its own success, with the inevitable spectre of increasing red tape forcing a rethink of how the race might look in the future.

“What makes the Gift so attractive is how simple it is to pack a bike, turn on a tracker, and away you go,” she said. “I don’t want to gate-keep people’s participation in the event or put any administrative hurdles in front of participants. I have a bit to work through over the coming months to find a happy medium we can settle on, but there’s so much community support for the event now, I feel like I can’t just switch that off!”

The 2023 route and rider places are available to view online at tassiegift2023.maprogress.com.