Riding Up the Mountain

SVC MTB Programme

Written by: Zac Piesse

Old Virgilian (2011) and current staff member at St Virgil's College.

The sport of Mountain Biking is growing throughout Tasmania as it becomes an integral part of the state’s tourist product. This growth is reflected at St Virgil’s which has long been a nursery for the development of elite riders as well as dedicated recreational enthusiasts. With mountain bike trails continually popping up across the state in locations such as Derby and St Helen’s in particular, the sub-culture of mountain biking is thriving.

Whilst the rise of the East Coast as a worldwide hub for Mountain Biking is well documented it may surprise people to know that at the grassroots level, St Virgil’s has been at the forefront of the development of the sport being highly represented by students and alumni at races and events across the State. The College boasts its own Mountain Bike track, which has been nurtured by staff member Steve Aitken who commenced at the College in 2007. With students, parents and other staff members he has engaged in innumerable hours of hard work spanning across many years to provide students with every opportunity to succeed in this popular and rapidly growing sport. 

“I think Mountain Biking is more than just a sport at SVC, it’s a fantastic recreation and pastime for the boys to have a go at. It’s something that seems to be very individual in its nature, but it lends itself to a lot of team and group riding, it’s much more of a lifetime sport. It is something that people can be doing through their 20s, 30s and 40s, there isn’t as much of a cliff post-schooling where there is quite the drop off like other organised sports.” Steve Aitken, Outdoor Education Teacher at St Virgil’s College

The College is well placed to take advantage of the sport’s popularity, being situated on a 70 acre property in the bushland of Austins Ferry. This has enabled the construction of a multitude of different trails that cater for a range of ability levels. There are beginner trails, for people who are just starting out in the sport, all the way through to advanced trails that run a lot faster and require a higher level of skill. Countless hours of work from students, parents and staff have produced these trails which are used constantly by students and members of the local community. Riding on a track that a student has helped build, provides a sense of accomplishment for a rider, every time they might attack a jump, or swing tightly around a corner. This is one of the things that is incredibly unique to the sport of mountain biking at St Virgil’s. 

After School MTB at Austins Ferry Campus

Alongside building and maintaining the trails, there are further opportunities for students who wish to try Mountain Biking at the College. Students can ride on a Thursday afternoon with a large group of well over forty riders, all bonding together on the track. Many boys first try the sport at the New Beginnings Year 7 camp, or on the North West Bay Outdoor Education trip that is offered to all Year 7 students as part of their transition to the senior school. Larger events like the Tasmanian All Schools Mountain Bike Championships, which St Virgil’s finished first and second in 2021, or the Kellevie six hour and 24-hour events in May and October respectively, provide students at a higher level of Mountain Biking, an opportunity to really hone their skills and compete against other talented riders from across the state.

“It was at SVC that I got into mountain biking. I had a road bike already and one of the boys in my class was buying one of the mountain bikes from the Mark Webber Multisport Challenge as they were selling them cheap after the event – he helped organise for me to buy one also, then with the encouragement of Mr Aitken in particular, I did my first MTB race when I was in Year 7, the Kellevie 24 hour in a four-man team of SVC fellas. This gave me a real taste of the sport and exposed me to the local racing in Tasmania. From there things snow balled and a couple years later I was representing Australia overseas. Representing SVC was always an honour, tied in with excitement. There was always great camaraderie which seemed to lift my sporting performance.” Scott Bowden, Olympian and Old Virgilian (2011)

Scott riding at the Rio Olympics

Whilst other schools may only just be beginning to formulate a Mountain Biking Programme, St Virgil’s has been producing state and national representatives for many years. Over the past ten years there has been many boys who have represented the College proudly at National, and even International events. Olympian, Scott Bowden (2011) competed in the 2016 Olympics in the Mountain Bike Cross-Country event, and also the Road Race. Ben Bradley (2011) has represented Australia in Mountain Biking, Adam Oates (2015) represented Australia in Downhill racing, even racing with a broken finger and performing well, Jack Direen (2017) represented the country for Cross-Triathlon, which is a Mountain Bike, Cross-Country and Dam Swimming event. This tradition of excellence in the sport goes even further back with Sid Taberlay (1996) riding at the 2004 Olympics.

Flynn Read is a current Year 10 student, who has come from a motocross background and hadn’t really participated in much Mountain Bike riding until he started at the Senior School in 2018. The opportunity to attend school camps, and ride after school like so many of the other boys at the College, captivated his interest in the sport. The thrill and adrenaline that comes from riding a bike, is one of the other reasons that really inspired Flynn to become part of the Mountain Bike team. 

“Having the facilities that we have, gives students a chance to pursue the sport is huge. I would say to a Year 7, or anyone at SVC, give it (MTB) a crack, it is a great platform to learn on, we have beginner trails, and trails that are more technical and opportunities to go to places like Derby and Maydena, and other trails around Tasmania. Mountain Biking is definitely something I will continue for life”. Flynn Read (2018-2021)

2021 Kellevie Team

As the sport continues to develop, and with St Virgil’s expanding to Year 11 and 12 in 2022, the College is in the advantageous position of being ready to capitalise on the popularity of Mountain Biking in Tasmania. The scope and positive growth of the sport in Tasmania provides much opportunity for anyone wanting to join the Mountain Bike team at the College. The number of boys that already participate in the sport, allows for the characteristics of grit and determination to shine through any potential Mountain Bike athlete at St Virgil’s. 

“I think that notion that we talked about a lot last year of continual improvement which is that a student is always trying to improve but trying to be the best person you can be. This is true in the sporting context of being the best athlete, but also trying your hardest. Students know that when you are clipping in, riding on tracks that Olympians have ridden on, and that you are pulling on Oars that Olympic Rowers have, that there is the dynasty of excellence in sport at St Virgil’s and it’s up to you pick up the baton and do what you can with it.” Steve Aitken