Tasman Nankervis – Lost bike, late build, little sleep and a Gravel World Series win

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 On the start line at the SEVEN round of the Gravel World Series in Nannup, Western Australia 2023

On the start line at the SEVEN round of the Gravel World Series in Nannup, Western Australia 2023

“It was pretty dismal preparation,” says Tasman Nankervis of the run into his first UCI Gravel World Series race victory at SEVEN in Nannup, Western Australia. Flying into Perth on Thursday to find that the airline hadn’t brought his bike along for the ride made sure of that, particularly when numerous delays to the promised quick delivery spiralled into a last minute dash to the airport to retrieve it just in time for race day.

That lost bike led to a whole lot of entries that fit squarely into the ‘do not do’ column on the race preparation table. That included a race eve 6 hour return trip to collect the bike, a service station food pre-race dinner on the way, then a late night rebuild and just 3-4 hours of disrupted sleep.

But none of it showed once the BMC Shimano rider was out on the remote gravel roads of the Blackwood Valley. Somehow it turned out to be the lead-in of a race winner

“I still wanted to do well. I didn’t ever write it off or anything. I’ve slept poorly the night before other races before and still performed pretty well,” said the multi-discipline rider who works as an exercise physiologist in country Victoria. “I think it is those days leading in that are the most important so I just kept my head screwed on, made sure I was as prepared as I could be and I definitely took a conservative approach to the start of the race.”

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Nankervis felt like he had form on his side, having increased his training load toward some big goals this season, with the Nannup race just being the gravel entree for the LIfe Time Grand Prix series, which the Australian will jump into at Unbound. However, the disruption with his bike not turning up was far from ideal when tackling a competitive field over a 125km course with more than 3,200m of vertical ascent.

Most of Nankervis’ rivals were setting out into much more familiar territory on race day, some having ridden the event last year while others had time to check out the course pre-race. However, the lost bike also meant skipping reconnaissance making it a complete leap into the unknown for Nankervis on his Nannup debut. Under those circumstances, watching and waiting in the initial stages seemed like the way to go.

Sill, before many hours of racing ticked by Nankervis started to show just what a threat he was, coming to the front on the descents and giving the rest of the lead group of around 15 some ground to make up once the road flattened out.

“I know that with my background descending is something I guess I’m good at. And I didn’t show that off, I guess, for the first 2 hours,” Nankervis told Cyclingnews. “I just sat with the bunches but then sometimes on the descents I was thinking ‘gee we could go a lot faster here’. So after 2 hours then I started pushing the descents.”

Descending, however, wasn’t Nankervis’ only weapon, so about halfway through he decided it was time to see just how the rest of the group would react to an uphill attack. 2022 winner Adam Blazevic was on-board and the pair got a small gap, and while the group caught back up the initial success was enough to get the rider from Bendigo planning his next move.

One of the longest climbs of the day was at around 70km in to the event, and with fellow Bendigo rider Connor Sens setting a tough pace in initial stages of that ascent Nankervis decided the steepest section was the time to ride away. It may have been another testing sortie, with Nankervis expecting to have company as he pushed the pace, but there was none.

Nicolas Roche (NR GRVL) had taken off in pursuit but not made the catch, while the rest of the bunch slipped further back. By the top of the climb the gap had stretched to around 40 seconds, but there was still around 55km of racing to go.

“At that stage I thought to myself, yeah, for the next 5km I’ll commit and then I’ll reassess,” said Nankervis.

At the end of that 5km the choice was clear as the gap was out to a minute-and-a-half, and Nankervis was still feeling relatively fresh, even though the race was three-quarters of the way through.

“I still felt relatively good, there were no signs of cramping or anything like that. I felt like I got the gap unexpectedly and was growing it more easily than I thought, but a few times I did think, ‘oh jeez, have I just gone out too early’ because I didn’t know what the course was going to be like in the later stages … so I’ve still go to watch that I don’t blow myself up here.”

However, there wasn’t even a hint of that, with the last time check Nankervis got out on the road being 3 minutes at 30km to go. By the finish line in Nannup that gap had nearly tripled as second-placed Mark Chong, who caught and passed Roche, crossed the line just short of nine minutes after Nankervis celebrated victory with a time of 4:16:44.

“The form was good and I was definitely going with a good result in mind,” said Nankervis. “But yeah, with the circumstances of the build up I didn’t expect to feel this good … it was perfect.”

Such an emphatic first Gravel World Series race win to launch a season of gravel-focussed plans can only bode well for what is to come.

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