There’s your ordinary “out and back” triathlon course, then there’s a special event where the organisers, terrain and location combine to create something truly unique and memorable. Escape from Alcatraz in San Francisco is one of those events, but Australia has the Hamilton Island Triathlon. it’s something very special and it’s well worth a look.

Hamilton Island is a tiny tropical island off the coast of Queensland. For most of the year it’s just like any other tropical holiday destination – Sandy beaches, beautiful clear blue water and families having a relaxing time in the sun. Once a year however, the island is transformed into an incredible Triathlon location. Why? Because the people who run the island love triathlons, they love where they live, and they wanted to find a way to combine the two.

The course is unique because it doesn’t just shut down most of the roads on the island, it shuts down the airport too so they can use the runway. This means even the locals can’t train on the bike course through the year. The organiser’s wanted to find a way to let people train on the course all year round. The best solution was to recreate the corse in FulGaz and let people all over the world experience the course.

Fast forward a few weeks and I found myself on the island, about the film the bike course for FulGaz. We had marshals on every corner, I’d signed all the paperwork to be allowed on the runway, but we were faced with two final hurdles. It still wasn’t yet fully daylight, and the Pirates would soon be getting in the way. Pirates? We had to work around the timetable for the cast and crew of the next instalment of the Pirates of the Caribbean series as well as the flights into the airport.

The only solution was to head off in near darkness and hope I could adjust the video after the ride. I’d organised for someone to ride with me so there’s a rider to chase in the video. Step forward local triathlete Graham Lockett. He’s a great guy, but he was concerned he’d be letting me down if he went too slowly. His solution to that problem was to head off about half a percent below his fastest possible pace. This always seems to happen whenever I turn the FulGaz camera on. I’m used to it, but one thing I’m not used to is a 20% climb less than a kilometre into a ride. That’s right, the first hill on the course is only short, but it’s very steep early on, it then drags on for a bit longer than you’d expect. You then work your way along a ridge before plunging down a narrow road to the airport.

On the day I rode it, the start / finish area was almost dead calm, the runway was a different proposition altogether. Runways are usually built to face the prevailing wind, and they built this one to perfection! Flat out at under 25km/h in one direction, then pedalling lightly at almost 50km/h after the far turnaround. Something to be very wary of on race day because it’s very easy to leave nothing for the climbs to come.

Exiting the airport, you hit the longest climb of the day. It peaks at around 15% up the first section. If you put cobbles on it, you could slot it into one of the Belgian Classics. Things then level out as you work your way along the ridge, then it kicks up again. This gives way to a narrow, technical descent where you’ve really got to keep your wits about you. Once that’s done, it’s through a tight, off camber left hander, then you’re off on the second of three laps. By the time you finish the third lap you’ll feel like you’ve gone a lot further than 20km.

My view? This is a unique and truly fantastic course, with terrain and road widths more commonly found in a Belgian Kermess than an Australian Triathlon. An absolute “bucket list” event if you’re a Triathlete and you fancy a special challenge.

Filming the course for FulGaz

The climbs are short, but they're some of the steepest you'll ever find in a Tri

Staying seated to keep the camera level was a major challenge

We often gat asked “Can we upload our own rides?” You certainly can and we encourage it. However, it’s not always easy to get it right. Our objective is to create high quality outdoor training – indoors. If the GPS doesn’t match the video, or the video is of poor quality, the illusion is lost. This is usually an easy process, Hamilton Island was a whole new level of complexity. We filmed two laps, then the last few hundred metres back to the transition area. I then edited the video to create three laps and added the run in to transition onto the end. The GPS file from my Garmin was then edited to match the video to the second. Finally the colour of the entire video was adjusted section by section to make everything look like it was actually daylight. We also tried filming the course with a special 360 degree Virtual Reality camera, but more about that another time.

The result

Riding it at home on my Wahoo KICKR a few days after filming it, the ride felt exactly as I remembered, definitely capturing exactly what it feels like to ride the course. Even if you hate triathlons, you’ll love this ride. Ironically, it’s a great course for people training for road races to Crits because it forces you to crank out some big sprint efforts just to get up the climbs. If you’re a roadie, Triathlete of mountain biker, this ride is well worth a look.