In five years of Port to Port, today delivered the best stage yet. Who won? Who cares? All anyone could talk about at the finish line was just how good the trails were!
Killingworth is home to one of the most old-school networks of mounts bike trails in NSW, but few people racing today where prepared for just how much these trails had evolved recently. The local trail builders deserve a big pat on the back. This was premium XC racing territory; fast ribbons of flowing singletrack, wild, multi-line fireroads, technical pinch climbs, today had it all.
If you raced mountain bikes in the 90s, the names Sugarloaf, Killingworth and Heaton would ignite fond memories and long nostalgic tales of the good old times, these places are as iconic as they come. The Hunter Mountain Bike Club have always put on a good show and combined with the mammoth amount of land and amazing terrain at their disposal, racing their events was so good, they even hosted National Round downhill and cross country events. Today we zoomed around some of these classic trails and the memories came flooding back, Newcastle locals have it pretty good!
Looking at the profile of the day, there was one particular element glaring back at you; that first climb. There was no way to sugar-coat it, Mt Sugarloaf was going to break some souls. Aside the crying and burning, what the climb did was stretch the field out nicely, combined with the new start wave procedure by the time we reached the singletrack it was flowing along nicely clearing the way for a practically continuous singletrack feast. Even race leader Cam Ivory, who lives just down the road, was blown away by the extent and quality of the trails. “I’ve only ridden a small portion of that, I had no idea that was all there! I’m a bit annoyed I’d never discovered them before!” said Ivory.
Have you ever watched that famous World Champs run from Val di Sole, Italy 2008 where Sam Hill crashed in the final corner whilst way up on the competition? His run until that point was a little bit like the descent from Mount Sugarloaf; flat out, reckless, endless rock gardens of fury.
Our poor bikes were beaten over and over again as the worn and weathered fire roads came at us at insanely high speeds. With your eyes rapidly scanning for the safest way through the rocks the hard-earnt elevation vanished, or if you stuffed up your line the only alternative was to pull up on the bars, cross your fingers and hopefully leap to safety over big holes and 29” wheel swallowing ruts. It was a wild run, and while we would love to go back and ride it again next week to relive the thrill when our bodies are whole again, we’ll never match the feeling of tearing down it bar-to-bar with your wide-eyed racing mates. So much fun indeed.
Newcastle locals talk a lot about the Holmesville trails, and now we know why. This labyrinth of fast singletrack was a dizzying dash through the last 15km of a great day, with a few tight squeezes through the trees to keep you on your toes. The smooth surface was a massive contrast to the bike wrestling rocky descent behind us, so it was time to turn those handlebars with a gentle touch and surf your way through the forest on some kind of magical, white, hardpacked dirt.
With so much singletrack, and with the bulk the day’s climbing coming early in the race, there was precious little chance for the front bunch to inflict much damage on each other in the overall standings and so after two stages of racing just a few seconds separates Ivory, Johnston and Nankervis!
Once again it came down had charging sprint finish, with Brendan Johnston happy to get across the line first and claw back a few seconds on Cam Ivory. “I’m really pleased to get the win today! It was such a fun stage, everyone in the front bunch was having a really good time, trying to stay with Jonny Odams who was killing it in the singletrack. That old stuff is great – foot out, flat corners!”
Tomorrow’s long, 60km stage will be decisive, with the tough, sustained climb to the top of the Watagans offering plenty of opportunity for some big gaps to emerge. “We’ll have to wait and see, there’s so much potential for people’s form to change in these races, as you have to back up day after day,” said Johnston. “But if you can commit to the climb and get clear over the top, there’s a good chance to make up some real time.”
Tasman Nankervis, who rolled in with third place today, will also be a real threat tomorrow too, with climbing definitely his forte. The lanky Motion/Merida rider, together with Matt Potter, did their best to blow the race up early today. “I was on my limit up that first climb today, we drilled it,” he said. “We actually opened up 30 seconds or so over Cam at the top of the climb, but he made it up like it was nothing on the descent.”
Holly Harris, who took the stage win once again, was effusive about the day’s riding. “I loved the trails, lots of crazy stuff, heaps of carnage – not for me fortunately, I just witnessed it” she chuckled. Kathryn McInerney, who had been sitting in third, wasn’t so lucky, taking a heavy fall and walloping both bike and body. Sarah Tucknott rode like a woman possessed today – multiple people commenting after the race about the way she was ripping up the trails – to grab her best ever stage finish in second. Jess Simpson kept it rubber side down for third, moving up into second place overall.
Once again, the race village was a supremely relaxing place to be. There were meatballs, Mexican, smokehouse burgers and a nap on the green to finish things off. It was another fine Autumn sunny day, fading into a gorgeous evening for the Fat Tyre Crit on the Newcastle foreshore. Fine times. Aren’t we lucky?