The Port to Port is a mainstay of mountain bike stage racing on the east coast, guiding riders through the Hunter Valley and iconic singletrack around Newcastle.
The event hasn’t run since May 2019, with the 2020 and 2021 editions forced into hibernation because of Covid-19 restrictions in NSW. The event team did its best to reschedule the four-day race, but with the restrictions, case numbers and folks not overly keen to gather in big numbers, the decision was made to pull the plug and start fresh when things had calmed down.
Fortunately, we have reached that time, and Port to Port is full steam ahead for 19-22 May.
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What happened to the 2021 event?
It’s been a tumultuous couple of years for event organisers, and while calling off the 2020 edition was a no brainer, many Port to Port devotees wondered aloud why the race was still on hiatus in 2021.
“At that point, with Covid and everything, having three big races on the calendar just wasn’t viable for 2021. But we still wanted to keep an MTB race on the calendar, which is why we went with Cape to Cape last year and put Reef to Reef and Port to Port into hibernation,” Martin Mashford, Regional Director at IRONMAN, tells Flow.
As they say, distance makes the heart grow fonder, and events of all sizes have come roaring back in a big way for 2022. According to Mashford, entries are up over previous years, and they are on track for the biggest Port to Port ever!
The 2022 course
After a long wait, the team at Port to Port has pinned down the exact course alignments, and after three years the 2022 route looks all time.
Port to Port Stage 1
Day one will still serve as the seeding stage, covering 1500m of climbing over 58km. Mixed in with the suffering, Mashford says this stage will still deliver the scenery, with epic views of the Hunter Valley.
“Stage one is still at a winery but (is based at) a new venue called Roche Estate. It gives the stage a slightly different start and finish, and it gives riders a chance to take in the sights of the vineyards the region is famous for before taking on the hills. It’s still ‘starting and finishing between the vines,’ and it’s still that Hunter Valley vibe that people love,” says Mashford.
Rolling out along the roads of Pokolbin, riders will pedal past vineyards galore on their way into the state forest and the first, and biggest climb of the day. It’s a decent amount of vertical to cover, but on a dirt road, not singletrack so riders should be able to find a rhythm and tap their way up. At the top, the course dives into a familiar section of singletrack with a mix of hand-cut MTB and moto trails but riding in reverse to previous years. Then it’s a cannonball run back to Roche Estate for the finish.
Port to Port Stage 2
The second stage will still set riders loose on the old school singletrack of Killingworth and Holmesville, but the course will run in a different order to previous years, thanks to a new start/finish at Kevin Evans Oval, which will change the flow of the stage.
Covering 42km with only 600m of climbing, the stage kicks off with a short tarmac liaison to the Killingworth Trails, where riders will do a loop before turning towards Holmesville. Harkening back to the days when 26in was the dominant wheel size, Holmesville is tight, and twisty with more corners than you can shake a spoke at. After the side knobs on your tyres have had a full workout, it’s back to the oval for the finish.
Port to Port Stage 3
Stage three has also been thrown in reverse and has a new start/finish area at Cooranbong Equestrian Park. Serving as the queen stage, riders will cover 52km and climb 1200m. The course may look familiar to Port to Port vets, however, it too has been chucked in reverse.
“The Equestrian Park will provide a new venue for us on stage three this year, and instead of going through Awaba and then up over the hill, we’re going over the hill at the beginning of the stage and then to the trails,” says Mashford.
“It’ll give riders the chance to spread out as a field through the first part of the stage, so when they hit the trails, they will have a bit more free space,” he continues.
Port to Port Stage 4
You don’t mess with tradition, and the ultimate stage of the Port to Port is still be a point to point run down the coast to Newcastle, clocking in a 40km with 700m of climbing.
“There’s a bunch of new trails, given we’ve been away for three years, and all the parks have brought in new singletrack and new alignments that riders wouldn’t have done at Port to Port before. There’s a tonne of new things the course team is finding to make each stage better and better,” he says.
Starting at a new spot closer to Barton Field, the Whitebridge trails are up first for some flowy goodness before heading into the Glenrock and then onto Dixon Park for the finishing festivities.
Big destination events like the Port to Port aren’t just about what’s between the start and finish line. It’s also about the atmosphere and what you can do outside of the event.
“As always, we’ll have beer and food at the finish line, and our partner this year is Rogue Scholar, which is a brewpub up in Newcastle. They’ll be at stages two, three and four, and they will be doing beers and providing the entertainment — there is a band one day and a DJ the next to mix it all up.
Mashford tells us that Roche Estate has a range of different eateries on-site with all kinds of food, wine, and beer for the first stage.
Each stage will also have post-race massage treatments, bike mechanics, and a bike wash.
“You’re out there riding day after day, and you’ll need to make sure your bike and body are prepared for the next day’s stage,” he says.
Since entries for the Port to Port opened in October, we have seen grumblings about the entry fee. The Port to Port is an expensive event, but that race entry fee gets you a top-notch racing experience, four days on the best trails across the region, a swag bag, finisher medals, a bumping race village, and it’s also a qualifier for the Cape Epic. For 2022, the entry fee has gone up, so we asked about the bump in price.
“Since Covid, there has certainly been an increase in the cost of putting on events. A lot of our contractors and suppliers have had to increase their prices so that they can stay alive, and to meet constantly changing Government requirements. From an event organisers perspective, the way we deliver these events has also changed, with elements such as additional hygiene measures and infrastructure for social distancing adding to the operational costs,” says Mashford.
It’s expensive to run an event like the Port to Port; rolling road closures, event permits, private land access, athlete massages, event staff and all the rest — none of that is free, in addition to what Mashford outlined above. However, these luxuries also set the Port to Port and other races in the Epic series apart from other stage races in Australia.
At the time of writing, borders are mostly open, testing requirements are becoming a thing of the past, and news recently broke that international borders are reopening. That said, with an event the size of Port to Port, it would be silly not to have plans in place should things take a turn.
According to Mashford, if borders close, if you have to enter mandatory isolation over the event dates, or they have to call things off last minute and cannot reschedule, riders will receive a deferral to next year’s event.
“Anything that we can do, we’ll try to put the event on, but if not, riders will always have the option, if it’s Covid related, to defer to next year’s race,” he says.
You can read the full Coivd-19 policy here.
How to enter?
Entries for the 2022 Port to Port are open now, and according to Mashford, it’s on track to be the biggest one yet.
While it’s been three years since the Port to Port brought riders to the Newcastle and the Hunter Valley, the four-day stage race offers a unique opportunity to get away from real life and only worry about riding your mountain bike.
Entries are selling fast, so if you’re eyeing off the 2022 Port to Port, jump in and enter here.