66 kilometres is a big old ride, but when it finishes with a wicked singletrack descent, you tend to forget the pain. Overall race leader Mark Tupalski echoed what we heard time and time again: “The moto stuff was awesome, you could just keep pumping it like a big BMX track, and that fresh new singletrack at the end was unreal.”
The third stage of Port to Port MTB 2015 was an entirely new addition to the race.
“After last year’s race, we rode Awaba mountain bike park and we decided it had to be part of Port to Port,” said Jason Dover, one of the drivers behind the race.
Not only did the course setters squeeze in 12km of Awaba, but they also strung together a killer descent, mixing plenty of moto trails and fresh cut singletrack.
Today saw the field swell, with a number of riders joining the fray for the weekend, and so the neutral start as the pack rolled out from Cooranbong was a pretty incredible sight. But with the trails of Awaba not far out, things quickly got heated, with the leaders jostling to get the advantage and dictate the pace in the singletrack. Torq rider Tasman Nankervis got the holeshot, but Andy Blair inserted himself into the lead spot before long, keeping a lid on the youngsters.
Unlike yesterday’s stage which dragged the climbing out, today’s stage got it over and done quickly, like ripping off a band-aid. Unsurprisingly, it was the same Torq duo of Tupalski and Nankervis who launched the first attack, and only Reece Tucknott had the legs to go with them. “Tas hit it pretty hard, I think he though I was Hatto!,” said Tucknott, who held on during some massive accelerations from, before the trio settled into a rhythm and began to work together like clockwork.
“Tas was climbing like a beast – I kept asking him to back it off a fraction,” said Tupalski. “Yeah, I got a bit too excited – I thought Reece was Hatto, and all I could think is ’12 seconds, 12 seconds’ so I kept trying to drop him,” laughed Nankervis. “At the top of the climb we knew we had a big time gap, but yesterday we thought we had a big gap too, when it was really only 20 seconds, so we just kept pushing.”
Trek Racing Australia’s Reece Tucknott won the stage, a real confidence boost for the young fella ahead of his World Cup campaign this year.
With the lead group of three finishing together, the notable casualty in the overall standings was Pete Hatton, who slipped from his second place. “I think I’ve probably lost the podium, which is a disappointment,” said Hatton.
One of the real standout aspects of this year’s Port to Port is just how many young riders are at the pointy end; “I think the average podium age has been about 15,” joked Tupalski, himself still only 24. But in all seriousness, the talent on show particularly in the Torq and Trek teams is pretty staggering. There’s been plenty of talk of a changing of the guard, but you’d be a fool to write off Blairy yet – “I had a rubbish day today,” said Blair, “but you don’t get slow all of a sudden, I’m just tired at the moment.” Blair added reflectively: “Perhaps today was an exercise in what I’ll go through over the next few years as I do slow down. But one positive is that when you’re off the pace it takes you back to what it was like when you weren’t racing to win, and you remember why most people do these races, meeting new people and not taking it all too seriously.”
Jenny Blair, who by her own admission isn’t the strongest in the technical stuff, was surprised by just how much she enjoyed the extra singletrack of today’s stage.
“That was awesome – the loose descent was so good! Just get yourself behind the saddle and have a go! You really appreciate the singletrack after a lot of fireroad over the last couple of days.”
Jenny’s lead is looking very safe now, short of total implosion on stage 4.
Team 4Shaw riders Naomi Williams and Rebecca Locke hold second and third in the women’s field. “I don’t have any legs – that was a long stage for day 3,” said Locke. The fatigue came into play at the end of the stage too, on the steeper singletrack. “I looked back over my shoulder and Bec was off the bike and hanging out of a tree like a koala!” said Williams.
The consensus from the pack about the new Stage 3 course was overwhelmingly positive, and tomorrow’s stage has seen some serious tweaks too, with another supersized helping of singletrack in Glenrock. Come back tomorrow for the fourth and final instalment of our 2015 Port to Port MTB coverage.