Port to Port MTB 2017 Weekend Warrior Packages

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High in the Watagans on Stage 3.

Weekend Warrior Packages:

The full event spans fours days, but for 2017 Port to Port MTB are offering a two-day Weekend Warrior package, which includes entry into the event’s two finest legs, stages 3 and 4, on Saturday and Sunday. It’s the ideal way to do Port to Port MTB if you can’t take weekday time off work or away from family, or if you’re less inclined to train than you are to talk about it! What’s more, in our opinion, stages 3 and 4 are the real picks of the bunch, especially with some new tweaks for this years’ event.

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Stage 4 is a stunner, taking in the best parts of Glenrock.

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Stage 3 once again visits one of NSW’s best cross-country race tracks, the Awaba Mountain Bike Park. This lush singletrack is the perfect way to kick off the weekend, and for 2017 the race will dive straight into the trails from the gun – the long neutral section at the start of this stage has been removed, so it’s all action. Heading into the State Forest of the Watagans, a grunty climb leads you to some fast fireroad ridge running, before bombing back down on wild, raw singletrack to Cooranbong below.

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Tired legs need burgers. It’s #science. Refuelling after Stage 3.
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Awaba’s serpentine singletrack kicks off Stage 3.

After a mandatory post-race massage (you have just ridden 64km, after all), head back to Newcastle where you’ll receive a 25% discount at the Crowne Plaza, and get in a good sleep ahead of Sunday’s final fury.


Wondering where to stay? All Weekend Warriors receive a 25% discount at both the Crowne Plaza in the Hunter Valley and in Newcastle, so you’re sorted for both Friday and Saturday nights. 

Come up for Friday evening’s festivities! The sundown shootout gets underway at the Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley, in Lovedale, on Friday afternoon from 4:00pm. All Weekend Warriors will score a free Port to Port Pilsener with any burger purchase too, just as a little bonus for getting off work early.


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Come up on Friday for a pint of Port to Port Pilsner at Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley.

Sunday’s final stage has been given a big makeover for 2017, and it should be one hell of a way to cap off a couple of good day’s riding. An all-new start area at Swansea means more singletrack, less tarmac, and no more neutral zones. No longer does the race head up the Fernleigh Track, sticking to the dirt instead, before hooking into the singletrack of Glenrock, one of the event’s real highlights. It all wraps up on at Dixon Park, overlooking the ocean – crash out in the sun, enjoy the live music, and sink a couple of recovery ales, in true Weekend Warrior style.

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The event will be here before you know it, so lock your entry in sharpish, whether you’re opting for the full four days, or if you’re  more of the Weekend Warrior type. For all the details, visit porttoportmtb.com.

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Port to Port MTB 2016: Day 4 – Newcastle

As the cliche goes, it ain’t over till you’re towelling off and reaching for the talcum powder. And wasn’t that old adage reinforced today, with the supposedly comfortable lead of Tristan Ward practically dissolving before his eyes in a spray of tubeless sealant! It was brilliant, desperate racing, and we loved every minute of it.


FLOW9419Finally, after two years of recalcitrant weather, the sun beamed down on Port to Port, showing off the coastline in a glorious fashion. A deep blue Autumn sky, pumping surf nearby, and almost 500 riders relishing in that burst of adrenaline you get when the end of a hard race is in sight.

Today’s final stage is spectacular, beginning on the shores of Lake Macquarie, finishing right by the beach, and cramming in plenty of coastal trails in between. The magnificent singletrack on Glenrock features heavily too, the ideal way to cap off 200km of racing. Stage winner Paul Van Der Ploeg summed it up nicely, “you finish up with super sweet trails and then come over the headland to these amazing views of Newcastle, it’s a pretty good feeling!”

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The stage has evolved a lot since the race’s inception, and even though much of the stage is on fireroad or tarmac, it’s technical too. “I think just about everyone laid it down at some point,” laughed Kyle Ward. The dusty, loose conditions saw the plenty of skin left out on track, and the Westpac Careflight helicopter was called into action to scrape up a battered Robbie MacNaughton (who thankfully is ok!)

There was plenty of drama amongst the pointy end too. Paul Van Der Ploeg launched a long range solo attack, the kind that only a man who produces 2000 Watts is capable of, and powered through to grab the stage win. “I initially just launched a kind of joke attack, but then later on it wasn’t so funny! I was deep, deep, deep in the box,” said Van Der Ploeg. In his wake, things were coming unstuck for the race leader.  Coming into the stage, Tristan Ward had a gap of over two minutes ahead of second place, and as it panned out he must be thankful he had every single one of those seconds up his sleeve!

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“Kyle was throwing everything but the kitchen sink at me, the poor guy was on the front all day,” said Tristan Ward. None of the attacks were able to make a real impact though, until the bad luck that hit Kyle Ward on stage one now turned its sights on Tristan Ward, and he tagged something hidden in the grass and tore a gash through his tyre, too big to seal up. He had to choose fast; fix the flat, or wait for team mate and borrow a wheel, all the while watching his overall lead evaporate as Reece Tucknott and Kyle Ward rode away. Eventually team mate Josh Batty arrived, and handed his wheel over to Tristan, sacrificing his own race to keep his team mate’s hopes of victory alive. “I put Josh’s wheel in and went hell for leather till the end – everyone gave me so much support out there, it was great,” said an exhausted, relieved Ward. He done just enough to hang on, keeping Kyle Ward at bay by just 15 seconds!

Coming so close must’ve been hard for Kyle Ward: “All I could do today was just keep on attacking. I had to be a little bit sensible though, Reece was still within striking distance, and if I blew my doors off I could have lost second place. If Tristan had a flat and I still wasn’t able to get him, then full credit to him, he deserves it. It’s good that between this event and its sister event in Cape to Cape we’ve got a new winner in Tristan.”

FLOW9633Reece Tucnknott and Michael Potter, the two young Trek riders, finished together in third and fourth, cementing those same placings in the overall standings too. Mark Williams rounded out the top five, making the men’s podium a Trek dominated affair.

Samara Sheppard continued her unstoppable run. “I’m pretty stoked, four from four. I’m very happy to finish in pink,” she said. “I knew I had around two minutes on the next women by mid-way today, so the pressure was off. It was awesome actually – being able to ride the trails and really enjoy them, and the views too, it’s so nice when the trails look out over the ocean like that.”

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For Imogen Smith, sitting in second overall, there was one goal today: keep Em Parkes in sight! “Em made me work for it!” laughed Imogen Smith. “We were both getting so tired, and making some terrible line choices. And it was a very different way to how I normally race, I usually like to get out on my own, keep some space from my competitors. But today I had do something mentally very different, sit on her wheel and just be patient.” Smith was full of praise for Parkes, saying “it was a real pleasure to ride with Em, she’s a real rising star of the future for the sport.”

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“It was just like a friendly battle all day with Imogen,” said Parkes. “We had our race heads on, but it was friendly too.” Eventually Parkes would finish in second overall, just three seconds back on Smith! Tight, tight racing! The top five was rounded out by Rebecca Locke and Jessica Simpson.

In its third running, we feel like Port to Port MTB really hit its groove this year. The amazing weather really let the event sing, and gave riders a chance to appreciate just what a great part of the world this really is, plus the courses have evolved to be more fun too. Dates have been announced for 2o17, May 25-28, so put that in the planner and gather a crew. See you next year!


 A Rider’s Perspective, with Briony Mattocks _LOW0559

Day four starts with a level of excitement, but also a little bit of depression as we all come to realise this is the last day of awesome bike riding and for most of us, work beckons tomorrow. In the spirit of enjoying it while it lasts, the great lycra sea (which seems to grow in size every day) was unleashed down the road and on to the first of four shorter, sharper climbs taking us from the start at Cam’s Wharf up and over and down towards the coast.

The first part of today’s stage was super techy – there were feet out everywhere with stories that even the elite men found themselves in the bushes, over the bars and/or sliding down loose descents sideways. A bit of rain and probably a bit less speed would have done wonders as we made our way through the dust and the ruts to the awaiting ocean views.

The main logistical challenge for organisers with stage 4 is getting the race from Caves Beach, through Swansea (where a single bridge crosses the opening of Lake Macquarie) and on to the Fernleigh Track. This neutral stage had me confused, little groups started to form big groups and I had no idea what time difference I was when we were let loose on to the bike path superhighway. Maybe in the future a 10min neutral zone could be considered, like what is used at the Highland Fling for negotiating the railway crossing?

That aside, I found myself gasping for air just to hold the wheels of two young road riders who flew down the bike path, across the golf course and through the gravel back roads on the run in to Glenrock Mountain Bike Park. A little bit buckled, I would have looked like a drunken moth trying to negotiate the first few sections of single-track, but I quickly found some rhythm and started to enjoy the superb trails this haven has to offer.

The point at which you appear from under the canopy of the rainforest and out on to the point overlooking the ocean at Glenrock is nothing short of breathtaking (ironic really as I had most of my breath taken from me earlier). Moments like that make you remember how lucky you are to live in Australia and ride bikes in this region. A bit more Glenrock and we finish the race by winding down the hill to the beachfront at Dixons Park. Glory awaits all riders as they cross the line, many having completed 200kms of testing mountain bike riding over the past four days. Also awaiting participants and spectators alike is an array of street food, beverages, live music and tales of bravery, bravado and back wheel washouts. 

Well done to Samara Shepherd on her dominant win, but also to Imogen Smith (2nd), Em Parkes (3rd) and all the other elite women who made it a race to remember. Port to Port organisers deserve a big thank you. We can’t wait for both Cape to Cape later this year and Port to Port 2017!


 

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Port to Port MTB 2016: Day 3 – Awaba and the Watagans

The Watagans are a rabbit warren of trails, and today a few riders saw more of them than was intended! Day three of Port to Port MTB was certainly eventful, in both a positive and troublesome way. We saw some amazing racing, wicked new trails, and a few disoriented, exhausted riders too. 


FLOW8320At almost 65km in distance and with 1100 metres of climbing, stage three is the longest and toughest day of the Port to Port. But it’s also the sweetest, serving up the most sizeable chunk of singletrack for the race. First riders get put through the squiggle of the Awaba Mountain Bike Park, and later a mountain of raw, rough moto singletrack which Em Parkes described as “the best singletrack I’ve ever ridden.” The new trails included in the stage today got a universally positive wrap from riders, with a number of the elite riders we chatted to rating them as some of the best trails they’ve raced. FLOW8223

All turns have to be earned though, and the bulk of the day’s vertical comes in a single, tough, sustained climb up high into the Watagans. As predicted, this was where were saw a real showdown between the race’s elite men’s podium hopefuls. Kyle Ward came out of Awaba MTB Park like a man on a mission, setting a cracking pace up the steep Mt Faulk Road, pursued by Reece Tucknott and the yellow jersey of Tristan Ward. “When you’ve got me in fourth place overall, and Tristan and Reece in first and second place, it’s really up to me to make an impact on the race,” said Kyle Ward. “I probably went a bit hard around Awaba, because when I hit the climb I was already in the red!” FLOW8347
Tucknott eventually bridged across to Kyle Ward. “I was feeling real good on that climb, so I thought I’d see if I could break Tristan, but he just full-gassed it to get back on, full credit to him,” said Tucknott.  Turning himself inside out in pursuit, the race leader caught the pair, and the trio began chewing through the rolling miles across the ridge lines. 

Tucknott was the first to pop – his attack yesterday and chase effort early in the stage took a toll. “I made some mistakes in the singletrack, and Tristan got a gap,” said Tucknott, “and once he had a gap I just found myself in the box, pedalling squares. I was getting all the nutrition into me that I could, but I think I was past that stage!” Kyle Ward launched his own attack, flying into the singletrack descent, taking risks that the race leader wasn’t willing to, and ultimately opening up a minute and a half gap over Tristan Ward which he sustained to the finish line. “That moto singletrack up the top was probably some of the best trails I’ve ever ridden,” said Kyle Ward. “I think that’s where riding the dual suspension Epic really came into play, it just let’s you throw it round a little more, and if you make a mistake you can get away with it.”
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“I made lots of mistakes and fell over a lot!” laughed Tristan Ward. “But I didn’t want to push it too hard to make that time up – I’d rather lose twenty seconds on a descent than get a flat tyre and lose the whole race,” said Ward. With today’s effort, Kyle Ward moves up into a podium position, but Tristan Ward still has a handy two minutes up his sleeve coming into the final stage. “I like to sneak in at the end,” laughed Kyle Ward, “with the win in the shootout last night, and the win today, maybe I can grab another tomorrow? We’ll see how we go – it’s not over till the fat lady sings.”

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The first inkling that some riders might be getting a little off track came when Jason English suddenly miraculously appeared in third place behind Tristan Ward! Riding at the head of a bunch of five in the chase group, he’d missed a course marking and had taken a short cut inadvertently. He wasn’t to be the only one, unfortunately. At this stage we’re still not sure if course markings were moved by disgruntled bogans or riders just weren’t on the ball with the red mist of racing, but today highlighted once again just how important it is to keep your head up; holding onto the wheel in front only helps if that wheel is following the right course.

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While the men’s race wasn’t too badly affected by the lost riders, the masters and women’s categories certainly were, with Samara Sheppard one of the lead riders who ended up in the wilderness for a while. Garmins were gathered up, distances ridden compared, and despite Sheppard actually coming through the finish arch some minutes after the first female, eventually the decision was made to give her the stage win. There’s no doubting that Sheppard is riding superbly, and it would have been a real shame for her to suffer a time penalty through a missed or stolen course marking.

FLOW8292The battle between Imogen Smith and Em Parkes had plenty of twists and turns today too. In somewhat bizarre circumstances, Parkes and Smith both ended up riding in a bunch of four with male team mates, Mike Blewitt from Marathon MTB and Aaron Watts of Torq. It’s a tricky situation to be in: does race etiquette allow for male team mates to assist, or not? Ultimately it was a very tough day for Imogen Smith. “It was a hard, long slog for me,” said Smith, “I dropped my chain twice too in some critical moments, it was just frustrating.” She conceded a couple of minutes to Em Parkes, but holds onto second place overall. Rebecca Locke continues with rock-solid consistency, she took fourth for the third stage in a row today, but will have to put in a superhuman effort tomorrow if she wants to grab a step on the podium. _LOW9082

Tomorrow’s final stage takes us back to the coast, running along the strip of paradise between Lake Macquarie and the beaches south of Newcastle, before heading into the great trails of Glenrock and finishing by the beach. It’s a magnificent way to cap off four varied, brilliant days on the bike. See you there!


A Rider’s Perspective, with Briony Mattocks

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The morning of Stage 3 was proper cold. While the rain stayed away throughout the day, a few early showers had the elite women huddling for cover under a shade tent, both discussing the merits of wearing all sorts of warmers and taking numerous selfies (How to be an elite rider 101). Rather abruptly, the race before the race started, as riders suddenly got the call to the start line, practically clambering over each other to get optimum position behind the neutral car.

After a nice (dry!) roll down the road, the pace changed from quite comfortable to quite uncomfortable as the neutral car rolled away and the sea of lycra headed in a bee-line straight for the single-track of the (probably) World Famous (and super awesome) Awaba Mountain Bike Park. I made up for my lack of sprinting with my knowledge of Awaba, able to peg back a number of positions as we carved through the ~15km of corners, berms, switch-back climbs and wicked descents. 

Out of Awaba (sadface) and on to Mt Faulk Road (sadface x2). This climb is definitely not as savage as the one we did yesterday, but it’s still 5km of being squarely in the box. After reviewing the stage today I was rather happy with my time, although it’s fair to say my legs were feeling it a lot more than my lungs were. Over the crest and on to Undulation City for ~25km or so. Unlike our road counterparts, mountain bikers tend to spend a lot of the time on open fire road attacking each other, as opposed to actually working as a cohesive unit. Regardless, the group I was in got there in the end!

Once again we had the privilege of riding on some of the moto trails – which although rutted and loose are actually a tonne of fun. Except for a moment when after a collective dismount, I found myself running up a narrow rut with my bike eventually reaching about shoulder height (it was not in said rut). Not a line I’ll look to take next year!

More single-track, double track, fire road descents and moto trails and I found myself back in the lowlands powering out a miniature time trial for the final flat run into the finish. I loved the length and variety of today’s stage – if only there was some fire trail connecting the start to Awaba – one could really put together a great XCM course up here!

Finally, it must be said that there were some unfortunate issues today with course markings, where signage looked to have gone missing (presumed stolen/removed) which lead to a number of riders not completing the full course – which was not in any way their fault or done with the intent to cheat. Unfortunately these things happen (it’s not the first time and it won’t be the last) at races all over the country and I’d just like to call out that while I had no issues following markings, we should recognise the great effort officials and volunteers put into marking out 65km of trails and thank the event organisers for the objective and logical approach they have taken to resolve it in terms of final times. You guys rock!  


 

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Port to Port MTB 2016: Day 2 – The Hunter Valley

A crisp, clear Autumn morning is a pretty amazing thing, and today the Hunter Valley delivered an absolute stunner for 500 stoked Port to Port’ers. Day 2 of Port to Port has been a tough slog in previous years, wet weather making the long climbs fast descents a real test of grit and guts, but this year was glorious. Sure, the 1000-plus metres of climbing still burned, but riders came across the line dusty and grinning, not grimacing with eyes full of mud.


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Welcome to wine country.

Stage two is is definitely a ride where you want to get into a rhythm, the frenetic madness of stage one has passed, and with two serious climbs to contend with a steady approach is needed. Find a crew of riders, work with them for a common goal. That’s not to say the stage is without its technical challenges too; the wild, raw moto singletrack is a far cry from the groomed trails that most people frequent, and the flat-out Down the Rabbit Hole descent is enough to cook your brakes. You can’t fail to mention that the stage also does happen to finish up at a winery too, and after 48km of tough riding that’s a pretty good carrot to get tired legs up the final savagely steep pinch and across the line.

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A bit fresh this morning!

The racing was once again sensational today, aggressive attacks right from the gun. Reece Tucknott lit the fuse first, stomping out a savage pace on the long opening climbing, and taking his teammate Michael Potter with him. “I was pretty happy with how strong I rode up the first part of the climb, we established a pretty good gap,” said Tucknott. His move was almost a solo effort – “It was spur of the moment stuff, we hadn’t discussed it,” admitted Potter, “he towed me the whole way up the climb.”

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The yellow jersey of Tristan Ward wasn’t far behind, along with Kyle Ward and Mark Williamson, and when the race hit the ragged and tough moto singletrack high on the ridge lines above the valley, the five riders came back together. “I’m not the leanest bean pole out there,” said Ward, “so I was happy that we could keep them in sight on the climb.” Williamson came unstuck though, in the powdery conditions. “We heard some screams, someone yelling something about a tree, and then we lost Markie!” laughed Tristan Ward.

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The huge chasing group stomped through the singletrack, with some experienced hammerheads driving the pace, “I love that really raw singletrack!” said Shaun Lewis, “dusty, loose, lots of different lines to pick, it’s great!”

“This is the first time I’ve ridden Port to Port, and riding singletrack blind is probably my favourite thing in mountain biking, so I was loving the moto singletrack, just trying to follow the wheels of Shaun Lewis and Dylan Cooper,” said Paul Van Der Ploeg, who then jumped on the front of the bunch to take riders down the mammoth Down the Rabbit Hole descent. “We were boosting through there!” cackled Van Der Ploeg.

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At the bottom of the descent, Potter, the two Wards and Tucknott worked together, but the yellow jersey wearer was in a strong position. “I was really in the perfect position,” said Ward, “Kyle was working to get to the podium, Reece there with a team mate, I didn’t really have to do anything expect stay with the bunch. I did roll turns, but they were measured turns.”

Eventually Potter inched out a gap, on the final climb, somehow finding the legs to pick up pace. “The plan wasn’t to attack – honestly, I was sitting on the front and I just looked back and no one was on my wheel!” said Potter. His advantage was extinguished by some wild riding from Tristan Ward, who went all out on the final descent. “I was full kamikaze down the descent, foot out Valentino Rossi style, I nearly dropped it too, had the old slip ‘n’ grip!” All his candles burnt, Potter could only watch as Ward carried the momentum into the final pinch climb, and took his second stage win. It was an explosive display, Kyle Ward watched it from a few hundred metres back, saying “over that last climb Tristan just really lit it up, I think it’s the power of having the leader’s jersey, it just helps you find those few more watts! He’s going to be a hard man to beat.”

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Samara Sheppard rode her own race in the Elite women’s for the second day in a row, getting into a quick bunch on the climb, but playing it safe on the descent, given her comfortable lead. “The descent was quite wild, I didn’t want to take any risks and they were just hauling down there! The rocks were pretty loose, there were a lot of punctures,” she said. Her second stage win gives Sheppard a solid lead, but it’s a long race yet, and anything can happen.

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Race director Jason Dover and Tony Tucknott. Men, with plans.

For Imogen Smith and Em Parkes, the battle continued! ” When the final climb came, Smith slipped away though. “Imogen got away on the last climb, I just had nothing,” shrugged Parkes. “The Rabbit Hole was gnarly! I could smell my brakes,” laughed Parkes, “I’m glad I put new pads in them.”

“I had a few low points today,” admitted Smith, who took another second place, “basically whenever I turned around and saw that Em Parkes was still on my wheel – there she was, a little smiling orange person! But I’m happy to take second, against Samara I’ll count second as a win,” said a philosophical Smith. “You’ve just got to respect what you can and can’t do. You’ve just got to do your best everyday, recover as well as you can, be patient and be comfortable with what you’re capable of, and hope it all comes together.”

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The crew from Drift Bikes are keeping folks rolling all week long.

For the top five women, and top twenty men, the racing wasn’t over – there was cash and time bonuses up for grabs at the Crowne Plaza Sundown Shootout. A flat out four-minute-ish course had been stung together around the golf course and grounds of the Hunter Valley Crowne Plaza, for an all-out individual time trial. With big time bonuses up for grabs, the potential was there to see a reshuffle at the top end – if Tucknott grabbed the win, Tristan Ward’s lead would suddenly be very slim! In the wash up, the yellow jersey’s lead stayed safe, with Kyle Ward taking the win and collecting the one-minute time bonus (and $500). Em Parkes hammered to the win in the women’s shootout, her one-minute time bonus putting her within striking distance of Imogen Smith.

Tomorrow the race heads to the Awaba Mountain Bike Park and the steep slopes of the Watagans, for the longest stage of the race, at 62km. There’s a stack on new trails awaiting riders there, so we’re looking forward to seeing what the course throws up. Join us tomorrow, same bat place, same bat channel.


 A Rider’s Perspective, with Briony Mattocks

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Rolling in to Lindeman’s Winery this morning, I was welcomed by clear skies, a rather cold chill in the air and a look of anxiety on the faces of those who did this stage last year. Another eventful neutral zone escorted us quickly to the base of what would be one of the highlights of the stage – a brutal 11km climb. From the base of the berg the attacks were many and frequent, meaning the race quickly spread out.

Like yesterday, positions amongst the top 10 women switched around a bit on the climb, with some girls finding good rhythm, some finding good wheels and a few hitting the wall. Some also seemingly appeared from nowhere to power past 2/3 of the way up (I’m looking at you Jenni King)! After endlessly telling myself “this must be the last corner”, we FINALLY hit a loose and dusty section of motocross trail, which served to give the legs a bit of a break. You certainly couldn’t switch off however, with some tricky ruts in places ready to claim anyone not paying enough attention (guilty).

What goes up must come down – this certainly rings true with the climb followed by a 10km descent known as the “Rabbit Hole”. While I did not spot any rabbits, there were apparently some alpacas just chilling out and I did witness some spectacular aerial gymnastics (rider was OK!). After somehow not destroying my wheel through a creek bed (thanks XTR wheels for putting up with my suspect line choice), I found myself in a group of 6 for the final road section. Working well together, the end was near. I certainly wasn’t expecting the final climb, but in a mix of anger and a desperate want to finish the stage, I attacked it out of the saddle (an extended leg press set) and crossed a moment behind Jenni King and a moment in front of Em Viotto. Samara Shepherd was once again the stage winner, extending her overall lead on GC, just ahead of Imogen Smith and Em Parkes.

The late afternoon played host to the Crown Plaza shootout – a 4min circuit completed around the golf course area of the Crown Plaza Hotel. Some open sections across the fairway were complimented by some wooded singletrack and a very unique rock garden, where the only real tactic was to go in fast and hold the hell on! I was pleased to get through without axing myself in front of the crowd OR throwing up my lunch on Tony Tucknott at the end. XCE Champ Em Parkes was simply too good and took the Women’s honours (and time bonus, which makes things quite interesting!). Kyle Ward took the Men’s title, even after sailing through the rock garden on one leg. Shout out to Paul Van Der Ploeg who, in crossing the finish line, was going quicker than any person I have ever seen on a mountain bike. I actually think he can sprint faster than most small cars can drive (and probably does more damage if he runs into something).

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Imogen Smith, and a little ray of sunshine.
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The Trek Army! Looking good.
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Samara Sheppard swears the helmet/jersey thing is just a coincidence.
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The real Shaun Lewis?

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“We’re normally towing a boat.”
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Tucknott and Potter lit today’s race up.
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Matt Bazzano and Ryan Lennox.

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Sheppard and Ward.
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Em Parkes and Em Viotto.
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Cheese!
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Dylan Coops Cooper.

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Roll out.
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And so it begins. The first attacks came early.
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Tucknott checks the gap.

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Kyle Ward leads into Cedar Creek.

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Crowne Plaza Sundown Shootout


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Port to Port MTB 2016: Stage 1 – Port Stephens

Today, for the third time, Port to Port MTB rolled out of Nelson Bay, with over 500 riders embarking on a full-throttle 33km sprint through the National Park surrounding Port Stephens. It’s a hell of a way to kick off the race – blasting past beaches, ripping into seriously unique trails, the loose go-with-flow sandy style of riding now synonymous with Port to Port.

Beautiful Port Stephens.
Beautiful Port Stephens.
Gull pan
Gull pan

Conditions were chilly, and little grey, but the brief morning drizzle was actually a bit of a blessing for riders, firming up the sand a touch, making for super fast conditions out on course. And fast it was – the speed of riders jostling for the first climb out the neutral rolling start was insane. Some riders kept that pace a little too enthusiastically, with the first descent claiming a few victims in spectacular style, one of whom got a ride in a Westpac Careflight helicopter – sending you healing vibes, mate!

Taking shelter from a bit of pre-race drizzle.
Taking shelter from a bit of pre-race drizzle.
Three weeks of bar perfect weather had to come to an end.
Three weeks of perfect weather had to come to an end.

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Numbers are up, with a massive 40% increase on 2015, and the strongest looking elite field we’ve seen since the event’s launch, especially amongst the women. Casting an eye across the front rows of the huge start crowd, it was clearly going to be a great day of racing.

Ready to roll!
Ready to roll!

Samara Sheperd wasted no time in forging a strong lead over the other women early. “Samara got a good gap pretty early, but amongst the next six or seven women it was a really good battle,” said Briony Mattocks.”It’s going to make for a really good few days of racing.” Mattocks, a marathon specialist, was happy to admit the intensity of the punchy one and a half hour course really hurt, “I normally don’t warm up until 30 kays into a race, but it was over in 30 today.” The first stage might be the shortest, but it’s definitely the most intense, with the sand making you feel like you’re working twice as hard. The sand also makes the descents a hell of a lot of fun, surfing and carving, keeping a light touch.

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The new MIPS beanie.
The new MIPS beanie.

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Chilly, mate?
Chilly, mate?
Nutrition.
Nutrition.
Crappy way to start your race.
Crappy way to start your race.

Second place was nabbed by Imogen Smith, who is carrying a pretty serious back injury at the moment and wasn’t even sure if she’d be able to race. “It’s pretty painful to ride at the moment normally, but it didn’t hurt today, it must the adrenaline,” said Smith. She managed to hold off Em Parkes, who rolled in just a few seconds behind in third after lots of back and forth battles. “There’ll be some changes in the placings over the next few days, for sure, a lot of very fresh looking women crossed the line after me – Jenni King rolled through the finish with her mouth shut, no sweat or anything!”

Nemos.
Nemos.

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The Three Bears might sound like a children’s bed time story, but there’s nothing sweet about them, we promise. In Port to Port, the Three Bears is the name given to a trio of basically impossible climbs mid-way through the race, and today it was the site of some action that blew the men’s race apart.

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Former Port to Port champion Andy Blair knew from experience that a race can be very easily decided in a hike-a-bike section (it’s how he opened up his winning lead against Chris Hamilton in Port to Port 2014), and he’d laid plans to launch his attack over the crest of the final Bear. But it didn’t work out. “I just jumped off my bike to run, which was my plan to break the group on the climb, and my foot slipped out on some gravel and over-extended my shoulder,” explained Blair. His shoulder was briefly dislocated, leaving him on the ground trying to calmly get it all back in place, and his race plans in tatters. With Blair out of contention (and unlikely to rejoin the race for the next three stages) the other heavy hitters launched their own attacks.

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Paul Van Der Ploeg’s attempt was not a success either. “Over the final of the Three Bears, I tried to open up a gap on the descent, but all I managed to do was attack my rear tyre with a rock, and the rock won,” laughed Van Der Ploeg. “I then tried to do the slowest, most awkward tyre change known to man – I blew up a canister at one point, then debated with myself about putting in a tube or try to get it seal up. With my tyre deflated, my motivation was also deflated, so I just rode in with the cool kids in baggy shorts.”

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Tristan Ward waited until the final kilometre to have a crack of his own, sprinting away from the lead bunch of five and making his attack stick, grabbing the win. In the words of Shaun Lewis, who came in second, “Tristan always animates a race – he’ll either animate it and win, or he’ll animate it and blow up, but either way it’s good for the event.” When quizzed about this, Ward told us, “I like racing my bike, not just riding. Riding up hills isn’t fun, you’ve got to race up hills!” It’s a technique that worked today, but it’ll be interesting to see how it all pans out on the longer, slow-burner stages of the Friday and Saturday.

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You could have thrown a blanket over the four riders who sprinted in behind Ward; Shaun Lewis, Rohin Adams, Reece Tucknott and Jason English had just a second between all four riders. Adams was clearly stoked to have finished in such a high placing, telling us “It’s a surprise but I’ll take it!” With no clear favourite, it’s very much anyone’s race, but Lewis did have some thoughts that Jason English may be the one to watch, saying, “English is a fox. Don’t listen to people who say he’s only good over 24hrs – he can climb, he can descend, he can race any format.”

Put that away.
Put that away.

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As much as we enjoyed watching the battle amongst the elites today, our biggest smiles were for mother and daughter Raynie and Alysha Mcnee from Canberra, who said they “rode through ten years worth of sand in the last two hours” before mum out-sprinted daughter on the finish!

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Tomorrow’s stage has a very different style of riding – departing Lindeman’s winery in the Hunter Valley it takes in over 1000m of climbing on a huge loop around Pokolbin, before finishing up for some well earned vinos at Briar Ridge. See you there!


 A Rider’s Perspective, with Briony Mattocks

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After weeks of prolonged warmth and sunshine in NSW, it was natural that come race day, the weather would turn. Today started with riders cowering in large jackets and taking shelter under the DRIFT Bikes tent (which has its own mobile Parts Bath OMG!) as the sporadic showers passed through. Sitting in my slightly damp knicks on the start line, trying not to think about being cold, we were kept well amused by the event MCs as we waited for the flag.

The neutral zone was reminiscent of a road racing peloton, with riders everywhere fighting for the prized position right behind the car, with the odd touch of wheel and the joyful tickle of a handlebar in your backside (thanks Tristan Ward!). The end of the neutral zone actually crept up on me a bit – I found myself suddenly pedalling like hell wishing I had bigger gears (or faster legs) in an attempt to keep a good position before the first bit of single-track.

Shooting up an inside line (lucky slingshot, but let’s pretend I planned it), we started the first of many loose and sandy climbs. While I was climbing well, my incessant need to sit 3 inches from a wheel on the flatter stuff brought me unstuck twice, as I failed to react quick enough and ended up practically upside down in some of the deeper sandpits (just needed a spade and a bucket).

While Samara Shepherd, Imogen Smith and Em Parkes had streaked ahead, there was a good back and forward fight between the next group of women, with placings going back and forth with every challenging climb and tricky descent. The “3 Bears” (three super steep and loose climbs) very much lived up to their reputation, as we clambered up on foot, doing our best superman impressions at the top to get back on our bikes and hurtle down the other side.

Only 30km, Stage 1 proved to be super quick. After the final 1km on the shoreline (so nice), Shepherd would dominate and take the stage. However with only small time gaps right across the top 10 women riders, we are in for some very exciting racing over the next few days! 


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Digging holes with your head again mate?
Digging holes with your head again mate?

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Almost there, let's rave like it's 1999!
Almost there, let’s rave like it’s 1999!

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Imogen Smith. A little bit smile, a little bit grimace.
Imogen Smith. A little bit smile, a little bit grimace.

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How to make big lungs sound enormous with Paul Van Der Ploeg. Port Stephens hasn't heard such a calamity.
How to make big lungs sound enormous with Paul Van Der Ploeg. Port Stephens hasn’t heard such a calamity.
Sweet ride for the former Port to Port champion.
Sweet ride for the former Port to Port champion.
Touchdown!
Touchdown!
What lies ahead for tomorrow. The big climbs around the stunning Hunter Valley.
What lies ahead for tomorrow. The big climbs around the stunning Hunter Valley.

Port to Port MTB 2016 Course Preview

For full event details, head to porttoportmtb.com



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Perfect Port Stephens, stage 1.

It all gets underway a couple of hours north of Sydney in beautiful Port Stephens, where riders take on the shortest stage of the event. It’s a 35km loop out of Nelson Bay, through the loose sandy trails of the National Park, with plenty of coastal views along the way. It’s not a long stage, but the sand and some tough, short climbs make it a real heart starter for the event, especially at the front end with riders looking to open up an early lead. For the full course map, head here.

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With the race not starting until midday, you’d be wise to come up the day before and make the most of your time in Port Stephens as it’s one of the prettiest places you’ll find on the NSW coast with dozens of idyllic beaches and plenty to do off the bike for the whole crew, like dolphin watching, camel rides, tobogganing and eating a mountain of fish and chips before lying in the sun.

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For the second stage of Port to Port MTB, you now head inland to the heart of the famed wine-growing Hunter Valley region. It’s a real contrast to the previous day, swapping sand dunes and beaches for vineyards and huge escarpments. As is fitting for the region, the race starts and finishes at wineries – Lindemans for the start, Briar Ridge for tired legs at the end. And the legs will be tired, as it’s a long stage with a hefty climb, rewarded by a pretty wild descent and, of course, a vino at the finish. You can view the whole course map here.

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Day three of Port to Port MTB is a favourite; heavy on the singletrack, with plenty of new trails for this year too. Leaving the Hunter, the third stage heads south-east towards Lake Macquarie and the Awaba Mountain Bike Park. Awaba is known for having some of the best flowing trails in NSW, and stage 3 takes in just about all of them. There’s another solid climb to contend with, up high in the Watagan Ranges, but a whole swathe of new descending singletrack has been included in the course for the first time for 2016, and the locals tell us it’s awesome, so the pay-off is there for your climbing efforts. Being so close to Lake Macquarie, it only makes sense to cool of with some time on the water, a bit of R&R ahead of the final blast into Newcastle the next day. For the full course map of stage 3, head here.

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The fourth and final leg of Port to Port 2016 runs back up the coastline, from the shores of Lake Macquarie, to the superb singletrack of Glenrock, before finishing right by the beach in Newcastle. This is another very popular stage, with a mix of fast bunch-riding and incredible singletrack, it’s an awesome way to cap off the event. There’s not a lot of climbing to worry about, so leave nothing in the tank and enjoy that beer by the ocean in Newy on the finish line! Take a look at the full stage 4 course here.

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Wrap up your Christmas with Port to Port MTB

Our friends at Port to Port MTB are looking to make one mountain biker’s Christmas a bit more merry this year, with the Port to Port Experience prize pack.

If you’re thinking about racing Port to Port MTB in 2016, then get in quick and register before Christmas and you’ll go straight into the draw to win:

Two nights accommodation with free brekky and parking at the Crowne Plaza in the Hunter Valley

Two nights accommodation with free brekky and parking at the Crowne Plaza in Newcastle

A Shimano Sports Camera to record your Port to Port experience!

This great package is worth over $1350 all up and will be drawn on Christmas eve, so get your entry in sharpish!

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Port to Port MTB is a four-day stage race in NSW, from the coast at Port Stephens to Newcastle, via the Hunter Valley. As much a holiday as it is a mountain bike race, it’s open to all levels of riders, from punter to pro. We’ve loved covering this event for the past two years, and we’ll be rolling with the race once again in 2016, bringing you daily updates from this great event.

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Take a look at Flow’s coverage from Port to Port MTB 2015:

Day 1: http://flowmountainbike.com/post-all/port-to-port-mtb-2015-stage-1-suns-out-guns-out/

Day 2: http://flowmountainbike.com/post-all/port-to-port-mtb-stage-2-down-the-rabbit-hole/

Day 3: http://flowmountainbike.com/post-all/port-to-port-mtb-2015-day-3-bring-on-the-froth/

Day 4: http://flowmountainbike.com/post-all/port-to-port-mtb-2015-stage-4-coastal-showers/


For more information on Port to Port MTB 2016, or to register and go into the draw, head to http://porttoportmtb.com

 

Cape to Cape MTB – Day 4: Down to the Wire

Racing, at its core, is all about pushing yourself, and suffering. The rider who is willing to put themselves deepest into the pain cave is the one who’ll triumph. It’s not always pretty, but holy hell is it good to watch. And today’s final stage gave us a display of gritty, honest mountain bike racing on a super fast 67km run from Colonial Brewery to Dunsborough.

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Caffeine is the answer to all your racing woes.

We know that what happens at the elite end of this event doesn’t matter a damn to most participants – every participant has their own tale, all of them full of great highs and lows – but please indulge us for a few minutes, because what some of Australia’s best mountain bikers dished out this morning en route to Dunsborough was hard-out racing at its finest.

Mark Tupalski came into stage four with a 38 second lead over Kyle Ward. By rights, he should have been feeling pretty confident – while Ward had won two stages, Tupac had kept him within arms reach at all times. All he had to do was mark any attacks and avoid a mechanical. But that strategy didn’t factor in a very large man from Victoria, or a wily racer from WA, both of whom came out firing and determined to rattle the cage.

So often stage racing is often all about tactics: teams working together to control the pace, the result almost a forgone conclusion, as groups coordinate to quell any surprise attacks. But not this time around, no way.

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How the hell is he STILL smiling?

Paul Van Der Ploeg arrived in WA “undercooked” and recovering from injury, but rather than fading throughout the event, he’s ridden into form. Today he fitted the biggest chain ring he could find to this bike, and dropped a Watt bomb that blew things apart. Getting on the front early, he and Craig Cook drove the pace so hard that the support staff and photographers struggled to leapfrog the lead bunch in their vehicles. “That’s the first Cape to Cape I’ve ridden where it has blown apart like that, it was just attack, then attack and attack,” said Tupalski.

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Imogen Smith didn’t let Mullens ride away without a tough battle today.

Ward and Tupac quick to admit that Cookie was the strongest rider in the bunch today, not relenting for a second. “It’s the way stage racing goes,” said Cook, “some days you feel good, others you don’t. But I don’t think the Cape to Cape has had a brutal, hard day quite like that in previous years.”

As the lead four of Ward, PVDP, Cook and Tupalski flogged themselves trying to make an attack stick, the ever-present sand came into play once again. At 40km in, Ward and PVDP picked the better line in a soft sand stretch, while Cook and Tupac got bogged and floundered allowing a gap to grow. “When that happened, I turned to Kyle and said ‘If you want this race, we go now’.” He towed Ward away with him, leaving Tupalski and Cook dangling in the wake.

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One of the Hampton Cycles lads drops in on the Middle Earth singletrack.

“I didn’t want to turn back and count seconds,” said Ward, “because that’s not what it’s about. Today was just about getting to the line first.” If he had turned around, he would have seen a charging Cook bearing down on him, with Tupac on his wheel. The four riders came together again with less than 10km to go, but once again the sand ruined the party for Tupac, and he lost contact. “Once it was the three of them against me, I knew that was it,” Tupalski admitted, “I just didn’t have enough left after three days of racing.”

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But even then the drama didn’t end. On the final climb of the race in the singletrack of Meelup, Van Der Ploeg’s chain threw its hands up in defeat, exploding in the face of the big man’s torque. His day done, he still managed to scoot his way to fifth place, with the ridiculously strong Master’s rider, Jon Gregg (or the “freakshow” as Ward dubbed him), passing him for fourth.

As Kyle Ward hammered across the line for his third stage win, the silent count began – could Tupac limit his time losses to less than the crucial 38 seconds? When Craig Cook came into view and Tupalski was nowhere to be seen, Ward knew he’d pulled off a legendary come-from-behind victory in one of Australia’s most prestigious races.

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Despite being quite clearly stuffed, Tupalski was philosophical. “If anyone was going to take the lead off me, I’m happy it was Kyle,” said Tupalski of his good friend. “We’ve both got a similar kind of style of racing. Go hard, and if you can hang on, good on you. Kyle deserves a big win – he’s a bit of a dark horse and doesn’t get the recognition he’s worthy of, so it’s really good to see.”

“I definitely wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Mark, he’s the one who invited me and encouraged me to come,” said a humble Ward. “Getting the win is one thing, but to be alongside with a friend on the podium together is a real bonus.”

Peta Mullens continued her unstoppable run again today and secured the win, but not without being stretched by a determined Imogen Smith. “I had full intentions of having an easier day today, but Imogen wasn’t going to let that happen,” said Mullens. “I managed to get in a tiny gap on a descent, about two seconds, but that was just enough to let me make the jump onto the back of a bunch when we hit the tarmac and she missed it. In the end I rode the last 10 kay on my own, so I’m pretty buckled!”

Smith’s gusty racing today cemented her second place overall. “It was an honour to race with Peta today,” said Smith, whose race finished on a bit of a high. “Yesterday was a tough one for me, but today I had the time of my life.”

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Steering in the right direction.

With the West Australian sun hammering down, the rest of the huge field, variously limped, rolled or sprinted (and occasionally crashed) under the finish arch on a fairway at the Dunsborough Golf Course. The antics at the front end didn’t matter to them – the elites may as well have been riding a different race altogether. Chaffed, stiff, buckled and overwhelmingly happy, they’d made it, through over 200km of racing and now had a medal around their neck to prove it.

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Ripping in Middle Earth.
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Ward chases down PVDP, with Tupac and Cookie on the hunt.
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Nankervis. Not nervous.
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Andrew is no stranger to the Cape to Cape. Talk about an inspirational character!
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Riders were chuffed with the improvements to the Middle Earth singletrack, which had a awesome flow.
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Blewitt keeps it low.
PVDP and Ward make their break.
PVDP and Ward make their break.

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Zip off pants. #practical
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Hahahahaha! Boozed spectators make the best encouragers.

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With only a couple of kays to go, Van Der Ploeg’s chain had enough of this caper.
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Tupac puts in a final chase down the slippery singletrack of Meelup.
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In. The. Bag. Ward becomes Cape to Cape’s newest elite men’s winner.

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Dad! You’ve still got some energy gel left on your face! I’ll get it!
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Stoke level, maximum.
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CRAZY TREK MAN!
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Imogen Smith, second overall in elite women.
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Ah, that’s refreshing.
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I’m meeelllllllting.
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Straya.
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Tony ‘Golden Tonsils’ Tucknott has kept up an unbelievable stream of commentary and interviews. Peta Mullens gets the finish line grilling.

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Category winners: Peta Mullens – Elite Women. Kyle Ward – Elite Men. Jon Gregg – Masters Men. Sharon Moriss – Masters Women. 
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PARTY TIME!
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Kyle Ward receives the James Williamson medal from Jason Dover.

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Wet t-shirt competitor Jason Dover and his gang of loveable misfits: Paul Van Der Ploed, Craig Cook, Kyle Ward, Russell Nankervis, Jon Gregg and Mrs Robinson.

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Cape to Cape MTB – Sundown Shootout: Flipping Crazy

Unless you’re driving a taxi or going out dancing, we wouldn’t advise you to have anything to do with Redbull late in the arvo ordinarily. But we can make an exception for the Redbull Sundown Shootout, a cool event-within-an-event that has become a real highlight of Cape to Cape MTB.

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The Shootout takes the fastest riders at Cape to Cape and throws them round a punchy two-minute course (including one massive huck thrown in for good measure), with big time bonuses up for grabs. It’s serious on one level because the time bonuses can have a real effect on the overall standings, but one the other hand it’s a chance for riders to have a razz and put on a show for the huge crowds that come out to the pines to spectate.

This year the Shootout was bigger than ever, and rowdier too. After Peta Mullens and Paul Van Der Ploeg took out the racing (and a cool $1000 each in the process), the jump was thrown open for a freestyle contest. After a local Dunsborough lad upped the ante with a 360, chants of ‘backflip, backflip’ got freeride legend Ricky Compton sufficienly gee’d up to give a flip a crack, despite the jump being far from ideal. The end result wasn’t pretty, but the dislocated shoulder went back in smoothly and Ricky lived to ride another day.

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Cape to Cape MTB – Day Three: The Pay-off in the Pines

“We had a gentlemen’s agreement,” confessed Kyle Ward, after narrowly beating Mark Tupalski for his second stage win of the 2015 Cape to Cape MTB, “that if it came to a sprint, we wouldn’t attack each other.” Their agreement may have been gentlemanly, but today’s stage was all about acting like a child.

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They call day three the Margaret River Special Stage, and it’s the defining day of this event – it’s the pay-off for the blood and tears of stages one and two, it’s the day that everyone anticipates and remembers. For many riders, it’s the very reason they make the journey to Margs.

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Now THAT is a peleton. 1100 riders snake out of Xanadu Winery.

While days one and two are all about showing off the glorious fruits of this region, day three is all about the trails. And they’re really, really good. Good enough to be rated by many as the finest cross country singletrack in the state.

Wrapping in and around the township of Margaret River itself, a solid chunk of the course for day three is noodle bowl of knotted, berm-riddled singletrack. A cool misty rain had dampened the surface to a perfectly tacky texture too, meaning grip and dust were both a non-issue. Conditions were prime, and riders were stoked.

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And we’re racing. After a long neutral start roll-out, riders were itching to wind it up!

Much like it’s a waste drinking a glass of Grange when you’re already six wines deep, it’s almost a pity to be racing these trails! This is the kind of singletrack you want to ride again and again. “It was unreal out there,” frothed Tupalski, “the berms and jumps were so flowy.”

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Today’s stage also put on show just what mountain biking, and this event in particular, has come to mean to Margaret River. The day commenced with a neutral rolling start out of Xanadu Winery and through the main street of town, where hundreds of people came out to witness the spectacle of 1100 colourful riders of all shapes and sizes embarking on a day of razzing through the trees. Just as we’re starting to see in regional towns all across the country, mountain biking is creating jobs and fuelling opportunities in Margaret River, and the locals are embracing and supporting it.

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Flow.

The enthusiastic local spirit extended into the trails too, at Heckler’s Corner, where a rowdy home-grown crew busted out the airhorn, a chainsaw and just about anything else that could clang or bang, to pump up riders. “The crowd was next level,” said Mark Tupalski. “It was almost like racing in the Czech Republic,” added Kyle Ward.

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Mullens. All grins in the singletrack.

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Without wanting to labour the point again, it’s super uplifting to see local riders opening their arms to out-of-town riders like this. Unlike in surfing, for which Margs has traditionally been known, territorialism doesn’t seem to be an issue for mountain bikers; we’re all one big tribe.

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Russell Nankervis has been racing super consistently into fifth place. His brother Tasman is no slouch either. Good genes, or sibling rivalry in action?!
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Tupac slots into another tasty berm.
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Tupac and PVDP cop a heckle.

While the time bonuses from last night’s Redbull Sundown Shootout saw things tighten up a little in the top ranks, the stage finished without any change to the overall leaders. Mark Tupalski holds a fragile lead of less than thirty seconds over Kyle Ward, with Craig Cook, Jon Gregg and Russell Nankervis rounding out the top five. Peta Mullens had a tougher day in the office, telling us “I kept getting dagged on the climbs and ended up dropping back a couple of bunches.” Imogen Smith maintains second, though she too had a hard day of it with a couple of crashes taking their toll. For the riders whose main aim was survival today, Colonial Brewery proved just the ticket – recovery lagers all round, please!

And just like that, we’re into the final leg for another year, as riders push on north to the top of the Cape at Dunsborough. Come back tomorrow, same Flow place, same Flow channel – see you there.

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Big Morgs on the charge.
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Conor McGrory is one of two hand-cyclists racing. He only got his new machine a couple of weeks ago, and has launched into the deep end with Cape to Cape. He’s a serious legend – we’ll have more about his unique hand-cycle up on Flow soon too.
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Appreciate the patience involved in luring these ducklings over for this shot, please.
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Ghost Riders on the Weir.
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We told you the locals were supportive. Braving the drizzle to cheer on the riders.
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Mike Blewitt. Toowong’s finest.
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The Hairy Marron is Margaret River’s brand new, super cool bike shop and cafe. These guys are passionate as they come, so make sure you support them when you’re in town!
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Kyle Ward and Tupac roll in together. Tomorrow is shaping up to be a good battle!
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Colonial Brewery’s scientifically formulated recovery fluids.
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All the essentials are that-a-way.

Cape to Cape MTB – Day Two: A Blissful Twisting Mixture

“I think I’ll take my recovery a bit more seriously today… Less beers, more protein,” ruminated a groaning punter, lying in the grass at Xanadu. Good idea, mate, but let’s not take things too seriously here. After all, you’ve got plenty of excuses for letting your best intentions slip when the race finishes at a winery.

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Jarrod Maroni, a classy bike rider, in a tunnel of green.

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Tupalski in front on the first descent, dictating the pace.

After a postcard perfect day one, the flawless porcelain skies didn’t make a return appearance for stage two – weather patterns shift and shuffle a lot on this deep southern coastline. The trails are just as variable too, as riders found out during today’s 57km run to Xanadu Winery, just outside Margaret River.

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Dwarfed in Boranup Forest.

A spitting rain farewelled riders as they departed Hamelin Bay (each stage commences where the previous one finishes), the huge pack surging and splitting on a steady four kilometre climb.

The lead group quickly established their own race within a race, barrelling into the loamy Sam Hill downhill, with Mark Tupalski up front. Mid-pack, odours of cooked brakes filled the air, and creative overtaking manoeuvres caused some consternation, as 1100 riders threaded through damp bush, before a charge up the tarmac to Boranup.

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At the head of the field, the magic loamy singletrack beneath the towering Karri trees was chewed up at frightening speed. “When I finally got a chance to look down, my computer said we were at over 35km an hour through the singletrack,” said Mike Blewitt. For those riding at a less frenetic pace, this was a chance to settle in and enjoy the perfect grip and mesmerising flow of the tunnel-like trails.

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Hoverbike.

Friendly singletrack met hostile coastline in dramatic style soon enough, after a sandy, rocky doubletrack descent, and the onshore winds that flattened the surf put a welcome hand on the back of wearied legs on a seaside fireroad grind to Conto Springs. The view of churned surf hammering into this exposed coastline is a stunner, but we doubt Kyle Ward had much of a chance to take it in, as he opened up and attack with 25km to go, building a 45 second gap that he’d maintain till the end of the stage.

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There are a number of hand-cyclists taking part in Cape to Cape this year. And they’re all much tougher than you.

The promise of wine is a powerful lure, and row after row of vineyards served as an assurance of relief to come, as riders buried themselves on the final ten kilometres of the stage, passing through the vineyards that are one of Margaret River’s drawcards. A final hammer along the tarmac home undoubtedly had some exhausted riders questioning just why Xanadu Winery made their driveway so long (three kays!) and with so many curves. But the pay off wasn’t far off, in the form of beverages, massages, burgers and a nice soft lawn on which to cramp violently.

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Ethan Kelly bombs towards the coastline.
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Course-master Rohin Adams and the troubled Indian Ocean.
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Riders were frothing about this killer descent, with its great views of the ocean from top to bottom.

For the race leaders, there was no change in the overall standings. “I went out pretty hard, despite my coach Mark Fenner telling me to just do enough to hold onto my lead,” said Peta Mullens, who extended her lead by another couple of minutes over Imogen Smith. Kyle Ward’s attack chops the lead of Mark Tupalski significantly, and with the time bonuses on offer at the Red Bull Sundown Showdown this evening, we could see a shuffle at the top.

There’s plenty of racing left in this event yet, including tomorrow’s singletrack feast in the killer Margaret River pines trails. See you then!

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Crazy Trek Man (we don’t know his real name, but we do know he’ll do a sweet bunny-hop kick out if you scream at him enough!).
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Riders scored a blissful tailwind on the way to Conto Springs.
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WA’s infamous pea gravel. All the traction of greasy Teflon.
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Fat Bikes have been a worthy option for stages 1 and 2, with plenty of sand.

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Hay. What you taking a photo of?

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The last third of today’s stage passes through pastural properties and vineyards. Alongside what we found out are electrified fences. #shockingdiscovery
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Pumped to be on the home stretch, powering into Xanadu Winery.

Cape to Cape MTB – Day One: Enter the Sandman

The 3.5 tonne lens assembly housed within Cape Leeuwin’s lighthouse spins on a bed of liquid mercury – it’s what allows this massive beacon to keep on turning so frictionlessly, day and night, making sure the 28 wrecks off the Cape don’t become 29.

For 119 years, the lighthouse and its keepers have stood watch over this far-flung bit of Australian coastline. And for the past seven of these, they’ve also seen off thousands of mountain bikers, as they start their four-day journey of the Cape to Cape MTB stage race.

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The Margaret River breaks were HUGE today.

Liquid mercury might keep the lighthouse lens spinning effortlessly, but it’s willpower alone that keept the wheels turning for most riders on this very spectacular but also very tough introduction to Cape to Cape.

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Stage one is the shortest of the event in terms of kilometres, but it packs a wallop, both physically and visually, that ensures it will stay with riders well after they’ve scraped the black dust out of crevices they didn’t even know existed. Sand, grit, loose climbs, hellishly fast fireroad descents and a stretch of beach (thankfully rideable, with the tide out!) define day one, which finishes up by the water in Hamelin Bay, after 39km of racing.

It was a dramatic day and beautiful beginning to the race; searing blue skies, a fighter jet fly-over right on the start, and even a proposal as Margaret River local legend Brooksy dropped to one knee for his gobsmacked partner Diane. What a way to kick things off!

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The tallest lighthouse on mainland Australia. Even taller than PVDP.

The racing was dramatic too, the absence of any big teams of riders making the racing a much more solo, every-man-for-himself affair. Elite men’s defending champion Mark Tupalski dropped the hammer, hard, opening up a ninety second gap that couldn’t be shut down. “Tupac just went, up heartbreak hill, I was trying to chase him but my heart rate was up at 203 beats per minute,” explained a pretty shellshocked looking Rhys Tucknott.

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Cape Leeuwin, viewed from the lighthouse’s peak. In-fricken-credible.

“I’ve had a tough week leading up to the race,” said the ever-relaxed Tupalski, “I was in bed with a fever for five days, so hopefully I can recover ok and back up for the next three stages.” Without his Torq team around him, it’ll be a serious battle.

Masters hardman John Greg showed a few young lads what it’s all about today too, driving the pace of the chase to put himself into second place overall – bloody impressive stuff, especially considering he’s got at least 15 years on most of the crew he’s racing against. It’s his sixth Cape to Cape in a row: “It’s just a nice part of the world to come spend a few days, and the camaraderie is great.” WA’s Craig Scott, of the Giant Bootleg Brewery team, took out third.
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The women’s elite race was all about Peta Mullens and Imogen Smith. And while Mullens took out the stage, her lead was only just over a minute, a gap that Smith knows can be closed down easily over such a long race. Mullens doesn’t plan on racing defensively though: “I should probably just mark Imogen the next few stages and make sure I stay with her, but I don’t like to race like that,” laughed Mullens, who admitted finding the sand of today tough, “I was born to ride, not run, so all the times the sand forced me off the bike weren’t fun.”

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Stage one’s first climb is hot, exposed and steep.
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“I just hit the dropper post and hooked in!” Van der Ploeg came hauling into the wild first descent with a massive drift!

With a smaller than usual elite field, the vibe of the race today had an awesome laidback feel; rather than listening to whippets talk all about tactics or nutrition, we enjoyed wandering around the beautiful finish area by the sea, overhearing snatches of tall tales about near misses or busted bikes, conversations about cramps, witnessing people tackling personal demons or crushing personal bests, seeing smiles and grimaces, the air thick with satisfaction and cursing.

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Oh yes, it was a dusty day out there!

And that’s what Cape to Cape is really about – the ladies and fellas out there just having a crack. As race director Jason Dover remarked to us after pointing out a rider who’d run 20km after ripping off a derailleur, “those guys are the real legends.” Too true.

For stage 2, the race departs Hamelin Bay on a long, 57km stage to Xanadu Winery just outside Margaret River. Along the way, it’ll thread through the ancient Karri forests of Boranup and endless rows of the vineyards that makes this region so delicious. It’ll be another visual feast and an awesome day of racing no doubt, so swing on by tomorrow eve for more!

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Composed and in control, Tupalski had a massive gap by kilometre 18.
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Mullens will have three full-on days ahead of her if she’s to hang onto her lead. Can the National Road Champ stay away from Bailey?

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Not styling, crashing. A common sight today in the powdery, sandy conditions.
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Grovel, grovel, grovelling up Hamstring Hill.

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A enthusiastic and vocal crowd welcomes Mark Tupalski to Hamelin Bay.
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The Badger. So beard, so dirt.

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Cape to Cape MTB 2015 Starts Tomorrow!

The eighth edition of WA’s legendary stage race, Cape to Cape MTB, gets underway tomorrow and we’ll be bringing you daily updates so you can see just why this event is so damn amazing!

We’ve arrived in beautiful Margaret River this afternoon to an absolutely idyllic scene: sun, bikes, beers, some lacklustre fishing and lots of banter.

Take a squizz below to see why we love this place so much, and make sure you check back over the next few days to follow all the action in paradise.Cape to Cape Arvo 1-4542

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The Pines Revamped for the Margaret River Special Stage at Cape to Cape MTB in 2015

The Lowdown on The Pines and Margaret River Special Stage.

Planning Finalised for Stage 3 of 2015 Cape to Cape MTB

Following his recent trip to Margaret River to meet with the various event stakeholders and to be briefed on the logging developments in The Pines, Cape to Cape MTB Race Director Jason Dover and his team have now worked to finalise the course for Stage 3 of this year’s event.  Given the doubts surrounding the logging impact on trails in the area the event management team have agreed to release the full details of the planned course for our riders.
 
Pretty much the only thing that will remain the same for the Margaret River Special Stage in 2015 is the start and finish!
 
Stage 3 will start again in 2015 with a controlled rollout from Xanadu Winery through the main streets of town enroot to the restart at Carters Road.  From here the course will be changed up after the start down Carters Road.  Instead of the previous alignment around the river and out to the private estate at Freshwater Drive which we will this year send you straight into The Pines and up the fire road climb on the western boundary and straight out to the Burnside loop to break up the field.  The plan is again to use the Return of the Jedi sections of single track break offs back to The Pines that include the new Princess Leia, the Dark Side and Use The Force.
 
Back into The Pines you will climb up a wide fire road to allow for overtaking.  With the change to the logging plans we now expect to be able to include a great section of trails straight away that will include Mr NiceAunt Lou, the extended Lilly Trailand then back up and down into Whoop Whoop. Riders will then face another fire road climb to allow for overtaking before hitting the sweet berms of Noodle Bowlthen making their way over to Long Macchiato then a nice fire road climb back to the top of Big Pine.  After screaming down this flowing mecca The Pines will culminate with a technical test as the course takes Rock N Root into Hoodiesbefore finding the Rails Trail below.
 
It is from here on that the course gets really interesting as our Race Director has reached into the history books and pulled out a number of old trails from his bag of tricks.  Riders will next climb a large fire road up to Wharncliffe Mill before enjoying a blast back down to the river on one of the first trails ever built for mountain biking in Margaret River. This will then connect into the Chimney Trail as it flows along the river bank before a technical rocky section bring a challenging climb back up to the main settlement of Wharncliffe Mill. The course will then cross over to the top ofRiverglen and use a series of trails opened up for the 2009 event linking into Minnie Keenan trail and the series of tracks around the river back into town.
 
Here the course crosses town at the newly opened Hairy Marron before taking a leafy flowing track that winds east out to the river crossing that is more picturesque than words can describe.  Look right as you ride over the bridge crossing for a postcard view of the Margaret River or left if you prefer the crashing waterfalls as the water spills over the weir on it’s way into town.  Once across the river the course winds toward the old alignment out to Colonial with one nasty sting left in the planned course alterations for 2015.  To get to Swing Road this year and the last section of single track riders will traverse The Powerlines due north, a climb set to test the toughest of competitors.  But once conquered riders can enjoy a quick section of closed in forest trails via Swing Rd, out toward Colonial Brewery with onlyOne Last Hill remaining in their way. 
 
The current planned course distance for Stage 3 this year sits at 45km plus a 7km neutral rollout.  Whilst this is a little shorter than previous years we feel riders will appreciate the distance chosen as the percentage of single track and technical riding will be far greater than in any other year.

In summarising the changes planned for this year, Race Director Jason Dover said;

“We are super excited to release this course information for 2015 and expect a sold out field to celebrate in the ultimate style a last hurrah for The Pines and a nod to many of the old trails used in past events as we look forward to a new era coming for mountain biking in Margaret River.”

For more info, visit the Cape to Cape MTB website. www.capetocapemtb.com


 

The Sundown Shootout Revamped for 2015

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They say a change is as good as a holiday.  So while you may enjoy a week away at the Cape to Cape MTB our race team have got busy making some exciting changes to the Sundown Shootout for this year’s event.

The Sundown Shootout will remain on the Friday afternoon in The Pines between 4pm and 5pm.  But this year the location will be moved from the finish line at Woop Woop to instead start and finish in the one location at Noodle Bowl.  This change is expected to add to the excitement for both spectators and the elite riders as riders will start from right next to the finish line.

The planned course is 1.2km and will see riders head from the start onto Rock N Root climbing to the top of Hoodies before ripping over for the descent down Noodle Bowl with the goal to claim their place on the Red Bull hot seat.  The highlight for spectators is sure to be the two huge berms in the middle of Noodle Bowl and the opportunity to see Australia’s best mountain bikers hit these sections at warp speed as they race for the $1000 winners cheque.

For more info, visit the Cape to Cape MTB website. www.capetocapemtb.com

Full Length Documentary: 2015 Port To Port MTB

In its second year, the Port to Port MTB was a bloody great time.

Four days of racing from Port Stephens, around the Hunter Valley, through the Awaba MTB Park and Glenrock MTB Park and finishing in the port of Newcastle.

Watch the fantastic documentary here, and perhaps we’ll see you at the start line in 2016?


 

Catch up with some more amazing imagery from this year’s event here:

Our preview of the 2015 course.

Stage 1, racing through sunny Port Stephens.

Stage 2, up a big hill behind the Hunter Valley Wineries.

Stage 3, Awaba Mountain Bike Park bliss!

Stage 4, the final day racing through Glenrock MTB Park and into Newcastle.

Bike check: Three fast 29ers from Port to Port.

 

Bike Check: Three Fast 29ers from Port to Port MTB

Andy Blair’s Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper 29 World Cup.

Coming into Port to Port MTB as the defending champion, and a veteran of countless marathons, Andy Blair’s setup is a well-dialled XCM muncher.

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Position: Given how long this man has been racing cross country, it’s no surprise that Blair’s setup is of the traditional XC mould, with an aggressively dumped front end putting putting loads of weight over the front for steep climbs, hooking singletrack and aero performance. “I’m a bit old school I guess, I like a big drop,” says Blair. “I actually prefer it on the descents too, it’s not a big compromise for me.” A veritable praying mantis of a man, Blair’s bike looks even more aggressive thanks to the epic amounts of seatpost (the exact same height as his road bike), which also adds a bit of compliance.

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Blair likes the look, performance and knee-friendly nature of Gripshift.

His bars are 660mm wide. “Wider feels nice, but at a big race, especially like a World Cup, narrow bars really help you navigate through a big field.” He also feels that a narrow bar requires less focus in tight trees, which can make a difference in terms of fatigue over a marathon.

Drivetrain: Blair’s SRAM XX1 drivetrain is operated by a Gripshift shifter, which puts him at odds with the majority of the field. Gripshift has dropped in popularity lately, especially with the advent of single-ring drivetrains, but Blair’s a fan. It’s not just the performance he likes, but also the fact a Gripshift shifter won’t pulverise your knee if you happen to slam it with your knee! “Even if you only slip a gear and smash your knee once a year, I think it’s worth running Gripshift just so you can avoid it,” says Blair. It’s got to be said, it looks super clean too, especially with the Rockshox SID/Brain fork which doesn’t need a handlebar mounted lockout.

Fork: Blair’s SID has been modified to give him 100mm of travel, rather than the stock 90mm, with a new air spring. He also makes sure his preferred air pressure is marked on the side of the fork too, so if he has to get the fork serviced between race stages, it’s simple to get it setup correctly again. Blair always runs his fork’s ‘Brain’ damper fully on, and rarely adjusts the sensitivity. “That’s the good thing about it, you never need to switch it on or off,” say Blair, “because even though it’s firm when you’re out of the saddle, it blows through as soon as it hits a bump.”

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Everything you need to keep rolling, all in one place (except for a sandwich).

SWAT’s in the box: “I’m totally sold on it,” says Blair of the SWAT box. “I never need to think about moving my spares from jersey to jersey, they’re always with the bike.” In his SWAT box, Blair keeps a tube, a hanger, tyre lever, C02 and plugs for his Sahmurai Sword tyre plugs.

Sahmurai Sword plugs: A little something that Blair picked up while racing the Cape Epic, the Sahmurai Sword (named after their inventor, Stefan Sahm) tubeless tyre plugs will repair a hole in a tubeless tyre that might otherwise require require a tube to be installed. First you ream out the hole, then you insert the plug, hopefully before too much pressure has escaped.


 

Dylan Cooper’s Trek Superfly 100

We’ve always liked Dylan Cooper’s style on a bike. He may be ‘trad’ XC kind of guy, but he attacks the descents like a mad man.

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The Trek team paint jobs are pretty slick.

Normally a hardtail rider by choice, he’s recently switched to Trek’s 100mm-travel Superfly 100 for much of his racing. “She’s a fair weapon of a bike,” he says of his XTR Di2 equipped machine. “I’m a full hardtail, It’s the first dual suspension bike I’ve had that feels as efficient as a hardtail,” he explains of his decision to ride a dually, “it’s really active and smooth, but I don’t feel like I’m giving away any power. It’s the best of both worlds.”

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Plenty of room on that outrigger to put your Garmin!

Position: Like Blair, Cooper is happy to admit that he’s old school. Narrow bars and a slammed, long stem are the order of the day. “It’s the length of the stem more than the drop that probably makes it look unusual,” says Cooper, of his 120mm stem. Whereas with Blair, the drop from saddle to bar is pronounced, because of the Trek’s longer head tube and Cooper’s shorter build, the position isn’t quite as extreme as found on Blairy’s bike. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty front heavy riding position.

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Cooper has configured his Di2 drivetrain just how he likes it. That’s the beauty of this system – it’s totally customisable.

Drivetrain: Cooper is running Shimano new XTR Di2 drivetrain in a 2×11 configuration, and he’s taken advantage of the system’s Synchro Shift mode to run one shifter for both front and rear shifting. “I swapped the shift paddles around from the standard configuration,” Cooper says, “and I also customised the shift patterns too.” Cooper has configured his shifting patterns so the front derailleur shifts the chain to the small ring earlier, to maintain a better chain line and avoid the ‘big/big’ combo. Cooper runs the shift speed on its maximum speed.

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The stock paddle arrangement has been reversed, so the top paddle up-shifts, the bottom downshifts.

Suspension: We probably wouldn’t advise it (we’re big believers in having the recommended amount of suspension sag) but Cooper runs his suspension super firm. “It’s pretty hard, I have about 220psi in the rear shock and 110psi front,” says Cooper, “but it feels good to me. Most of the time I run it in the middle Trail setting. Even though it’s a duallie, I still like to ride the forks more, even on a steep descent, which is why the firm pressure in the forks works.”


 

Mark Tupalski’s Merida Big Nine Team

Tupac, as he’s known, is a real diesel engine of a rider. Unstoppable, reliable and built to go the distance. He’s not a flashy rider, and his bike is similarly purposeful.

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Slurping on a recovery drink after winning stage one of Port to Port.

Setup: Compared to the super aggressive position of Cooper or Blair, there’s comparatively little drop between saddle and bar on Tupac’s bike. “I’m a sausage dog,” he laughs, “my legs are really pretty short for my torso.” Not being low over the front doesn’t seem to inhibit his climbing of course; being comfortable will ultimately be advantageous for most riders, especially in a marathon or multi-day scenario. For a more in-depth discussion of comfort vs performance, take a look at our interview here.

Drivetrain: Tupac’s another SRAM XX1 user. He runs a 34 tooth chain ring, and having spent some time following the lead bunch in a media car during the Port to Port race, we saw that other riders running a 32-tooth chain ring were often on the point of spinning out.

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Four Bottomless tokens let Tupac run the pressure quite low for a smoother small bump response. As you can see, he still gets full travel.

Suspension: Tupac runs RockShox’s RS-1 inverted, carbon bodied fork. He’s tweaked the setup too, to get a more supple ride. “I found that at first with the recommended pressures I didn’t feel how I wanted it,” says Tupac, “so I’ve installed four Bottomless Tokens and dropped the pressure.” This gives the fork a more supple beginning stroke, but with much more ramp-up deep in the stroke to avoid bottom out.

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Pioneer sound system. And power meter.
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Cheapskate’s saddle bag!

Extras: Power meters are becoming a bigger and bigger part of mountain biking racing, they’re no longer just a tool for the road. Tupac uses a Pioneer system which we’ve never seen before, but apparently is gaining a bit of traction on the road. The homemade looking contraption hanging beneath the saddle is literally that, homemade. “I’m too much of a tight arse to buy a saddle bag!” laughs Tupac. “So I made this one out of old headset spacers and Velcro from Bunnings.”

 

Port to Port MTB 2015, Stage 4: Coastal Showers

“You bastards,” laughed Peter Selkrig as he slid on his arse in the mud, “get that camera out of my face!” He needn’t have been so self-conscious – there were plenty of other riders making less-than-graceful descents on their chamois on their way out of Wallarah National Park.

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The calm waters of Lake Macquarie lulled the riders into a false sense of security, the day was going to be tough.

 

The final leg of the Port to Port MTB 2015 won’t be forgotten in a hurry. The faces tell the story, a mask of mud, broken only by big white grins. This 48km stage took riders from the edge of Lake Macquarie, up the coast and through the sweet singletrack of Glenrock MTB Park, before finishing by the beach in Newcastle.

The gentle patter of rain in the pre-dawn light was probably not what most riders wanted to hear this morning, but it wouldn’t be a stage race without a little inclement weather – it’s all part of the journey, right? With the rain came more than a little mud. “This is just bullshit!” exclaimed one rider who’d been over the bars twice and whose brakes had long since stopped working. No mate, it’s not bullshit, it’s what mountain biking is all about!

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Jason Pye going the wrong way, not the right way around. Sorry, Jason!
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Photo of the day goes to: Chamois slider man! Come on down!

With the morning rain and a few hundreds sets of tyre through it, it didn’t take long for the usual benign Wallarah fireroads to turn in to a war zone.

“That was filthy – there were bikes and bodies going everywhere!” laughed Rohan Adams.

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Wallarah National Park is a bit nice on the eyes, but tough under the tyres.

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Rohin Adams leads out a hungry pack of attacking racers.
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Croc watch.

The usually buff singletrack of Glenrock took on a more menacing, challenging character too. “Man, it was proper slick in there,” said Jenny Blair, “like real European-style, lots of roots!”

For the elites, it was always unlikely that we’d see any real changes in the overall classification, short of some serious mechanicals or crashes. But that didn’t stop the fast lads having a dig, with Rohan Adams launching an attack that prodded the lead pack into action. “My legs felt ok, so I thought ‘bugger it, let’s go’,” said Adams. “Once we hit Glenrock it was every man for himself.”

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Into Glenrock they went, some very fine trails indeed.
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Glenrock alone is worth travelling interstate for, the trails are bloody fun and quite varied.
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Only a puddle here and there.
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WA’s Pete Hatton sure can handle a bike, with years of mountain bike experience he’s hard to beat when the trails are tricky.

In the end, it was Trek’s Pete Hatton who managed to extract a small gap and take the stage win, just edging out Tasman Nankervis and Reece Tucknott. “The goal was to try and pull back some time on Torq, but a stage win is a nice consolation,” said Hatton.

“Actually, the best consolation was that it was a bloody fun stage, Glenrock was so much fun.”

Things almost came unstuck for Mark Tupalski. “I was full gas chasing them after I got a stick stuck in my spokes,” said Tupalski. And even though the Torq hammer lost some time today, his overall lead was too big to really be threatened. For defending champ Andy Blair it was a more rewarding day, finding himself in a three-man sprint for second place. “I was pretty stoked to really be a part of the race, after a couple of days out of it up front,” said Blair.

 

The final standings were no surprise, with the dominance of Mark Tupalski and his wingman Tasman Nankervis awarding them first and second, and Trek’s Reece Tucknott’s ferocious chasing down of attacks netting him third overall ahead of Pete Hatton.

In the women’s field, Jenny Blair’s seemingly tireless engine saw her knock down four stage wins and yet another overall title – her wardrobe must be bursting with pink leader’s jerseys. But not far off her wheel today was Naomi Williams, who had a cracking stage, finishing ahead of her teammate Rebecca Locke.

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Yeahaaaaa, Glenrock!
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A local welcome to the finish.

“Sometimes today, when you were sliding sideways, all you could do was laugh!” chuckled Willams.

“Bec and I had been riding together until the neutral section (part of the course was neutralised for safety concerns due to pedestrian traffic), but then she said “if you think you’ve got the legs to go, go,” because we thought perhaps Jenny would have a tougher time in the singletrack.” But the time gap Blair opened up on the flats was just too much in the end, and the overall standings stayed put; Blair first, Locke second and Williams in third.

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There’s no doubt that the second edition of the Port to Port MTB was a superb evolution, with the course changes getting the thumbs up from everyone involved.

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The number one, Mark Tupalski. Winning Cape to Cape and Port to Port back to back, this friendly young lad did no wrong all week and took away the win.
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Jenny Blair makes it two from two at the Port to Port. To strong for the fast chasers Rebecca Locke and Naomi Williams.

“We take a look at the rider who comes in 150th and that’s who we target the course and event too,” said Chris Heverin, the event director. It’s a formula that we thoroughly agree with, as it offers a perfect mix of challenge and achievability for the elites all the way through to the bloke in footy shorts with a shopping rack on his bike. So roll on Port to Port MTB 2016 – we’ll be there for sure, and you should be too.

Click here for all the Port to Port results across all categories.

Event website here – http://porttoportmtb.com/

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See you next year, no doubt about it.

Port to Port MTB 2015, Day 3: Bring on the Froth

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.”

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Awaba MTB Park brought the singletrack that everyone has been hankering for.
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Naomi Williams on the tail of Jenny Blair heading into the classic race track of Awaba.

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.

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Tasman leaps into the singletrack first.

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.

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This is what it’s all about at the end of the day.

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.

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Team Torq do a great job of fostering young talented riders, Josh Battey is one of them.
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Bryan Dunkin is a local hitter, and his bike skills are insane.

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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.

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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.

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This guy. This guy is a working class hero.

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http://porttoportmtb.com/

Click here for the full results from Port to Port MTB here.

Port to Port MTB, Stage 2: Down the Rabbit Hole

“I normally find the second day a lot easier,” Pete Hatton told us yesterday after bagging second place in Stage 1 of Port to Port MTB.. Well, sorry Hatto… in the case of Port to Port, day two is a whole lot harder! 

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One of the neat things about this stage race is the diversity of the places and terrain, that you take in over just a few days. No more keenly are these contrasts shown, than in the difference between stages 1 and 2. Leaving the beaches behind, stage 2 takes riders to the middle of the famous Hunter Valley. Vineyards, horse yards, towering sandstone escarpments and densely wooded forests, it’s all a far cry from the sand dunes and ice cream parlours of stage 1.

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Today’s stage had seen some tweaks in response to feedback from year one, and while the final stinging climb had been tamed, it was still a tough, but rewarding, day in the office for most. Starting right outside the cellar door at Lindeman’s, riders had to dig deep straight out of the gate, with a 12km climb up onto the ridge lines overlooking Pokolbin. Unsurprisingly, the sharp end wasted no time in sounding each other out, with the Torq team using their numerical advantage to set the pace high and test the legs of the Pete Hatton and his Trek teammates and Andy Blair.

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Through the saddle, a brief respite between the pinches of climb one and two.
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Through the moto singletrack high up above Pokolbin.

Before long, the incredible form of Mark Tupalski came to the fore, when he and teammate Tasman Nankervis established an early break and worked together perfectly, playing the chase group like a fish on the line. “We learnt last year that we can’t wait, we have to make a break early – it’s that old stereotype, you know, offense is the best defence,” said Torq’s Dean Clarke.

Recent grading of the fireroad climb might have filled in some of the most savage ruts, but it had left the top inch of soil a perfect energy-sapping consistency. Grimly set jaws, bobbing heads, grinding gears and just a bit of swearing characterised the appearance of a large chunk of the field. The pay off for the climb came with the Down the Rabbit Hole descent, a plummeting drop, churned up, wild and loose thanks to the recent rains, that had riders cooking brakes and eating fat chunks of flying mud, before hitting the valley floor.

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Reece, the face of the chase.

Surprisingly, for such strong climbers, the Down the Rabbit Hole descent played a key part in team Torq’s strategy, with Nankervis and Tupalski using the downhill to back the intensity off. Dean Clarke explains: “They were just cruising down, knowing that Blairy would have to work hard and potentially make a mistake, while they could save energy and not take too many risks. The worst thing that can happen is to have the lead and throw it away.”

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Through Cedar Creek, at the bottom of Down the Rabbit Hole.

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“We were flat out like a lizard drinking on the descent,” said Tristen Ward, one of the chase group, “Blairy was just trying to kill us!” Reece Tucknott was one of the chasers too, and thought the chase could have succeeded with a bit more cohesion. “We had a chase group of about six, and it was all working well together. Then when we started to close the gap and got close, it seemed that everyone started to attack each other, like they thought they could get across, and the chase kind of broke down. And of course the Torq guys in the chase weren’t going to do any work with their teammates out in front.”

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Spot the bunch.

“Our overall goal at the start of the day was get Tasman into second place, and managed to do that, by about 18 seconds over Hatto,” said Tupalski. “Even if the time bonuses after the shootout come into play, we should still have a few seconds, which puts the pressure on Blair and Hatto to make it happen. But Blairy’s a wiley bugger, and he’ll get stronger and stronger as the race goes on.”

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Tasman Nankervis and Mark Tupalski worked together like clockwork today.

“The difference between Blairy and these young guys, is that the youngsters can redline earlier and recover, whereas Blairy is a little older and it takes him longer to recover. But if he can get into a rhythm, then he’s very strong and that’s the risk,” said Dean Clarke.

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Mind the gap.

4Shaw rider rider Rebecca Locke, in second overall, stated yesterday that the ability to back up day after day could be the deciding factor in a race like this, and by her own admission Stage 1 took a toll. “I struggled a lot today, so it was good to have Naomi, she really got me through,” said Rebecca. “I tried to nurse Bec as much as I could,” said Naomi Williams, “she’s got a bit of a diesel engine, so I hoped she might come back, but she had tired legs.”

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Jenny Blair, head down, on the final pinch.

For Jenny Blair, today was much more suited to her style. “It was my kind of course, that type of riding is my gravy,” said Jenny. “Because I knew the course and knew that the start in particular suited my style, I pushed as hard as I could to maximise the time gap.” The strategy worked, and Jenny Blair now holds a commanding lead of around eight minutes.

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The day was capped off with the Crowne Plaza Shootout, an individual time trial around the golf course at Crowne Plaza, with big time bonuses up for grabs. Pete Hatton continued his out-of-nowhere form, taking the win, and scoring a minute time bonus that scooted him back into second place. Mark Tupalski further cemented his lead, with his third place giving him an additional 40 seconds. Meanwhile, Blair had the worst possible outcome, snapping his chain and having to scoot across the line with any hopes of scraping back a big chunk of time dashed.

Tomorrow’s stage is completely new, taking in the famed flow of the Awaba Mountain Bike park, and some unseen descents through the lower slopes of the Watagans. We’ve been promised by course-setter Rex Dubois that it’s a killer stage. Excellent stuff, come back tomorrow for all action.

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Briar Ridge Winery put on live music and a full-blown farmers’ market at the finish, it was a great vibe.

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The final event of the day was the Crowne Plaza Shootout, a 1.5km time trial around the golf course with time bonuses up for grabs.
Hatto. Can turn a pedal! Peter Hatton moves into second place, after a healthy time bonus at the Crowne Plaza Shootout.
Hatto. Can turn a pedal! Peter Hatton moves into second place, after a healthy time bonus at the Crowne Plaza Shootout.

Port to Port 2015 Shootout 12

Port to Port MTB 2015, Stage 1: Sun’s Out, Guns Out

Hello sunshine, hello dolphins, hello wine, hello sweat, dirt, blood and good times. Hello Port to Port MTB.

Back for the second year, this four-day stage race is roving affair, taking in some of the more stunning parts of NSW on a journey from the sea at Port Stephens, to the Hunter Valley and finally back to Newcastle. (Take a squiz at our 2014 coverage here.)

Port to Port 2015 Day One 27

The usual flocks of whale watchers, seagulls and white haired holiday makers were ushered aside today, to make way for the 300+ racers who began their four day odyssey alongside the lapping blue waters of Nelson Bay. The course set for them on Stage 1 mixed in some of the trails utilised last year, plus a bunch of new sections, like the unconquerable Three Bears.

After last year’s epic battle between Andy Blair and Chris Hamilton, there was a plenty of anticipation this showdown might be emulated with an in-form Mark Tupalski a clear challenger to the experienced Blair. In the women’s field, the recently crowned XCM Champ Jenny Blair (yes, she and Andy tied the knot) was the clear favourite, but as we saw today, it mightn’t be plain sailing.

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The rolling neutral start may have been too mellow for some (“I’ve had way too much caffeine for this, let’s get racing!” was yelled from somewhere in the bunch), but the pace didn’t stay low for long. The first scrappy climb proved to be incredibly decisive, with Blair facing what he called the “worst possible situation” after getting caught in a rut and watching the trio of Tupalski, young Liam Jefferies and Pete Hatton make a break. Without any team mates to work with him, it was entirely up to him to ride down the two Torq riders and Hatton.

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The opening climb of the day is steep, scrappy and a real burner.

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Hatton, who has been absent from the scene for a while and whose dark horse performance caught plenty of people by surprise, tells the tale: “We were working well together, right up until the Three Bears (three super steep fireroad climbs in a row), when I really pushed it into the red. I could tell that Tupalski was super strong, and he made a break. I had to back it off consciously, and that’s when Andy bridged across to me. I basically sat on his wheel then, trying to recuperate, and then managed to gap him at the end on some of the short climbs.”

“I couldn’t see them behind me and when you have a gap you just have to bury yourself!”

“Blairy’s no fool – he wins plenty of races by being tactically smart, so I’m not taking anything for granted.”

History repeated itself in some respects today; last year, it was Andy Blair’s running up the impossibly steep Vertical Beach that gave him a gap, this year it was Tupalski who sprinted his way to a healthy gap, running hard over the top of the final of the Three Bears. “I didn’t think the gap I’d opened up was quite that big, but I couldn’t see them behind me and when you have a gap you just have to bury yourself!” Burying himself definitely worked, and Tupac will take a lead of just over a minute to Stage 2. “Blairy’s no fool – he wins plenty of races by being tactically smart, so I’m not taking anything for granted,” said Tupalski.

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The first of the Three Bears.

“I’ve had plenty of races that have turned out well, today just wasn’t one of them, so you’ve got to take the good with the bad!”

As the defending champ, Blair knows how Tupalski would have been feeling today. “It’s a real psychological game – when you’re on your own out the front, like Mark was, you just keep your head down and ride. But when you’re chasing, and especially in a situation like today where other riders aren’t going to work for you, you’ve just got to back yourself that you can ride as hard as Mark is. Really, the situation today was a reversal of last year where I had the break; I’ve had plenty of races that have turned out well, today just wasn’t one of them, so you’ve got to take the good with the bad!”

Port to Port 2015 Day One 41
Us: “Everyone rode it before you guys!” Them: “Fu#k off!”

“Then I just hung on for dear life, as she kept hitting me.”

In the women’s field, Jenny Blair was given a real run for her money by Rebecca Locke. “I could see Jen just in front, and then I managed to ride a couple of the steep pinches where she lost traction, and that let me come across to her a little bit. Then I just hung on for dear life, as she kept hitting me,” said Locke. “I think it’ll be a really telling sign to see how we each back up from day to day.”

Port to Port 2015 Day One 14
There’s still a bit of water about from the epic rain storms of the last months. Andy Blair disrupts the mosquitos.
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Woo!

For Jenny Blair, the course today didn’t play to her strengths. “Today was too soft!,” she said. The whopping climbs of Stage 2 might be more to her liking, as the show rolls inland to the Hunter Valley tomorrow. Stage 2 was a savage affair last year – a tough climb and white knuckled descents, with eyes full of mud. Hopefully the rain stays away, as it’s a tough enough day on the bike without the extra challenge of a downpour.

Tune in tomorrow for more Port to Port MTB!

For full results head here, and to learn more about Port to Port, jump over here.

Port to Port 2015 Day One 46

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Left to right: James Bond, Peter Hatton, Mark Tupalski, Andy Blair, Tony ‘Golden Tonsils’ Tucknott.

Port to Port 2015 Day One 24 Port to Port 2015 Day One 45

Port to Port MTB: Course Preview 2015

Port to Port MTB, NSW’s stunning four-day stage race, is back again this May with some great course revisions. After racing the inaugural event last year, Flow headed north to take a look at what’s in store this time around.

Port to Port MTB Preview 20


Check out all the coverage from last year’s racing:


While the start and end point for 2015’s event are the same – beginning in Port Stephens and culminating in Newcastle – there have been a number of changes made in between which we’re feeling very positive about. Watch the vids below to get a better idea of what’s coming up in 2015.


Stage 1:

Port Stephens, 38km.

Stage 1 is unchanged for 2015. Starting and finishing in Nelson Bay, right alongside the marina, it’s a spectacular setting. The course itself is predominantly fireroads, with a lot of sand, including the Vertical Beach, which proved decisive last year as it allowed eventual winner Andy Blair to gain valuable seconds on Chris Hamilton. While you mightn’t think of sandy riding as fun, it’s actually awesome to race on – line choice and momentum are vital. Our tip: Lower your tyre pressure. Last year Andy Blair burped his tyre early in the stage and the lower pressures ultimately provided him with an advantage.

 

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Stage 2:

Hunter Valley, 50km.

Stage 2 sees you leave the beaches behind and head to the vineyards of the Hunter Valley, just outside Pokolbin/Cessnock. This stage was a very tough affair last year, and there have been a few tweaks for 2015. The day begins at Lindeman’s winery before a long, steady climb over 12km, followed by some motor bike singletrack. Last year, consistent rain robbed this section of the fun it promised, so fingers it’s dry this time around. The pay off for the climb comes with the Down the Rabbit Hole Descent, which plummets back to valley floor. The last third of the stage has thankfully been somewhat tamed down, with the final climb chopped in half (phew!) before rolling into finish at Briar Ridge Winery for a glass of plonk. Our tip: Don’t get caught out on the tarmac section heading back towards Cessnock – if you’re on your own here, you’ll struggle over the final climb, so find some mates and work together.

Port to Port MTB Preview 32


Stage 3:

Cooranbong, 60km.

An entirely new stage for 2015! Stage 3 is centred around the town of Cooranbong, at the foot of the Watagan National Park. The highlight of this stage is undoubtedly the Awaba Mountain Bike Park, which houses 12km of excellent singletrack. There’s another solid climb, up to the top of the Watagans. At this stage, we’re still awaiting confirmation as to the exact route of the descent, but it’ll be mammoth either way. Our tip: Enjoy Awaba! Make sure you leave enough in the tank so you’re not a ragged mess in the singletrack.

Port to Port MTB Preview 5

Stage 4:

Cam’s Wharf to Newcastle, 50km.

Stage 4 starts and finishes in the same places as 2014, but the route in between has changed, taking in more dirt and less tarmac and sand! Few people will lament the fact the run/ride along Blacksmiths Beach has been chopped in more than half, and the run north now uses more fireroad and less of the Fernleigh Track on the way to Glenrock. The stage now makes the very most of Glenrock MTB Park too, hitting just about every single bit of trail in the reserve before finishing off in Newcastle by the beach once again. Our tip: Know where the singletrack of Glenrock starts – you’ll be riding in a bunch approaching Glenrock and you want to be at the front of it when you enter the trails.

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Entries for Port to Port MTB are open now, and there’s loads more info on the event website, including course maps, so take a look. It was a great event last year and with the tweaks implemented for 2015, we think it’s going to be fantastic once again. See you there!

 

 

Port To Port MTB Returning in 2015, Bigger and Better

Registrations have now opened for the 2015 Port to Port MTB, returning to the Newcastle region across the newly announced dates of Thursday 28 – Sunday 31 May, 2015.

Following on from the success of the inaugural event held earlier this year, which saw 300 recreational and professional riders participate, Port to Port MTB is quickly reaching the heights of sister event, Cape to Cape MTB in Western Australia, the largest event of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.

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The new dates were announced this morning at the event’s official launch, attended by the Lord Mayor of Cessnock, and representatives of Newcastle City Council, Shimano Australia and other event partners. The launch was hosted by popular decorating duo Maxine and Karstan from Channel 9’s THE BLOCK: GLASSHOUSE who donned special riding gear for the day to celebrate.

Event Director Chris Heverin said he was thrilled to launch the 2015 Port to Port MTB. “We were delighted by the positive response from those who participated earlier this year in our inaugural event. With exciting new course alignments that will include a special stage at Awaba National Forest and a Sundown Shootout for the elite riders in the Hunter Valley on the Friday, an update to the timing system and an even better rider experience, we look forward to welcoming everyone back to Newcastle and the Hunter with your game face on, support team by your side and sporting your best game face,” he said. NSW Deputy Premier and Minister for Tourism and Major Events Andrew Stoner said he looks forward to welcoming participants from around the country and the world to Newcastle and The Hunter in NSW for the second Port to Port MTB. “This year’s Port to Port MTB was very well received, delivering a significant economic benefit to the local community.

 

The NSW Government is proud to have secured the event from 2014 to 2016 through our tourism and major events agency, Destination NSW”. “The event showcases this magnificent region of NSW to an international audience, with competitors traversing idyllic beaches, picturesque wine country, and forest trails over four action-packed days of competition,” Mr Stoner said.

The Port to Port MTB begins at the tranquil Nelson Bay Marina, where riders are greeted by four days of exciting single track, fire trails, testing hill climbs and steep descents through Cessnock, the Hunter Valley, Lake Macquarie and Newcastle Region. One of the features of the 2015 event will be the Crowne Plaza Sundown Shootout in the picturesque Hunter Valley Property. This exclusive event will be a fast-paced mountain bike spectacular, consisting of a 2km time trial for the top one hundred riders that starts in the newly built Lovedale Brewery and winds around the iconic golf course.

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Port to Port MTB 13

For riders not competing in the Crowne Plaza Sundown Shootout, this will be the best chance to enjoy the hospitality and witness Australia’s best Mountain Bike riders up-close in action. Registrations for the 2015 Port to Port MTB are now open.

Visit our website at www.porttoportmtb.com for more information on the event.

Visit the Port to Port MTB YouTube channel to view the 2014 Port to Port MTB documentary.

Video: Port to Port MTB with Drift Bikes, Day 1

Day 1 of the Port to Port MTB 2014 – Four day stage race. Starting from the beautiful back drop of Nelson Bay, Port Stephens. Andrew Blair and Jenny Fay of Swell Specialized battle it out against Australias best marathon racers.

Drift Bikes provided comprehensive mechanical support to all riders bikes participating over the four days of racing.

www.driftbikes.com.au
Supporting cyclists in the Newcastle, Maitland, Port Stephens, Cessnock, Warners Bay, Lake Macquaire and Hunter Valley Areas.

Port to Port MTB: Stage Two

No one remembers the easy days. The days when your legs feel fresh, the weather is beautiful and nothing hurts – those days are soon forgotten, merged into the blur of day-to-day rides.

But for the 200 or so riders who tackled stage two of Port to Port MTB, this was a day that will never, ever be forgotten.

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Chris Hamilton and Andy Blair. From an Elite standpoint, today was all about these two.

 

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The start of the 14km climb.
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The Torq team launch attack number one.
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Into the singletrack. It’s a pity the rain made the incredible singletrack across the escarpment such a mess, as it would’ve been the pay off that many riders craved after the climb.
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This rut got a lot deeper. A lot, lot deeper.
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Dylan Cooper keeps it on the straight and narrow.

This was the kind of day that hurt you, that clogged your eyes and nose with mud, that stopped your wheels from spinning through the frame, where you couldn’t clip in, or clip out, and your water bottle tasted like dirt.

You wanted more gears, you carried your bike, you tried to work out how to stretch without cramping and you swore. A lot.

Not one, but two, sapping, endless climbs, interspersed with singletrack so slick it was like a luge course. Two of the most amazing, high-speed fireroad descents, so long and teeth-rattlingly fast that you didn’t know whether to scream in joy or fear.

This was a day that you wanted to end, but when it did and you rolled underneath that finish arch at Lindemans winery, you felt like you’d conquered something.

Sure, for some riders today was a very big ask, but no matter if they finished the stage in three hours or six, today’s racing was the kind of affair that will leave them with a lot memories (and maybe a bill for a new set of brake pads). It was a day that may hurt right now, but that will be laughed about over a beer in a week or two, and definitely, definitely be remembered in years to come when all the dry, easy rides have been forgotten.

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Jenny Fay. Laughing? Or grimacing?

As predicted, the elite end of the field didn’t see any real shuffles. Torq’s Chris Hamilton outsprinted Andy Blair for the stage win, but with such a big lead from stage one, Blairy’s overall wasn’t in danger. And Jenny Fay, despite the mud wreaking havoc with her drivetrain, stayed away for another win (surely even she’s losing count by now).

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Jackie Schapel, always smiling. She must get very dirty teeth. An amazing descender and a real champ.

Tomorrow, the racing stays in the Hunter, departing Briar Ridge winery before finishing just east of Cessnock. With more rain on the horizon, the stage will be shortened by a few kays, avoiding the worst of the mud, which will make most riders smile. There’s only so many ‘memorable’ stages your bike and body can take in one week!

Port to Port MTB: Stage One

Sapphire waters and sky so blue it looked painted on greeted riders today for day one of the Port to Port MTB stage race, kicking off at Port Stephens on the NSW mid-north coast. Pelicans, dolphins, retirees and over 200 nervous, pumped up riders – it was one hell of a scene, with the race beginning right on the beach at Nelson Bay marina.

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“If you’ve spent much time in the area, you’ll be aware that most of NSW’s sand has been relocated to Port Stephens,” quipped course director Rohin Adams at the rider briefing. He was only exaggerating a little – despite being the race’s shortest stage at 38km, the sand made it a gritty affair, both in the metaphorical and literal sense.

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Andy Blair, stage one Elite Men’s winner.

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Jenny Fay, streaking ahead of the rest of Elite women’s field.

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The race start may have been a theoretically neutral affair, rolling through the streets of Port Stephens, but the pace was intense, with a healthy contingent of riders in Torq colours driving the pace. It didn’t take long to ascertain the flavour of what this course had in store, with loose, sandy pinches up over Tomaree headland quickly sorting out who had brushed up on their sand-skills.

At the pointy end, race favourite Andy Blair and Torq’s Chris Hamilton broke away, but when they hit the cripplingly steep ‘Vertical Beach’ section – a wall of sand that was un-rideably steep and loose – Blair made his move. “I just like running in sand dunes,” laughed Blair. “I’ve always done well when there’s been a hike a bike, for instance the beach at Cape to Cape. I’m a little bigger than Chris, so I thought I could get away, and when I got over the top with a decent gap, I was able to stay away.”

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Blair digs deep and opens up a gap on the slog of push up the Vertical Beach.

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The Struggle Brigade at Vertical Beach.

While a sandy course is always going to be contentious simply because it’s so hard to ride well, it made for awesome racing. The constant battle of trying to make passing moves when your wheels are choosing their own path, or trying to skip between the firmer patches of trail and avoid the ruts made what could have been a straightforward race into a real challenge. “This is not the kind of stuff you’d normally go out to ride, but that’s what mountain bike racing is about – putting yourself up against trails and situations that aren’t familiar,” said Brisbane’s Pat Campbell in his first stage race.

Elite women’s winner Jenny Fay summed up the excitement of today’s stage brilliantly: “It was all about making split second decisions today, trying to pick your line, trying to work out if you hold a wheel or jump out and grab a different line.”

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The conditions and a bit of luck all worked in Blair’s favour today: “On a stage like today, when it’s sandy, groups don’t really form – it’s not like a hardpack stage – so the ability of teams of riders to work together is neutralised a bit,” explained Blair. What could have been a nightmare mechanical also turned out to be a blessing. “I was running bigger tyres, 2.3” Renegades, at lower pressures than usual for the sand, and I actually burped a lot of air on one of the water bars at the start of the stage, said Blair. Rather than stopping to inflate it, Blair decided to push on. “It turned out to be a bit of an advantage, the lower pressure definitely squirmed around when I hit the road at the end, but it floated on the sand and really helped.” When he checked the pressure at the end of the stage, it was on just 13psi!

With a three-minute lead after stage one, Blair’s job on tomorrow’s monstrously hilly 57km stage is to mark Chris Hamilton closely. Can the big Torq contingent work together to neutralise Blair? We’ll find out in the hills of Pokolbin!

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To view today’s course, click here.