The number of riders swelled today, with loads of savvy locals joining the action, as the course sampled many of the best trails in Newcastle region. This stage has evolved into something really cool; it’s not just Glenrock network that’s the standout, but there’s loads of brilliant, twisting singletrack in the Redhead and Whitebridge region now too.
The excitement levels became quite frantic as we neared the much-hyped trails of Redhead and Whitebridge. Why so much hype? The generous locals have been beavering away building really nice singletrack for the event and it was a real treat to have a good run at it today. Twisting and turning through the woods, all you could hear was positive vibes.
The mad dash down to the beach was a wild one, and the adrenaline kicked in when the trail turned to sand. While riding on a beach might not be everyone’s cup of tea, the experience will not be forgotten. Some people possess the magical ability to float on top of the sand, whilst many others sink in and are forced to push. Hey, it makes for great photos and video, can’t argue with that.
The blissful singletrack of Glenrock was a damn fine way to sign off the week, great flowing singletrack and fast, twisting descents that Newcastle locals are treated to at their doorstep. A huge road descent down to the finish with the pumping surf in view was the last of it, with families and friends waiting and cheering as riders crossed the finish line.
Without a single dominant team present this year, the elite men’s race shaped up into a really exciting battle, one which came right down to the wire. Some big questions were asked of Brendan Johnston, especially by Cam Ivory and Tasman Nankervis, but when push came to shove, Johnston had all the answers. The defending champ hung onto his miniscule 12 second lead in the final stage. “It was very close! Tas nearly dropped me coming off the beach, we had to run the last section in the soft sand, and I’m a pretty hopeless runner!” said Johnston. “But I managed to stay with him over that nasty climb up into Glenrock, and I knew after that that I could probably hang on. I love this style of racing, and I’ll definitely be back to defend my title next year, plus racing Reef to Reef and Cape to Cape as well.
For Tasman Nankervis, his second place marked a real return to form. “I broke my hand in February, but I feel like I’ve finally got back into it this week. I’m a bit bummed I didn’t do better in the fat tyre crit in the end, as it proved a bit decisive, but that’s stage racing and it was an awesome battle with Trekky .”
Cam Ivory may have been bummed to slip back into third place, but at least he got to light it up on his home trails today. “I just went as hard as I could and used up everything I had, but I was probably overcooking it given I crashed twice!” said Ivory. “I had such a fun week, even though I was hurting through most of it. I’ve wanted to do this race for years, and to spend a couple of days in it in the leader’s jersey was a bonus.”
Jess Simpson and Sarah Tucknott could just watch as Holly Harris romped in for another stage win and the overall title, but both of them can leave Port to Port feeling very confident in their form. “I spent everything that I had yesterday, so I wasn’t able to make up any time on Jess today in the end, especially when she attacked right on that last tarmac climb, but I’m really happy with how my week went,” said Tucknott. Simpson’s consistency secured her second place.
“I’ve had a surprisingly good race! The competition was hard, even though some of the other top women weren’t here this, it definitely hurt me this week. This is my pick of the events in my yearly calendar, it’s brilliant. I really love getting in that moto singletrack that’s part of this event, that’s where I can forget about racing and just enjoy the riding,” said Simpson. “It was a good race against Sarah, she’s improved out of sight! Hopefully, I get to race against her at Reef to Reef or Cape to Cape later in the year!”
We’ve been a part of Port to Port MTB since it began and has been a thrill to see this race grow and evolve every year to become the east coast’s premier stage race. With new event owners, Ironman, at the helm, 2018 sees the biggest jump yet for the race. They’ve taken on board feedback from racers and local mountain bikers and implemented some really positive changes while retaining the standout elements that have seen this event become so popular.
The opening stage has shifted from Port Stephens to the Hunter Valley. While the sandy madness of the Port Stephens stage was always good fun, it was a bit of a geographical outlier, and the change makes the event much more centralised, reducing logistical hassles.
A brand new stage has been added for day two, and it’s one that will surely bring a smile to the lips of many and old-school NSW mountain biker. Yes, Port to Port MTB is coming to Killingworth and Mt Sugarloaf! These classic trail networks have undergone a revival in recent years, and it’s great to see them included.
Stages three and four, at Awaba and Newcastle, are largely unchanged, which is a plus as already they’re two awesome days of racing. Read on to get the full course run down from Ironman below, and head to porttoportmtb.com to enter now.
For the 2018 Port to Port event, the course team has made a number of changes to make the ride experience even better than in previous years. The big change for this year is the replacement of the traditional Stage 1 at Port Stephens with a new start location in the Hunter Valley, plus a whole new stage set to feature the single trail of Killingsworth. This change will make the event logistics easier and more accessible for all riders.
A new start format and seeding policy for Stage 1 will also be implemented with wave starts for Stages 2-4 designed to spread the field and add to the overall ride enjoyment for everyone. Our course team is super confident that they have nailed the best course alignment yet – full of challenging climbs, all the best single track in the area and an incredible array of destinations and amazing views.
Port to Port MTB Stage 1 – Hunter Valley / Pokolbin
The traditional first stage at Port Stephens will be replaced with a new start in the Hunter Valley. However, the location and course alignment will be familiar for those who have done Port to Port in previous years as the foundation of the new course alignment is the old Stage 2 through the Pokolbins with a number of key changes to create a loop course format.
As per 2017, the start location will be at the amazing property of Audrey Wilkinson, the stunning winery overlooking the whole of the Hunter Valley. A more epic backdrop you could not imagine for the start of Port to Port 2018, as hot-air balloons will hover overhead as the event begins with a mass start for all riders as they rollout toward the Pokolbin.
The stage will begin in a similar vein with riders being released after the controlled rollout to hit the first climb of Port to Port, a challenging hit up Pokolbin Mountain Rd that will have the legs burning for the first couple of kilometres and well warmed up for the climbing ahead. As you hit the saddle at the top of the first climb you will not be able to help but enjoy the views back over the valley but it will then be head down and back to chewing the bar as the course hits Broken Back Rd and roughly 10km of solid climbing ahead.
Once riders reach the top of the Pokolbins they will then enter a labyrinth of single trail which will form a new loop section for approximately 15km as they wind across the crest above both Deep Creek and Baldy Creek. The course will then swing back on itself around the 30km mark presenting a sweet descent which will bring participants back down Broken Back Trail toward Foxy Gully and the Watagans Track.
The course detour off Pokolbin Mountains Rd onto the Watagans Track brings riders to a very technical, fast and rocky descent toward the finish line, where only a short section of backtracks through Fleming Gully need be negotiated to complete the first stage. It is here at the Finish Line at Audrey Wilkinson where the field will be graded into various categories for the new start waves for the following stages.
Sitting at around 45km in distance with 1034m gained, the first stage is highlighted by the opening climb which is rated Cat 2 – 11km in overall length and an average grade of 3.5%
Port to Port MTB Stage 2 – Killingworth
In designing a new stage for the 2018 Port to Port, the team focused on the historical network of single track around the Killingworth area. The small town of Killingworth sits in the middle of Pokolbin, Newcastle and the Watagans.
Killingworth was one of the major NSW trail centres in the 90’s but dropped away as areas such as Glenrock and Awaba were developed around Newcastle. In recent years a band of local trail builders have been active in the area, restoring the trails around Killingworth and also developing a new collection of trails at the neighbouring town of Homesville.
This network of more than 30km of single trail is a destination known for its awesome views of the lower Hunter Valley to the north whilst it also looks south toward Lake Macquarie and east back over the city of Newcastle.
The new stage kicks off with a climb via a series of back roads. With work comes reward and there are multiple payoffs as riders will enjoy the views from the top and the descent which brings the course down into the restored single tracks of Killingworth and then Homesville, to complete the second stage of Port to Port 2018.
Distance – 45km, total climbing – 665m.
Port to Port MTB Stage 3 – Awaba / Watagans
This stage has fast become the one that Port to Port is renowned for as it features all of the best parts of what the Hunter Valley and greater Newcastle region has to offer. Designed around the stunning single-track system at Awaba, the course also takes in the Watagans and a loop that includes some serious climbing to start, then one of the best off-road descents anywhere in Oz.
The stage will again start and finish in the town of Cooranbong, located at the foot of the Watagans National Park. This year the new wave start system will allow the course to head straight out to the north of town and through some back tracks around Avondale to get over to Awaba MTB Park. The wave system and new alignment will break up the field so that the ride experience through Awaba is maximised for all – truly one of the best highlights of Port to Port!
The smiles on everyone’s face coming out of Awaba will soon be replaced by a grimace as the epic climb up Mount Faulk looms. A Cat 2 rated climb sees 400m of elevation gained in 9km with an average grade of 4.5%. What goes up must come down and the payday on Stage 3 is huge as riders then enjoy over 35km of super-fast descents mixed with chunks of single track and a couple of pinch climbs on their way back down to the Finish line at Cooranbong.
Stage 3 will sit around 60km in distance with 1200m gained – truly an epic course!
Port to Port MTB Stage 4 – Glenrock / Newcastle
The finale to Port to Port again promises to be a sensational offering of single trail bliss and stunning coastal views. This stage has undergone multiple changes over the evolution of Port to Port but, after the success of the new alignment we introduced for 2017, only a small number of tweaks are planned for this year.
Stage 4 will again begin on the Blacksmiths coastal strip to the north of Swansea. Against a beautiful beach backdrop, the start waves will rollout toward Belmont Golf Course and a connection of trails north through the Wetlands area. The course will again link up with the Redlands single trails then cross Oakdale Rd into the ripping single track around Whitebridge.
Some additions will be made to the trails through Whitebridge with a revised alignment planned to bring the course over toward Dudley Beach. The realignment of trails is still to be finalised in the Dudley area to bring the course into Glenrock from the south via Scout Camp Rd. Whilst the final course is to be locked in with stakeholders, one thing that can be promised is spectacular views and a world-class trail system to follow in Glenrock.
The 2018 version of Port to Port will feature more single track than ever before but it will be debatable if there is a better collection of trails to finish with than the brilliant arrangement which form Glenrock MTB Park. A highlight of Stage 4 since inception, the trails in Glenrock continue to get better and the alignment planned for 2018 will not disappoint.
Finishing back on the coast at Dixon Park overlooking Merewether Beach, the final descent down Scenic Drive is guaranteed to take the breath away! Stage 4 is again planned to sit at just over 40km in the total distance the majority of which is made up of single track. Riders can expect similar elevations to last year with about 600m gained over the stage in a perfect finish to four fantastic days of riding.
Wave Start System
For 2018 we will be introducing the seeding and wave start system at Port to Port. This is a system that has been in place at the Cape to Cape for the last 6 years and will help manage the increased number of participants and also add to the overall event ride experience.
The system sees a mass start for everyone to begin Stage 1 at Audrey Wilkinson. Elite entrants will be automatically seeded at the front, with the rest of the field asked to assemble under self-seeding based on your ability and expectations. The start of this stage is a controlled rollout for the first 4km giving all participants plenty of time to find their spot in the field.
Riders will then be released to race as the climbing starts and the next 11km will seed the field quickly based on their overall fitness and riding ability. To add, there is then 15km of single track followed by another 15km dominated by fast descending, so the first stage will be a great overall assessment of riding ability.
Back at the finish line at Audrey Wilkinson riders will be allocated coloured dots representing the waves they will be allocated into to begin the stages to follow. The allocation will see 150 riders in the elite group followed by separate waves of 100 which will start 5 minutes apart for each of Stage 2 to 4 for the rest of the event.
Riders who have a mechanical or other issues on Stage 1 and think they should have been allocated to a higher wave start can apply to Race HQ for special consideration. Also if riders find themselves allocated into a wave that separates them from a group they are riding with they can choose to be allocated back to ride in a later wave with their friends.
Start times for each of the different wave colours will be promoted at the Event Information tent at the Finish Line of Stage 1 and the start lines at the following stages. It will be the responsibility of all riders to know your wave colour and corresponding start times for the remaining stages. All riders are encouraged to be on site at the Start Line well before the first wave begins as with only 5-minute gaps between each group the whole field will leave within a half hour period for Stages 2 – 4.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We love coming back to Hamelin Bay for the stage two- the natural beauty this area has to offer is on another level. The bay’s picturesque reefs, untouched white beaches and Peppermint trees are a visual delight.
The bay is also known for its friendly stingrays. Some riders were lucky enough to witness these intriguing creatures next to the boat ramp, feeding on scraps left by fishermen.
‘It’ll probably go off right from the start,’ said Reece Tucknott when asked about how today would pan out at the front of the field. Spot on Reece!
For the elite men, the day began with Chris Hamilton teasing an attack on the road rollout, before Trek’s Michael Potter launched up the first climb in a series of race-animating moves that had the fans frothing.
The rest of the race was all about the lead group of seven, who drove the race at a frenetic pace.
Early attacking from Potter kept himself and teammate Brendan Johnston together, whilst the ever-consistent Torq team surprised no one with Tasman Nankervis and Hamilton also in the lead group.
As the stage rolled into the snaking driveway past Xanadu Winery’s vineyards, Potter launched another ambitious attack. His valiant effort ended well short of the line with Kyle Ward pedal-mashing himself into pole position.
Eventually however, it was some wily racing from race leader Cam Ivory, who timed his move perfectly to take the win and retain the yellow jersey. A great comeback from Johnston, who was struggling earlier landed him second place, with Hamilton in third.
The elite women’s race was no less exciting. For the majority of the stage Peta Mullens and Samara Sheppard were neck and neck, with Jenny Blair also in the mix. On the tough ascent out of Contos Beach the determination of Mullens and Sheppard was plain to see- it was stage racing at its finest.
Like the men before them, the race came down to an exciting sprint finish. Mullens moved early, but held a long sprint over Sheppard, showcasing her power yet again. Jenny Blair rolled in just behind- the women’s race is thrilling and we can’t wait for more!
The singletrack in Boranup forest is one of the highlights of the stage. Soft, tacky black soil means riders can trust the traction, and local Cape to Cape legend Michael Brookes from Bootleg Brewery had gone through the snaking lines with a rake and a leaf blower beforehand. Does it get any better?
Adding to the stoke levels, the local trail builders have been hard at work this year, adding more raw, flowing singletrack throughout the stage. From the whoops and hollers, it appeared riders appreciated the hard work. Today’s stage was an almost perfect mix of prime singletrack, scenic fire roads with high speed descents interspersed with the odd road section for riders to throw down some fuel.
In the mens masters, Jon Gregg continued his utter dominance, rolling in with the second elite group and retaining a healthy lead in his category.
In the womens masters, Marie-Claude Baars also retained her lead with another strong ride.
Riders were elated to lie down on the grass outside the Xanadu Winery after the tough stage today, but for the elite men and women the day isn’t finished yet with the Sundown Shootout this afternoon.
There’s been talk traded amongst the top riders about who’ll take the cake on the technical Sundown Shootout course in front of a huge crowd- keep an eye out tonight for all the action!
1. Peta Mullens – 02:14:08
2. Samara Sheppard – 02:14:11
3. Jenny Blair – 02:14:48
4. Briony Mattocks – 02:19:04
5. Jo Bennett – 02:19:04
1. Cameron Ivory – 02:00:19
2. Brendan Johnston – 02:00:20
3. Chris Hamilton – 02:00:20
4. Tasman Nankervis – 02:00:20
5. Craig Cooke – 02:00:22
For a full list of results, click here!
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.
Finally, 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!”
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!
“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.”
Reece 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.”
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.”
“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
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!
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.
At 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.
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!”
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
The 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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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
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).
Crowne Plaza Sundown Shootout
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:
We caught up with Dean after Stage 1 of this year’s Port to Port MTB and asked him all about the best strategies for recovery, so you can back up to race day after day.
You’ve just done your first stage, you’ve come out of the gates super hard, and now you’ve got another three days to go – what should you be doing to recover properly?
The thing is with stage racing, it ‘s not like one day race – the key to backing up each day is ensuring you get those carbohydrate stores built back up. Now there’s an optimal window of about 15 minutes to half an hour after you finish racing, before your body starts to go into what I call scavenger mode. That’s the time in which you need to be looking to get your carbohydrate stores topped up, so your body doesn’t go into scavenger mode. Because it’s not a huge time window, you should aim to have your food pre-made, ready to go as soon as you get back.
It’s an all-day thing, if you think ‘I won’t each too much so I feel lighter for the racing tomorrow’, you’re fooling yourself. The more you eat, the more carbs you’ll have for later in the race. If you starve yourself during the race, you need to get it back in. Don’t fool yourself – getting plenty of carbs in right after the stage is the key.
And what kind of things people be eating, and how should they take it on?
You’ve got two main options, either a specifically made recovery product or ‘regular’ food. Proper recovery products which are mixed with water, in a shake form, in which the serving size is based on your weight, are going to allow you to digest and absorb the carbs quicker. With regular food, it is harder to make sure you’re getting enough carbs and protein, which is were a formulated recovery drink helps.
If for instance, you don’t have the opportunity to eat straight away, what should you do?
Oh look, of course getting the carbs on board later is still much better than not eating at all. But really, you need to build these habits in training. It’s like drinking on the bike – if you’re not doing it in training or in your regular riding, you just forget about it. It has to become part of your routine. In some ways, making sure you eat for recovery is like preventative medicine – if you put in all that hard work and you don’t get recovery food on board, your body starts to strip from itself, your immune system suffers and you get sick.
What you need to stay away from is anything that has a high fat content – cheesey pizza, battered foods… it blocks your system.
What about the physical side? A lot of people talk about a cool down – is that important?
Yes, absolutely. Once you’ve got your food in, you should try to have a roll around, let your heart rate come down, and get that lactic out of your legs. Don’t just have a sit on the floor and think ‘ I’ll feel better later’, because you won’t!
Obviously a lot of people will head to the pub for dinner, have a big meal and a beer or two. Is that ok? Should you be having a big meal?
Look, it is ok, it’s beneficial to have a big meal. But what you need to stay away from is anything that has a high fat content – cheesey pizza, battered foods – because what that fat does is actually slow down the carb delivery. So if you go out after a stage and have a massive pasta but drown it in cheese, then it doesn’t really matter what you eat tomorrow, because all that fat from the cheese has actually blocked your system, because your body is trying to process the fat. So the less fatty stuff you have, the quicker the carbs will be delivered to your working muscle. That’s the key with your evening meals.
Beer is ok, but it has quite a high fat content – you’re probably better off with wine actually.
So what will your team be eating tonight?
A pasta dish, or some kind of stirf ry with rice and veggies. And then try and get the head down early.
How important is sleep?
A lot of us like to think we’re invincible and we don’t need much sleep, but unfortunately we’re not. The more sleep you can get, the better, particularly in stage racing. Maybe not on the second day, but by the fourth day it’ll really take a toll.
And finally, is beer an effective way to take on carbs?
Ha, for me or you, yes! Beer is ok, but it has quite a high fat content – you’re probably better off with wine actually, it has hardly any fat and it has a lot of anti-oxidants that are good for you. Still, one or two is fine, we’re all here for fun at the end of the day.
“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.
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!
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
- Two shots - both landscape
- Three shots - Big on top
- Four Shots - Big on Left
- Five Photos
- Two shots - landscape and square
- Three shots - Big landscape, two small squares
- Four Shots - All Same Size
- Mobile (new)
- Two shots - vertically stacked, both landscape
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.
“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.
Event website here – http://porttoportmtb.com/
Relive the grand event that is The Cape to Cape MTB.
Melbourne, VIC: The Torq Australia Mountain Bike Team, one of Australia’s most successful and longest standing mountain bike teams, is partnering with Merida Bikes for the upcoming 2015 cross country season.
Torq are excited to announce a new long term sponsorship deal with Merida, a large global bike brand that supports mountain biking at all levels including a very successful association with one of the top mountain bike teams in the world over the last 10 years. Other team partners include Sram, Motion, Complete Wealth, Santini, Flight Centre Active, Met, North Wave, Crank Brothers, Rudy Project, Schwalbe, FTP Training, and the Bicycle Centre Network.
Team founder and Manager Dean Clark said “This team has been our passion since 2006. We have developed more junior riders into national champions than any other mountain bike team in Australia, but more importantly we have also helped them achieve their goals and really work towards helping them develop their cycling careers. Torq are also lucky to be in a position to sponsor many major events as a nutrition brand, getting extra coverage for our team and our sponsors.”
The Team has always had a big development focus at National/Oceania/World Cup level cross country, but have also competed in most major endurance stage races in Australia. The Torq Merida Team for 2015 will have a good mix of male and female riders across all age groups and will continue Torq’s focus on rider development to prepare for the next level of racing, whilst ensuring they have fun in a great team environment.
As part of the new 2015 program there will also be a significant focus on a new junior development with the launch of a new program, the 2 Wheel Academy. The Academy will start with a minimum of five teams setup across Australia using a standard system to ensure promising juniors have the best opportunity to set goals, improve their skills, train under a structured program with team camps, as well as having a clear pathway to link with Elite teams like the Torq Merida team.
Team sponsor and Managing Director of Complete Wealth, Matt Battye, has set a very strong long term vision for the 2 Wheel Academy. Battye said “This is a very exciting development that will set up a structured pathway for juniors across Australia using the philosophies that have made Torq so successful over the years. Within the next two to three years we would like to have about 20 teams operating under our standard support model. This as a fantastic framework for kids to develop as mountain bike riders, while also helping provide skills that will help them achieve both in sport and in life in general.”
The Torq team will ride Merida bikes for the first time in the upcoming Cape to Cape Endurance Stage Race in Western Australia in November 2014 with a formal team launch scheduled for November. The 2 Wheel Academy will commence early in 2015.
You can almost envision the meeting at Pivot HQ, amongst the rocky mesas of Arizona:
“Guys, I really think we should make a hardtail.”
“Whaddaya mean a hardtail? We’re called Pivot – can you tell me where the pivot is on a hardtail? And what the hell would we call it anyhow, this pivot-less Pivot of yours? Hey…. wait a minute.” And so the Pivot Les was born. Well, at least that’s how we like to imagine it.
The crew at Flow have long been fans of Pivot Cycles, and over the years we’ve had plenty of their superbly engineered bikes either in our own personal quiver or on test. Mr Pivot, Chris Cocalis, possesses one of the finest design brains in mountain bikes, and his expertise resonates through the brand and all the way to the trail.
But one of the aspects that generally makes Pivot bikes so appealing is their rear suspension performance. And in case you hadn’t noticed, the Les ain’t got no rear suspension. We’ve seen many a brand come up short when they try to step outside their area of expertise; would the Les live up to our usual lofty Pivot expectations?
[tabgroup][tab title=”Rider details” ]Chris Southwood, 62kg, 172cm[/tab][tab title=”Changes made for testing” ]Fitted Maxxis Ardent Race tyres (tubeless), fitted 730mm Thomson bar, 80mm stem[/tab][/tabgroup]
Hardtails aren’t our bread and butter at Flow. The trails around our HQ are rocky and rough, and riding them on a hardtail is kind of like watching subtitled television – less fun and requiring too much concentration. But the perfect opportunity to give the Pivot a real test was on the horizon, with the four-day Port to Port MTB stage race coming up. Having already checked out much of the course, we knew that it was well suited to a hardtail, and within moments of clapping eyes on the Pivot it got the nod for the job.
The Pivot has a look about it that we loved from the very outset; it’s a carbon hardtail without fear, with pin-striping that wouldn’t be out of place on a souped-up Valiant. The front/centre measurement is long, the rear end is very short, the head angle a little slacker than most cross country hardtails, and it’s equipped with wheels that can take a beating. It’s a bike that eases the hardtail learning curve and doesn’t punish you too much when you forget you don’t have five-inches of travel. In sum, the Les is exactly the kind of hardtail you want if you usually ride a dual-suspension!
Power transfer and direct, confident handling are two hallmarks of Pivot bikes, and the Les frame reflects this: the head tube area is whopping, and it’s mirrored by a tremendously stiff 92mm press-fit bottom bracket junction. In comparison, the more flattened profiles of the top tube and seat stays look rather svelte, but it’s all about factoring a little bit of compliance into the ride.
While we weren’t masochistic enough to do so, the Les can be easily converted into a single speed too. The Swinger dropouts have a unique, indexed chain-tension adjustment system, allowing for single speed use without the need for a chain tensioner. Out of the box though, the frame is set up for geared use, and the single speed dropouts are available separately. One the topic of dropouts, the Les comes with a lovely DT-made 142x12mm rear axle, which is a nice touch.
Keeping the rear end short is absolutely key to good 29er handling, and at 434mm the Les is fairly compact in the chain stay department. Widely bowed seat stays and a slight curve to the seat tube (and the added fact that our bike had no front derailleur) ensure that there’s still plenty of tyre clearance, which would certainly become a boon during the incredible mud we encountered on Day 2 of the Port to Port MTB stage race.
Internal gear cable routing is kept hassle free with a large access port under the bottom bracket shell, while the rear brake is kept external for simplicity and ease-of-maintenance.
With a $7000+ price tag, it’s no surprise that the Les has components that leave very little room for upgrading. SRAM’s formidable XX1 groupset is a highlight, as are the Stan’s Arch EX wheels and FOX Float Factory fork. Still, we did make a few changes to the bike before race day – in a stage race environment, the reliability of your bike is so important and the last thing you want is to be carrying out undue maintenance each night when you’re shagged. Some of the tweaks we made were about confidence, some were about comfort.
The Magura MT-8 brakes were removed in favour of a well-loved set of Avid XO Trail brakes. While this change added weight to the bike, we didn’t have any spare parts for the Maguras available, and previous experience with some temperamental Magura stoppers left us wary. The tyres also had to go. While the Stan’s wheels are tubeless-ready, the Kenda tyres seal up about as well as flyscreen! We opted for the new Maxxis Ardent Race in a 2.2″, and they ended up being the perfect tyre for the job, with a robust casing and fantastic grip.
We also swapped out the cockpit. The Les has a long top tube and with the stock 100mm stem and 740mm bar, it was too much of a stretch for our test rider. It’s unlike us to go narrower on a handlebar, but in the end we settled on a 730mm Thomson bar combined with an 80mm stem. With the stem flipped and lowered as far as it would go, the riding position was perfect! With all these changes made, the Les weighed in at just over 10.3kg,
Back on the subject of the drivetrain, the Les came equipped with a 30-tooth chain ring. Our initial thought was to change it for something a little bigger, but we ultimately left it in place and we’re incredibly happy we did! We lost count of how many times riders asked if they could borrow the Pivot’s tiny chain ring as we spun by on the climbs – gear your bike for the climbs, not the descents, especially when there’s four days of racing to be done.
Looking back, we really cannot fault the Pivot’s performance during Port to Port. Aside from about 15 minutes during the lumpy third stage when our back lamented not having a full suspension bike, the Les truly was the ultimate tool for the job. Nothing reinforces this fact more than the complete lack of thought we gave to the bike during the actual racing – not a niggle, not a squeak, not one moment of uncertainty.
This is what a great bike achieves, it allows you to worry about your own performance, not the bike’s. But a truly excellent bike goes one step further, compensating for you when your brain and body is too rooted to ride properly. There were plenty of instances when the Pivot carried us through situations that could have ended up very badly on a more nervous bike; the insanely fast and muddy descent from the Pokolbin State Forest on stage 2, or blindly bombing into rocky Glenrock singletrack on stage 4 for instance. But in each case, the stability of the Pivot carried us through.
For a bike that still weighs so little and climbs so well, the Pivot’s frame stiffness and refusal to get thrown off line is pretty impressive. The wide Stans rims give plenty of stability to the tyres, but it’s the feeling of connectedness between the front wheel, your hands, your feet and the rear wheel that really makes this bike shine.
The XX1 drivetrain never missed a shift, even when the derailleur was literally a solid block of mud. At one stage during the race, the sheer amount of mud on the chain ring meant the chain just wouldn’t stay on, forcing an impromptu bike wash in the nearest puddle. The super-fine chain ring/chain tolerances just couldn’t cope with that much mud, but we’re talking about so much crud that the wheels wouldn’t even turn, so we’re not going to hold this against the Pivot!
The FOX Float 32 Factory fork was stellar. It exemplifies set-and-forget performance – we left the fork in the intermediate Trail mode for the entire four days of racing, from the roughest descents to the smoothest tarmac sections. Despite absolutely zero maintenance being administered, the fork’s performance didn’t deteriorate at all, and we couldn’t have asked for a better balance of sensitivity and support.
Pivot have nailed it. With their first carbon hardtail, they’ve managed to capture all the important aspects that have traditionally made Pivot bikes so great, just minus the rear suspension. The added versatility of simple single speed conversion will appeal to some, but for us it’s the way this bike blends the best of a high-performance race hardtail with the confidence of a much burlier bike that has won us over.
The Pacific Ocean has a lot going for it. It’s very beautiful, full of fish and it keeps our east coast beaches nice and wet. It doesn’t, however, make great chain lube!
Still, it wouldn’t be right to race in this part of the world without a bit of beach riding. And just like in the Cape to Cape MTB in WA, we’re sure the run through the sand (and sometimes the water) of Blacksmiths Beach will become a legendary, infamous part of the Port to Port. Even now, just hours after crossing the finish line, the grimacing, cussing and gasping is all starting to blur into one bizarrely pleasurable memory. Funny how that happens…
Today’s fourth and final stage of Port to Port wasn’t all about the sand and salt though. Less climbing and more tarmac was juxtaposed with the killer singletrack of Glenrock, and the pace was grimace-inducingly quick. Today was all about holding wheels, pulling turns and working with willing riders to chase down the next bunch and do it all again. Given that mountain biking is so often a solitary affair – just you versus the trail – the thrill, mania and speed of this kind of bunch riding is a rare joy.
With the weather defying all the forecasters’ predictions and delivering a dry, gorgeous morning, the final day got underway with right on the shores of beautiful Lake Macquarie at Cams Wharf. The first and last real climb of the day hit riders straight out of the gate, before the sound of up-shifting filled the air as the pace wound up for a massively fast run through the streets and paths of Swansea.
The beach loomed large in this stage. For most of the competitors it was a challenge to be survived, but for the Elite men’s race, it was an absolutely critical feature that could potentially see Chris Hamilton snatch the win from under Andy Blair’s nose.
Dean Clarke, the papa smurf of the Torq team, knew that the beach could blow the whole race apart, telling us: “After we recce’d the beach last night, I told the guys: ‘I don’t care if it means you have to become Olympic sprinters, you must leave the beach together with Chris (Hamilton)’.”
Swell/Specialized’s Shaun Lewis and Andy Blair had the same idea. “We knew the beach was going to be really decisive,” said Lewis. “We hit the beach together and had a really good ride along it, only having to stop once or twice, and at the run off the beach it was Chris and I together, with Andy about 30 metres back. I backed off and waited for Andy, then with the two of us together we were able to mow Chris down pretty easily.” For Lewis, who hasn’t had a race to remember, it was a satisfying feeling, being there for his teammate at the crux moment and ensuring the race didn’t become a one-on-one dogfight.
Isolated and outnumbered, Hamilton showed real grit, hanging on through Blair and Lewis’s one-two attacks and surviving until the Torq team reeled the trio back in just for the Glenrock singletrack. “Hamo really lit it up in singletrack, it was really exciting,” said Lewis, but with the only a few kay remaining and no real climbs for Hamilton to use his feathery frame to his advantage, the race ultimately came down to a sprint finish. “Unfortunately the day just wasn’t hard enough or long enough for me to do any damage,” said a content Hamilton, “with so much bike track, I just couldn’t get a gap.”
Andy Blair is a veteran of this kind of racing, and his experience and diligence once again proved crucial, ultimately securing him both the stage win and the overall Port to Port MTB title. “With so many tricky elements on the run-in to the finish, the recce I did last night really helped,” explained Blair. “The plan was to lead Shaun out, but it was so hectic and that’s not the way it panned out. I really owe the win to him, he rode so hard on the beach to ensure he was there when we left the sand so we could isolate Chris and put the Torq guys on the back foot.”
In the Elite women’s race it really was the Jenny Fay show once again. It’s no secret that Fay is the queen of marathon mountain biking in Australia at the moment. She benchmarks her performance against the Elite men as much as she does against her fellow female competitors, and even though the early parts of her stage today didn’t go as smoothly as planned, she still powered to the stage win and overall victory.
Torq’s Em Parkes displayed incredible consistency for a young rider, taking second position for the third time this event, and locking in the same position overall. After turning it on yesterday, MarathonMTB’s Imogen Smith couldn’t find the legs for silver, taking out third for the stage and the race.
For the riders counting the hours not the seconds, today’s stage was a great way to wrap up four amazing days; the blast through Glenrock’s buff trails was capped off by a run along the coast and right into the gateway to the port of Newcastle at Nobbys Beach. With the sun refusing to be masked by clouds that held off just long enough, riders stretched out on the grass while pelicans soared above. Countless times we saw riders shake their head and remark how long ago the race start felt; in just four days, a lot of ground was covered, a lot of limits were pushed, friendships (and rivalries) were formed, and all kinds of personal challenges were overcome.
Stage racing is a real adventure, it’s a completely different way to experience mountain biking, and that’s why we love it. As a first year event, Port to Port MTB was a huge success. Undoubtedly there’ll be some refinements next year, some new trails (maybe less beach), and certainly there’ll be more riders. Whatever happens, we’ll be on the start line again in 2015. See you at Port Stephens next year.
No matter how much you think you’re used to it, getting woken up by an alarm clock is always a bit horrible. The sudden shock as it bursts rudely into your slumber is never pleasant, reminding you that you’ve got somewhere to be, something to do. As much as we’d all love to sleep until our body has had its fill, it ain’t going to happen – that’s the reality of the world we live in.
Mountain bike stage racing can be a little bit similar; one minute, you’re in heaven, the next, you’re slapped in the face by the reality of the challenge ahead.
Stage 3 of the Port to Port MTB played that scenario out perfectly. The day got underway amongst the beautiful rolling slopes of Mt Bright, at Briar Ridge Vineyard. With morning mist clumped in the nooks of the gullies, it was an idyllic setting and we’re sure that many a rider would’ve been happy to park up until the cellar door opened. But the rude awakening was coming up fast, in the shape of a four kilometre-long, granny gear grind to the ridgeline high above. Good morning, it’s time to get to work!
The silver lining? With the shock of the initial climb out of the way, the rest of the stage trended downwards, including one section of the Great North Walk that was particularly cheese grater-esque. After yesterday’s roll in the mud, the course director had decided some reprieve was needed, and the call was made to chop 10km of particularly squishy jeep trail out of the stage.
What remained was 53km of rolling, sometimes rutted, super-fast single and double-track, with a trail surface that constantly morphed underneath your treads. One moment you were humming along on hardpack, the next you were surfing the bike as the wheels shimmied in a patch of greasy clay.
Much like stage one, where last-minute line choice in the sand was critical, today’s stage kept you second-guessing – do you risk riding through the puddle (some of which could swallow a 29” wheel whole), or skirt around it? Do you commit to railing that rut in the knowledge it might disappear into a gully, or try to ride the crown of the trail?
The Elite field didn’t seem to be troubled by those kinds of questions, maintaining an incredible average speed that saw the men hammer through the stage in well under two hours, before flying into the dramatic, eclectic and slightly eerie Richmondvale Rail Museum.
Once more, Jenny Fay rode away from the other Elite women and wasn’t to be seen again, leaving Em Parkes and Imogen Smith to duke it out in her wake. This time it was Imogen who had the upper hand, capitalising on her recent climbing form to turn the screws early in the stage and stay away from the young Parkes.
In the men’s field, a youthful train of Torq riders drove the pace, but race leader Andy Blair wasn’t about to be broken by their efforts. Still, as they say, it ain’t over until the heavily-set lady sings; within the final kilometre, the claggy clay got the better of Andy Blair’s drivetrain. With his derailleur locked up, Blair was forced to run, carry and scoot, in full-blown harm minimisation mode, after the Torq trio of Chris Hamilton, Tasman Nankervis and Benny Forbes and who painted all three podium spots bright orange.
For Blair, it was a very tough break. Andy has been racing mountain bikes for longer than many of the Torq riders have been alive (yes, literally), but all that experience can count for nought when Lady Luck flips you the bird. But that’s racing, and now suddenly the whole game has shifted dramatically.
Blair’s lead has been savagely chopped to 28 seconds, an amount that would be a healthy buffer in most circumstances, but not when you’re short on teammates. With Shaun Lewis by his side as a fellow Swell/Specialized rider, Blair will need to rally some other riders to his corner to help him ward off combined firepower of the huge Torq contingent eager to deliver Chris Hamilton (or as Blair called him, “the motor bike with legs”) the win in the inaugural Port to Port MTB.
Stage 4, Super Sunday, will roll out from Cams Wharf at beautiful Lake Macquarie tomorrow, before threading through the singletrack of Glenrock and into Newcastle. See you at Nobbys Beach, where the first king and queen of Port to Port will be crowned.
Now it’s the east coast’s time, the same crew will bring us four days of racing, from Port Stephens, to the Port of Newcastle, NSW in May 2014. From the rolling sandy trails around Nelson Bay, out to the rugged mountain ranges above the Hunter Valley and the fast run into Newcastle, it’s sure to be a great ride. And a real adventure, exactly what we love about stage racing.
In its inaugural year, Flow journeys up to the region to find out exactly what the race planned on taking in, the trails, the region the scenes and off the bike activities.
What are our thoughts? It’s a challenge, in a beautiful setting.
So, play the video and soak in the images as we paint the picture of how this event will take you through some very fine country, this May. See you there.