The final stage of the Port to Port aptly wrapped up today in the Port city of Newcastle just north of Sydney. Famous for it’s coal port and steelworks, the strong working class heritage of this town has forged many a strong athlete over the years including 2nd place at this year’s MTB XCO national championship Cameron Ivory. Unfortunately Cam was not on hand to guide Port to Port racers through his home trails today whilst he pursues the XCO world cup. I imagine this was much to the relief of the elite men’s field.
The race today would hug the stunning coastline just south of the Newcastle CBD for a 40km stage which was 80% singletrack. The suburbs of Newcastle really do have some hidden gem’s and today’s stage put them on show for spectators and competitors. From the fishing town of Swansea, the stage departed the local surf life saving club with over 700 riders starting today’s stage it was quite a collection of bikes and bodies at the the starting arch. After a short neutral road section it was almost straight into sandy, grassy singletrack creating a short moment of mayhem as rider’s bottle necked each rider trying to jostle for a good position among the large bunch. For the following 12km it was flat, soft ground single/ double trail this favoured the more powerful riders who could push the gears without any respite. This created a number of groups with the contenders from the TORQ-Merida, Trek-Shimano, Quantum-Pivot, Canyon, FOCUS and Subaru-marathonMTB all represented toward the front.
The race then delved into the seemingly endless, flowy and superbly built single track that typifies the local MTB community. The handy bike handler’s would again have an opportunity to flex their talents with many berms, switchbacks, technical descents and jumps to enjoy. Interspersed amongst these obstacles were a few very steep fire trail climbs that would seemingly lead to the stage victory. Brendan ‘Trekky’ Johnston again attacked his compadres on one of the steep climbs with about 10km remaining he continued to finish solo taking the stage and overall yellow jersey for the 2017 Port to Port. Ryan Standish agin came home with 2nd place today, showing he is on a good year for his MTB career. However, this was not an easy ride to the line for 2nd place for Ryan. He was involved in a 3-up sprint with world 24hour solo champion Jason English and Mark Tupalski. Ryan getting the better of them, followed by English then Tupalski. A return to the podium for English who has recently moved to the area and has a bit of local knowledge on the trails involved.
In the women’s race it was a mission of finding and sticking with a good, fast group in the opening flat sectors to try and establish the lead. As GC was still relatively close Katheryn McInerny (TORQ-Merida) whom was currently in the pink leaders jersey had to be wary of Em Viotto’s (Trek-Shimano) experience in road racing to ensure Em did not slip into a fast group that would take away from her GC lead. In the end it was a day to celebrate for McInerny who won the stage and the pink overall leaders jersey. She now travels to Europe to attend the next few XCO world cup rounds with an eye on qualifying for the upcoming Cairns world XCO championship for Australia. The former Hockey player from the NSW-VIC border area said she enjoyed the Port to Port and felt she was enjoying the long climbs earlier in the race and was able to use her strength her to forge the lead that won her the overall victory. Relatively young to cycling Katheryn obviously has a bright career ahead of her after winning one of the most highly competitive stage races in the country on her first attempt. Em Viotto came through again for 2nd today and overall with Briony Mattocks and Jessica Simpson again proving to be very closely matched. Briony taking 3rd on the stage today but Jessica holding her bronze overall position by only 9 seconds.
Full results including GC standings available here.
That concludes a remarkable 4 days of racing around an area often overlooked in mountain biking circles but deserves to be considered a destination for riding and for holiday alike. If you haven’t done so already, put the Port to Port in your calendar for May, 2018. This race will be in it’s 5th year next year and is proving to be going from strength to strength.