The Port to Port now in its 6th year has undoubtedly become one of the premier MTB events on the Australian calendar. With hundreds of riders coming from all over the country and world to compete, news of the race’s amazing trail network and slick organisation has spread far and wide over the race’s short existence.
2019 was to be no exception with some new stages and trails for riders to look forward to. Also new, the first running of the Port to Port prologue which was conducted in the event centre ‘Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort’ in the world renown Hunter Valley. An area well known for it’s viticulture, subsequently vineyards and golf courses are a plenty in the region. So it makes good sense that the race began with a 1.7km BLAST around the Cypress Lakes golf course for the invited elite riders. A scenic yet demanding sprint around a golf buggy track had riders vying for not only GC time bonuses but also $500 cash for the win. It was the brother duo of Jayden and Kyle Ward from Wollongong who would take the victory in the men’s just milliseconds from the Giant Shimano duo of Brendan Johnston and Jon Odams. In the mixed pairs which is eventuating into a highly contested category it again was a sibling duo who took the win with Holly and Mick Harris from Armidale getting an advantage ahead of the 1st stage. In the women’s pairs from New Zealand Samara Sheppard and Kate McIlroy took the win.
This set the scene for the first open stage where all 800 riders would set off for 48km of dirt road and single track beginning with the brutal Mt McDonald climb. This is the first year the Port to Port has prioritised pairs racing as the flagship category of racing. Hence, a different dynamic at the front of proceedings. Solo entrants were still welcome but are started after the pairs. With prize money focussed on the pairs this is where the red hot competition of Australia’s elite MTB racers were lined up.
From the first climb it was the brothers from Bendigo who set off to an early lead. Carrying form from good results at recent XCM events Russ and Tasman Nankervis put the rest of the field on note and lead over the top of Pokolbin Mountain the halfway mark of stage 1. However disaster would strike the powerful pair as constant tyre issues forced them to continue ‘rim bashing’ to the finish over 90mins down on GC. Similar fate struck the Giant-Shimano duo of Johnston and Odams losing only a few minutes however after some tyre pressure issues. This opened the door to some of the more ‘dark horse’ teams to rise to the occassion. The best of these just flown in from the southern island of Tasmania Ben Bradley and former U23 national champ Alex Lack raced to the victory covering the 48km in just 1hour 52 minutes. Ben Bradley who has many years of international XCO competition in his legs and head remarked on their result- “It was quite unexpected actually, we just stayed with the front of the race (minus Russ and Tas) and managed to split it up a little on the on the final fast deacent and then held on from there… just!”.
Behind the Tassie duo was the prologue winners ‘Ward Bros’ just 13 seconds in arears. Followed by the Trek Shimano team another 14 seconds behind them. We had a chat with the recently modified Trek team of Callum Carson and Tom Green, check out the interview here.
In the mixed pairs the New England sibling stars of Holly and Mick Harris again dominated proceedings taking the win with close to 10 min lead on GC now ahead of team Pushys Shimano Cannondale (Karl Michelin Beard & Emma Viotto) and Pivot Shimano (Tristan Ward & Charlotte Culver). Team MarathonMTB.com (Justin Morris & Imogen Smith) rounded out the top 5.
In the women’s pairs it was again the kiwi’s taking the honours ‘Sam n Kate’ (Samara Sheppard & Kate McIlroy) finished in just over 2h10min and now have a handy lead in GC over the Specialized (Briony Mattocks & Sarah Tucknott) and Trek (Zoe Cuthbert & Meghan Stanton) teams respectively.
Full results here.
Stage 2 tomorrow gives the riders a rest from the harsh climbing in dry and dusty conditions of today. But what is lost in climbing difficulty is made up for in singletrack riding, the racers will convene on the Killingworth and Mt Sugarloaf MTB trails. These trails were used heavily for XCO and DH competition in the Australian calendar in the 1990s and early 2000s so may bring back some nostalgia for the older more experienced racers on stage 2.