Port to Port Turns it on and Turns Everything Upside Down

23 May 2019

Newcastle and the Hunter Valley’s iconic four day MTB stage race Port to Port (23-26 May) more than lived up to its reputation on day one, with in excess of 1100 riders experiencing the glorious riding conditions, but with a smattering of mechanicals and the occasional “off’, throwing pre race selections out the window.

The Tassie Devils, Ben Bradley (Hobart) and Alex Lack (Launceston) grabbed a stage win on debut, from Trek Shimano Australia team of Callum Carson and Matthew Dinham. The Ward Brothers (Kyle and Jayden) were third in the stage, but lead the General Classification thanks to a time bonus they earned in yesterday’s fast and furious time trial at Oaks Cypress Lakes.

The Tassie Devils were delighted but a little surprised with their giant killing stage win.

“It was pretty unexpected actually. I definitely don’t think we were the strongest out there. Tas and Russ Nankervis looked the strongest but had some sort of mechanical on one of the last downhills. We just managed to hang in and hold off the front group. We got away on the last really rough downhill and managed to make it stick, surprisingly,” Ben said.

“I have always been keen to do Port to Port but I have always been overseas doing some World Cups, so it generally crosses over. I just haven’t had a chance to do it until this year and I thought why not. Everyone said it is a pretty good event, so we are here and I am loving it. Now it is matter of holding it together over the next three days. I wouldn’t say my training has been non existent but it has been patchy, so I will be interested to see how I go. But we will definitely be giving it a shake.”

Team mate Alex was pleasantly surprised with how well the teamed gelled.

“We’ve never ridden together before, so it was really good. We seemed to have good communication, we are pretty even and working well together which is great. It is nice to get a stage win on our first outing,” he smiled.

The Ward brothers came to Port to Port with a plan and so far, it is working like clockwork.

“We had a plan this morning whether it is up or down hill to never put the second rider under too much pressure. Uphill you could blow them to pieces and downhill you might pressure them into a crash or puncturing. Which happened to some of the favoured teams. Our group consisted of the Tassie crew and Callum and Tom and we knew if we kept together that Jayden and I had the minute up our sleeve because the others were outside the top three in the time trial. I kept the pressure on and drove it to the line and maintained a pretty smooth morning’s riding. There are another three days to come but we couldn’t have asked a for anything better. It is a good place to start but now we have the dreaded early Leader’s jersey to defend. We will wear it proudly and see how we go tomorrow,” he said

Younger brother Jayden echoed his brother’s thought on not getting carried away with the moment.

“Anything can happen with riders next to each other or between the first and tenth wheel. There is a lot that can happen out there, both in your favour and against. It is a long four days.”

Pre race favourites GIANT Australia Off Road Team of Brendan Johnston and Jon Odams, had a day they would rather forget but despite misfortune and mechanicals, they are still very much in the hunt with three days to go.

“It was a busy morning and a fair bit went on. We got distance by Tas and Russ (Nankervis) who were riding pretty well and a bunch formed behind them. Unfortunately, Jon got caught up and went down pretty hard on the fire road across the top, so we lost the group there. We fought on a bit more before my tyre went down, so we stopped to fix that. Once we got going again we were moving alright but we obviously conceded a bit of time. It is mountain biking and it is a four day race, so we are certainly not out of it,” Brendan said.

Bruised and bloodied team mate Jon Odams casually explained how his day was literally turned upside down in an instant.

“I was going along the rolling part and I was mid in the group and hit a tree root and ‘laid it down’ at about 40kmh. I got up quick and we chased on the single track and were bringing them back but then Trekky’s back tyre was going down. We fixed that and did what we had to do to chase back and get home.”

Kiwi debutante Kate McIlroy had a sensational day in the saddle, teaming up with fellow Wellington resident, the experienced Samara Sheppard as ‘Sam and Kate’, for a stage win in her first ever MTB race in Australia.

“It was a hard, fast stage but an awesome mix of trails and I enjoyed having the climb at the beginning and I was just trying to keep up with Samara on the single track. It was a good way to start. I have only been racing MTB for seven months. I did The Pioneer last year after I had been on a MTB for six weeks, so I am relatively new to it but learning quickly. It is awesome being paired up with Samara to watch her lines and see how she rides. I can pick up a lot but I am hoping my road background helps in the coming days with the endurance side of things.”

The mixed teams is one of the most competitive categories at Port to Port and 2018 solo champion Holly Harris is delighted to be sharing the stage with her younger brother Michael in the SRAM Merida team.

“It was a very painful day. Michael is a really strong rider, so I definitely felt some pressure there and I wanted to perform well for him. I am so happy, riding with your brother or sister is really cool. The plan is to just hold it together, we were very careful on the descents and didn’t want a mechanical or anything, so I climbed really hard and consolidated. It is such a strong mixed field that we definitely cannot take anything for granted. We need to be smooth but fast.”

Holly and Michael have been itching to race together and they are loving every minute of it.

“The weather is incredible,” Holly said. “The organisers and wineries have done such a great job. I don’t think you can ride in a better atmosphere. People don’t believe me when I tell them there are literally hot air balloons coming through the fog while we are riding. We are so lucky to be racing in this part of the world because it is one of the highlights of Australia.”

“It is my job to watch the other riders and really look after Holly and do everything I can to help her out and be there for her,” Michael added. “It is really special to have all the families riding together and we have been really looking forward to this race for a while, so it is exciting to finally get it started.”

Team GC Teams

Men

1          WARD BROS                                                             01:51:29           

2          TASSIE DEVILS                                                        01:51:59           

3          TREK SHIMANO AUSTRALIA 1                                    1:52:44           

 

Women

1          SAM N KATE                                                              02:10:57           

2          SPECIALIZED-SHIMANO                                             02:28:36           

3          TREK SHIMANO AUSTRALIA GIRLS                              02:30:15           

 

Mixed

1          SRAM MERIDA AUS                                                  02:05:10           

2          PUSHYS SHIMANO CANNONDALE                              02:14:19           

3          PIVOT SHIMANO                                                      02:15:35           

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