Port to Port got off to a fast start for the invite only time trial - but stage one would always show how things would really lie!
Perfect weather greeted more than 1100 riders to the first stage of 2019’s Port to Port, taking in the big climbs and flowing trails of the Hunter Valley wine region. A few surprises and mechanicals affected the elite men’s field, racing for the first time in pairs in this year’s first edition of the Epic Series. The Tassie Devils, Ben Bradley (Hobart) and Alex Lack (Launceston) took the stage win over 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.”
Out on course at Port to Port
For the field of team and solo riders, the day began with a neutral start through winery roads, then straight up one of the most intimidating climbs of the week, a monster 20-odd-kilometre climb that took most riders the best part of an hour to tame. At the top riders were greeted by dusty, flowy singletrack over the ridges of the Broken Back Mountains before plummeting down the Wishing Well, a reimagining of the much-loved Rabbit Hole descent of previous years. After a tough grovel out of the valley floor it was back on the route in the reverse direction, riders resting their legs eventually down long, skatey fire roads before some viciously lumpy farm roads home to the finish line at Spicers Hunter Valley.
GC leaders the Ward brothers came to Port to Port with a plan focusing on perfect teamwork and so far it’s working. “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…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."
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 distanced 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.
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. “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, said Holly.
With another day of perfect weather on the cards, riders have plenty to look forward to tomorrow as Port to Port rolls away from the hills and into the flowing singletrack of Killingsworth for 42 kilometres of fun.
1 WARD BROS 01:51:29
2 TASSIE DEVILS 01:51:59
3 TREK SHIMANO AUSTRALIA 1 01:52:44
1 SAM N KATE 02:10:57
2 SPECIALIZED-SHIMANO 02:28:36
3 TREK SHIMANO AUSTRALIA GIRLS 02:30:15
1 SRAM MERIDA AUS 02:05:10
2 PUSHYS SHIMANO CANNONDALE 02:14:19
3 PIVOT SHIMANO 02:15:35