Today Port to Port turned to the trails that made the Newcastle and Hunter region famous among mountain bikers more than 20 years ago – Killingworth. Here, the iconic race, that has attracted more than 1100 riders delivered more of the drama and the trails that the event is known for.

Today’s stage took riders up a short stretch of road before ducking into trails and never looking back. The stage was a relatively flat one, with just a shade over 500 metres of climbing over 46 kilometres, but presented a bunch of other challenges: rutted and dusty trails, endless flowing corners, v-ditches and g-outs, and the usual collection of rocks and roots that can claim the tired rider, and even cost them a spot on the podium or gain them victory on GC.

While the Tassie Devils (Ben Bradley and Alex Lack) are in yellow going into day three with a 2:16 lead overall, it was GIANT Shimano’s Brendan Johnston and Jon Odams who recovered from a tough run of luck on stage one and resurrected their chances stealing the show in Killingworth/Lake Macquarie, taking the stage win and making everyone suffer.

The Hobart based Bradley is delighted to be in a strong position at the half way mark but admitted Johnston was on fire and everyone else was just trying to hang on.

“It was another good day for sure and that puts us in another good position overall, but tomorrow is a tough day and I will be feeling it. I probably wasn’t expecting to do this again today, so I will rock up again tomorrow and see what we’ve got. We will try and recover best as we can but anything from here is a bonus. There is a lot of stuff going on out there and lots of people are having issues, so it is about dodging that. Hopefully we continue to get through unscathed.”

Defending champ Brendan Johnston and team mate Jon Odams ignored what had been a horror day one and focused on the job before them, grabbing the race by the throat and giving it a good shake.

“We had to make our own race and we knew we were capable of it. Jon and I have a fair bit of experience in these sorts of events and these trails actually suit us. They are more ‘old school’ and that is how we used to ride, so I don’t mind them, they are super fun and you can get good flow. It was about wearing them down and never letting the pressure off. We made that our tactic, it paid off and we have put the pressure back on the rivals.”

Brendan is drawing on years of experience racing events in the Epic Series, and know that anything can happen, and frequently does.

“Last year I was suffering for the first couple of days as well and managed to win the event overall. Those sort of victories tend to stay with you and you learn never to give up. We still have to move forward and track down the Tassie guys because they were hard to shake. Tomorrow is a different stage and there is the big climb and anything can happen, losing or gaining time. So, we will see how it goes,” Johnston said.

A broken chain derailed the Ward brother’s chances of defending yellow but a disappointed Kyle said they won’t be giving up until the finish line on day four in Newcastle.

“At the bottom of the gully and I went to put some power down to roll through and up the other side of the ridge and ended up busting a chain and damaged the jockey wheel. I had to do some bush mechanics to get it going again. Jayden said ‘Let’s make the most of it and get back to where we can.’ There are so many ways to win and to lose a race and that is how these races go. We will proceed as normal and pretend that nothing happened and we will go to the end of day four as if we were one second off the lead,” he said.

After a disastrous opening stage, the Bendigo based Nankervis brothers Tas and Russ finally got to show what they are capable of with, edging out the Tassie Devils for second place in stage two.

“Yesterday was the best day until the 35km mark. We were feeling good, with a nice lead and it went pear shaped in a matter of seconds when my back wheel exploded and was totally unrideable. The rim broke and I have never really had that happen before, it is a scary experience on a fast descent. We had a nice walk and by the time we got home we had calmed down. Today was a nice opportunity to be able to show what we weren’t able to show in stage one,” Tas said.

Kiwi team “Sam and Kate” have retained the leader’s jersey in the women’s teams with another fun day in the saddle that has seen McIlroy grow in confidence with every kilometre.

“It is a real privilege to be in the leader’s jersey and we had a really good day together and enjoyed the trails. I was blown away by how well Kate was riding the single track. It was super tight and twisty. She has only ridden a mountain bike for seven months, so it was pretty impressive. If we can do as well as we have done, it is going to be a great last two days,” Samara said

“I haven’t ridden a lot of singletrack but following Samara it was just fun,” McIlroy said. “Every time we hit the four wheel drive track I was thinking ‘Where is the singletrack?’ So, I am slowly converting into a mountain biker.”

Racing in the Mixed Teams as SRAM Merida, the Armidale based Harris ‘kids’ have been on top of their game for the past two stages and enjoying each other’s company on the best trails Newcastle and the Hunter Valley have to offer.

“It is going very much to plan,” Michael said. “Holly was on fire and she was leading me through the singletrack and it was great to have a fun ride together on some great trails. The plan is to do it really well tomorrow, there is a big climb and the longest stage. We work really well on the climbs. That is actually our strongest part of our riding. I sit Holly on the front and we just go up together. So hopefully we can stay in front and get a good group over the top of the hill. If that all comes together then it is just cruise on in.”

Tomorrow’s stage takes riders to another epic trail network at Awaba, before sending riders up a behemoth climb into the Watagans National Park, followed by some arm pumping descents.

General Classification

Men

1 TASSIE DEVILS:03:59:46         

2 GIANT AUSTRALIA OFF-ROAD TEAM 04:02:02         

3 TREK SHIMANO AUSTRALIA 04:05:25         

Women

1 SAM N KATE 04:38:32

2 SPECIALIZED-SHIMANO 05:02:11         

3 TREK SHIMANO AUSTRALIA GIRLS 05:09:35         

Mixed

1 SRAM MERIDA AUS 04:31:42         

2 PUSHYS SHIMANO CANNONDALE 04:43:25         

3 DIRT SHREDDERS 04:46:32   

Full results are online.