The 2016 Port to Port was the 3rd running of the event, and not only was it the largest yet with about 40% growth from 2015, but it has probably been the best received as well. Stages 3 and 4 took in some of the best singletrack in the area, in both Awaba and Glenrock mountain bike parks - plus plenty of climbing into the ranges, and blasting along the beautiful coastline south of Newcastle.

Given that four days of mountain biking can take a toll on the body, mind, and the annual leave, the Port to Port event crew allowed racers to enter one day, two, three or four. With some of the best trails coming up in stages 3 and 4, it was no surprise the field swelled for the weekend.

Port to Port MTB

Action packed Awaba

The brisk and drizzly start at Cooranbong was soon forgotten once riders entered the singletrack at Awaba after the long neutral road start. Being about a 2hr drive from Sydney, and close to Newcastle and the Central Coast - the trails of Awaba are well-known to most. The colourful stream of riders entering the trails were set for a blast, as the trails were in tip top shape.

But after a lap of flowing trails and some steeper climbs, we were dumped onto the major climb of the day. We went up and up, through the Watagans National Park. The temperature dropped, and views to the coast showed the sea glimmering in the distance.

Like most climbs, you're never truly at the top until you're going down, and after some undulations that's exactly what we did.

The trails rolled out in front of us, into moto trails and back onto doubletrack, through natural whoops and rutted corners. It was a blast! But later on some of the marking might have been a bit off - a few people went off course. The majority followed the right route but there was confusion when a group of riders who have been finishing around 20th were applauded for the stage win as they crossed the line.

These sorts of things are tough work for organisers and racers alike. Quesitons fly and tempers flare. The case here was that most people went the right way - the majority did. There may have been some course marking issues with locals moving signs, or maybe someone at the front of a group missed a sign. Who's to say. The event crew came out with a commendable decision:

“The Port to Port MTB would like to apologise for any problems you may have experienced in Stage 3 today that contributed to the course being longer, or shorter than it should have been. This in turn may have affected your race time and position.

In the spirit of the Port to Port MTB and Cape to Cape MTB we want everyone to not only finish, but to come away with an awesome ride experience. Part of that ride experinece is how things are dealt with if things go wrong.

We have examined all of the evidence we possibly could. The results we have come up with and published are the best outcome from an unforseen and difficult situation.

Thank you to everyone for your patience and understanding in the matter.”

Samara Sheppard was awarded the win on the stage, and Kyle Ward battled for a valiant stage win, which edged him closer on GC too.

Full results are online.

Glorious Glenrock

With one day to go, riders were a gaggle of smiles, plans and nerves on the startline of Cams Wharf on Lake Macquarie.

I sat today's race out to instead feed Imogen Smith who was in a close fight for 2nd place with Em Parkes in the Elite women's race.

Port to Port MTB

It's a different day when you're not on the bike - but the racing is still very real! Rushing to the car once they set off, arms laden with warm clothing, I headed straight to the first place we would be best to pass a bottle up - the start of the Fernleigh Track. An old railroad, I waited near the service dirt road in the reserve that would turn onto it. In time, Paul van der Ploeg stormed along - solo and with no one on the horizon. Suffering with a heaviy bruised tailbone, PVDP seemed to have found a good stage to target, using the flat middle section to gain a big advantage on the field.

Next up it was the rest of the elite field, full of red Trek jerseys and orange Torq jerseys. The next few groups were smaller until Samara Sheppard was through in a group of 3, then in a larger group Em and Imogen, with Bec Locke just on the back. I wanted to see more but it was time to run to the care to get to Glenrock!

Passing some riders who were off on the bike path, I drove along the coast, spotting riders in the bush reserve at different times. Approaching Glenrock, I found a good spot on the climb to the trail entrance, in time to see Paul come through, grimacing with the effort, before all the groups as before, but thinning out a little. Samara came through almost alone, and in time Em and Imogen came, with just a couple of other riders around.

Leading lady @samarasheppard @porttoportmtb heads into Glenrock.

A photo posted by MarathonMTB (@marathonmtb) on

Feed done it was time to rush back and negotiate the traffic to Dixon Park, my race continued as then getting a park was even harder! I got there in time to see Paul van der Ploeg taka a great win right out the front of the beach, with an epic swell in the background.

Port to Port MTB

Over a minute later Kyle Ward led Michael Potter and Reece Tucknott home, the trio having charged hard after race leader Tristan Ward tore a tyre in a grassy trail. Ward had excellent team support and got a wheel, and two riders buried themselves to help him limit the losses. Which he did exceptionally, giving some time to Kyle but holding GC by about 15 seconds, with Reece Tucknott in 3rd.

Port to Port MTB

Samara Sheppard crossed alone for the women's win, and Em Parkes rode to a super strong 2nd after a constant battle with Imogen all day, who finished 3rd, but 2nd on GC.

Port to Port MTB Samara Sheppard won solo - a class above.

Port to Port MTB Em Parkes came in 2nd, securing her 3rd place overall.

Full results are online.

Port to Port MTB How many bike races end at the beach... and with good surf too? Newcastle really put it on today.