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– words by Robbie McNaughton - photos by Josh Stephenson & Mick Ross (Flow Mountain Bike)
It’s not every day that a major event swings through your home town, or in the case of the Port to Port Mtb, completely envelopes it!
When initially asked to be a part of the Port to Port MTB event we @ Drift Bikes looked at many things when considering whether to come on board as official race support or just support our riders along the way and compete in it ourselves. Logistically the event seemed a big pill to swallow and adding half our workshop and spares to the planning process made the event a big commitment, but Drift Bikes ain’t scared of a little hard work. And man (collectively speaking), was it worth it!
Before we had even made it to the Thursday we were fortunate enough to see Andy Blair and Jenny Fay in store to collect some last minute product for the days ahead including the new Evade Helmet and some fresh rubber. Clever reconnaissance work by Andy had led him to choose Renegade Control tyres of the 29x2.3 variety. This choice came about from the large amount of sand sections scheduled for stages 1 and 4. Andy opted for the control sidewall, which reduces the tpi count for the casing, adding weight (100 grams for the pair) but increasing cut resistance considerably.
But perhaps the sweetest thing about Andy and Jenny rolling into the store was that they brought Andy’s SW Stumpjumper HT 29 with them, complete with the soon to be released RS1 fork from Rock Shox.
Day 1 – Dolphins, sand and the vertical beach
This is one of the best days work I have ever done. Setting up waterside @ Nelson Bay left a fuzzy feeling that continued throughout the entire weekend. The event organisers had done us proud and positioned us at the waters edge with crystal clear sand bottomed water only metres away. We we’re loving it.
There was a massive influx of work from the minute the van opened. People had forgotten things, their “pre race service” had left spray lube all over their rotor and pads and others simply needed a tube. But perhaps the biggest thing we noticed right out of the gate was the lack of preparation that goes towards the bike. Never underestimate how much better your weekend can be if you spend as much time preparing your bike as you do preparing your body for the event. The disappointment on people faces or the stress we witnessed first hand as people scrambled to make a very tired bike into something that was ready to race was enough for me to want to write the following words of warning/wisdom.
No matter how much you think the bike is going ok, get an experienced 3rd party to look over it, then go and ride it and look it over and check that everything is in order. Race preparation for your bike is not about how well it rode on the last training ride, it’s about checking over the potential areas for failure and making a closer inspection of each and every part.
Another picturesque winery start line greeted riders for the Stage 3 start at Briar Ridge. In similar fashion to the previous day, this stage also started with a mental climb, at least this time nowhere near as long at only 5km instead of 10! The climb and the super fast descent skirted the bottom end of the Pokolbin State Forest with the course then heading east toward Abernathy along some rolling hills and old trainlines. Heading north towards Neath the course elevation stayed fairly steady with all of the hills being short, especially in comparison to the start!
Despite being a mountain bike race don’t underestimate what pushing to stay with a group can do to your overall time. There was some definite benefit as we exited the Pokolbin area and took turns along wollombi road, but aside from the obvious wheel sitting that goes on during the faster road sections, a good group will point out obstacles and provide another set of eyes for what lies ahead. That doesn’t mean you trust them with your life however.
The big thing with the port to port race is you are not racing on closed roads, so despite the desire to put your head down and just truck along, you need to be constantly mindful of traffic, even when in the bush. Remember that it isn’t the 99% of people who are aware that collects you unawares, it’s the 1% that don’t read the signs!
I for one was pretty happy with Stage 3 as I really don’t think I could have carried the same pace had the course been more brutal. The other bonus was finally catching up to leg weapon Jake Pattison who I rode the final couple of km’s with. Jake ended up 11th in Masters Men Category 1 with a 52nd placing overall out of the 147 4 Day competitors! The finish of stage 3 was like going back in time as the course meandered through the Richmond Vale Rail Museum. Rusting carriages and tired old workshops overshadowed some tired riders as they pushed to the line with only 1 day left to ride.
Day 4 – Where Dolphins Walk
Stage 4 is where the whole event really hit home for me. This event has the potential to be on the world calendar and it is right here on our doorstep. Setting up the tents on Sunday morning at Nobby’s beach as the drove of backpackers were moved on to make way for Shimano’s massive blue shipping container display of the new XTR, it really sunk in the fact that we are so lucky to live where we live. There are so many trails that are yet to be considered as this event builds momentum and despite the day 4 course having a very heavy road bias, it was still exciting to be gearing up to race on our very own home trails. For the final day I switched the Roval Control Carbon SL wheels from the Camber Evo into a Crave Pro, due mainly to the fact that the course was primarily hardtail territory. I realised halfway up the first climb from the start at Cams Wharf how much easier I could have done the last three days but that insight will have to wait till next years race!
Fun Fact: It was great to see Cams Wharf play host to the start line as Cameron Ivory is doing really well on the world stage and this will only add value to this pocket of land owned by the Ivory family. The wharf is more of a jetty and is quite run down but the lake still offers a great view. From the start the course climbed its way through Murrays Beach before heading across Swansea channel and up to Blacksmiths Surf Club. Here is where it got real nasty as it dropped on to the sand for a near 2km sand ride/walk/grovel to redhead. The lighter weight rider seemed to win out here with 55kilo girls dancing across the sand passed droves of 75 kilo plus guys. Wide tyres and low pressures were what was needed for this and to my detriment the 2.0’s on my bike weren’t helping. The sound of the sand running through the brakes was horrible not to mention the sound they made when used for the first time once the sand section ended and the muddy redhead fireroads took you through to the Fernleigh.
Ah the Fernleigh… So to address the elephant in the room, the only way to host a race that uses a cycleway is to close the cycleway. Irrespective of the directive made to riders at the start to be considerate and to share the cycleway with other users, it was always going to breed an ugly outcome without closing the cycleway. Whilst I am all for this race to continue, a definite plan of awareness for all user groups along with less cycleway in general will help to make this event even greater. The course finally swooped into Glenrock just past the Dudley rd Crossing and made a beeline for the picnic table. Here it wrapped around to Snakes and Ladders incorporating seismic, reload and Kenny’s. It dropped riders back out onto Scenic Drive at the top of Yule Rd in Merewether Heights. From here riders were treated to completely closed roads right through to the finish at Nobby’s.
My only criticism of Glenrock was that there is so much more that could have been used to showcase what we have here in Newcastle. It was a shame that people that had come all the way from South Africa and Western Australia only got to ride the glorified fire trail networks along with some of the singletrack. No doubt this gave them a taste but more could be done to truly showcase Glenrock and the draw card it holds for tourism into Newcastle.
I for one am absolutely stoked on this event and for all of our customers who took the punt and gave it a go whether for a day or four. A massive thanks go to all of the Drift Crew for a huge effort over the 4 days both in the store and to Brad at the race as without your hard work, I wouldn’t have got to race my bike. A huge congrats to Freemo for stomping through the 4 days, jetlagged but getting it done all the same and to Josh for putting together some amazing video coverage of the event. Cant wait til next year. I’ll come prepared.
The bike is an absolute beast, far exceeding my expectations!
Staff were exceptional throughout the entire process, I would highly recommend Drift and Trek!
As they say , can be worn of the bike . I have to pairs on for the bike and one for casual outings , so comfortable.
So much grip due to the grub pin layout. Great option when you factor in the price, quality and construction. Only negative would be the thickness in comparison to the more expensive pedals on offer at drift, the price negates this negative though.
Specialized Riprock 16 Coaster Kids Bike
Great communication and nothing was a problem also postage was super quick thanks drift 👍👍