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010 – Interview with Jason Dover (Port to Port MTB Event)

Jason Dover (Race Director of Port To Port Mountain Bike Stage Race) gives the inside word on this incredible event that takes place annually at the end of May in the Hunter Valley & Newcastle regions of NSW.

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Or if you prefer to read the transcript of the full interview, see below –

Welcome everyone, Rod from Sports Adventure here. And today we continue our fantastic interview series where I interview inspirational people from around the world to share their expert insights on exercise, good nutrition, and men’s health.

I am very fortunate today to be able to speak with Jason Dover, Race Director for Port to Port – an annual 4-day mountain bike stage race which takes place on the 25th to 28th of May across the Hunter Valley in Newcastle, New South Wales.

Rod: Mate, for you what’s so good about being involved with one of Australia’s premier mountain bike stage races?

Jason: It is great fun to start with. I suppose, if you can fun and while you are working, it is definitely a bonus. You know when you are out discovering new trails and courses and piecing it all together and working with a great team of people and then you see the event come together and riders turn up with smile on their faces at a finish line, each day, that’s very satisfying.

Rod: Yeah. Certainly. And we will talk a bit more about it but the terrain, the course that the Port to Port runs through it is extraordinary – the different scenery, different bush land, obviously the beach setting and all that sort of thing it is quite unique in so many ways.

Jason: Yeah. So, I mean it’s an incredible part of the world, the Hunter Valley, I suppose bush and other areas around Newcastle including the beaches. So, for me it was a bit of eye opener when we first went over there to explore course options and being from the other side of the Australia out west and having put together Cape to Cape Mountain Bike event down Margaret River way. We are not blessed with a lot of mountains and hills over this side of the world. So yeah going there was quite an eye opener and loved the beaches. I have grown up on beaches up myself on the west side and then to get over there and see places like Port Stephens and Nobby’s in Newcastle and Glenrock, you know? We just found incredible. And then some of the other places we found since around the Hunter Valley Cessnock and Awaba have been brilliant places to ride as well and now all form part of our course.

Rod: Yeah. Certainly. And to be able to link all those together in some sort of stage format – as you guys have done so well – is also an extraordinary effort on its own.

Jason: Yeah. Well, that’s a big challenge suppose, isn’t it? It is like a massive jigsaw puzzle and piece by piece you have to put it together and then at the end each event we pull it apart and put it back together a little bit differently and we keep trying to take rider feedback and experience from the event each year to make the course better and better.

Rod: Terrific. Mate, you mentioned your involvement with other mountain biking events in Australia, can you give us a bit of background as to how this particular ride, Port of Port, got started?

Jason: Yeah. It was really born of the success we had with the Cape to Cape event which we run out in Western Australia and my business partner, Chris Ervine was approached by the New South Wales government to try to setup a similar event over there for them. So we looked at the model that had worked really well for Cape to Cape being a 4-day stage race but also one that had a lot I suppose tourism and mountain bike holiday elements to it that made it not just about going to race in an event but also had a whole lot of added-on benefits in terms of the area you are going to. The Hunter Valley in Newcastle and that whole catchment area was an obvious place for such an event. I had some really good trail infra-structure around there and some incredible places to go and see and then combine that with some spectacular food and wine options and craft breweries and all that sort of thing. It is a perfect recipe to really replicate what a success we had with Cape to Cape out of Margaret River in Western Australia.

Rod: Terrific. Mate, it is obviously growing and growing over the years. It is become a phenomenal event so you guys should be congratulated. Well done.

Jason: Yeah. Thank you. It is like anything that in first few years you do an event and you are always learning. You are hoping that numbers are going to grow and word-of-mouth is always the key. And I think right from the first event we had great feedback and really good rider experience and that’s lead to positive word-of-mouth and then numbers growing. And with the registration for the upcoming event at the end of May, like we are way ahead where we were last year, we weren’t expecting again bumper numbers and probably sort of heading towards the 750 – 800 registration for this year which will be well up on last year.

Rod: Mate that’s superb. Well done. Fantastic. Mate someone thinking about having a crack at stage race and the Port to Port, in particular, what’s something that they should know about this particular event? You touched on mentioned scenery and things and obviously there is a few more mountains on this side of Australia that are not in WA but yeah something that comes to mind there, mate?

Jason: Yeah. That will be my big tip: get your hill legs into you. Coming from WA that’s probably the number 1 thing that we see in terms of the course design that’s quite different from Cap to Cape is… stage 2 and stage 3 in particular have a couple of really long big climbs in them. But they are on road not roads but off-roads dusty gravel type of roads. So it is achievable but you just probably just go through the pain for 45 minutes to an hour of climbs in those stages. I think that’s a real challenge. I know number of guys have come over from Western Australia and raced in Port of Port have found that the most challenging aspect.

I am not going to think if you haven’t done a stage race before, the number 1 challenge in stage race is backing up day after day after day. So, if you are going to do the 4 stages that’s probably the challenge, I would see.

Even for the people that are sort of hesitant about potentially doing the full stage race like the Port of Port still offers a weekend option and I reckon that’s a really good place to start if you are hesitant then sign up for the Saturday and Sunday. They’re two brilliant courses, you get to come into stage 3 which is tough stage but have fresh legs. And then stage 4 that runs at South of Newcastle and finishes up… through Glenrock is an amazing stage that we have upgraded again this year. I think if people are looking for a taste of what a stage race is then that would be my recommendation to start with the weekend package and then there is no doubt after that they will be signing up for 4 days in 2018.

Rod: Yeah. Good one. Well done. Mate, on your website there is a quite a bit of good information there about preparation for it but someone new to this sort of format, mountain bike racing, how will they prepare for an event like this? You have mentioned obviously the weekend format has a little bit different to offer than a 4-day but any quick tips you could share there.

Jason: Yeah. The simple tip is just being top on bike really or on a trainer or on the spin bike. Just get the k’s on your legs and just get him fit really. There are no shortcuts. There is no magic pill to take.

We see guys that mix up their road riding and getting a few kilometers just in the seat and on the road, do really well. And it is just really a case of getting the kilometers into your legs. I think you don’t want to do it all road and that the experience of single track and technical mountain bike riding is still important.

So, my recommendation would be probably still have one session a week where you are doing k’s on the single track but other than that if you are mixing it up and let’s trying to get every second day in terms of just crunching out the kilometers in the lead up. And then back it off come the event and fresh it up and get into Newcastle and get ready to enjoy.

Rod: Good one. Mate, some good tips there. I know a few roadies that had a crack at mountain biking… it is chalk and cheese as you said the single track type of riding. For a roadie is not easy to grasp in an instant. Obviously it is cycling but it is a hell of a lot different to following that white line on the bitumen. Yeah.

Jason: I think we are find with the roadies that have done our event. They get a taste of that single track too and they tend to go away and start to refine their skills off road and get bitten by the bug and then they are back in the following years. Yeah, they really enjoy the event.

Rod: Yeah. That’s a way to hang up that road bike. Yeah trade it for a mountain bike.

Jason: Yeah. They still got the benefit in the k’s in their legs from all of the road riding that they have done.

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Rod: Exactly. Yeah. You are spot on. Mate, what level of fitness does someone need to enter an event like this?

Jason: We have a variety of riders that take part in both of events.

At Port to Port, in particular, to see some great elite riders from the East Coast that will be at the front of the field but 95% of our field are your average person. You need a certain level of fitness but you don’t have to be elite. We often see people come and tough it out for 4-days, finish in the back part of the field but then go away and train better and get those ks in the legs in the following year and come back and do better and I think that’s really one of the goals of doing a stage races that your best times are never going to be the first time you do it, because you are going to learn about where it all goes and you are going to prepare differently in the next time and that’s the challenge that brings you back as to say it might be a great spectacular scenery and all of that that makes it an experience in terms of doing a stage race. And it is also the knowledge that I have done this before now and you can keep going. So, I think until you bite the bullet and do an event for the first time, you are really not going to know how to prepare for it.

But a basic level of fitness. I don’t think you can sort of spend 12 months on the couch and then just decide you are going to buy a bike and ride in it. So there has to be some preparation. Yeah, I think we have seen all shapes and sizes finish the Port to Port.

And we have also got some diversions in the course so if you struggling or out at the backend and you don’t look like you are getting in terms of the cut-off time, there is also a couple of shortcuts we put into for the stragglers to get them home each day and make sure they can still keep going for the following day.

Rod: Yeah. Terrific mate. You’ve thought it all through. And you have mentioned a bulk of the entrants are average type riders which I think could be quite refreshing to a lot of people and thinking a stage race would be probably associated with obviously longer distance road guys that are out slogging it out for long long distances for days on end. And hearing that this probably suits an average type rider with a decent set of legs would be a good for a lot of people to experience.

Jason: Look it is an event that’s really achievable. And in the end you are only ever going to ride with where you ride in the field and where your level of fitness is but what you tend to find at a stage race is the thing is you seem to be riding with the same people for 4-days. So there is a certain level of camaraderie that exist for that at helping other people through and these might be people you have never met before from different states in Australia or different countries around the world. And that’s what makes stage races really unique. We have always found with the Port to Port and Cape to Cape before that that’s part of that special bond I suppose that comes from a stage race and having a beer with someone at the end. Swapping stories from the day with a group of people that you start to ride with day after day, it makes a very unique experience.

Rod: Yeah. Certainly. And you have mentioned obviously with a whole range of levels of riders from the pro’s down to the average guys who are probably seeing a whole range of bike style as well it is not just hardcore cross country guys. You are probably getting the weekend warriors, the trail riders and all those type of people out there having a ball and enjoying themselves off road for 4-days.

Jason: Yeah. Absolutely. I think especially with bike technology now that’s so easy to get your hands on good mountain bike and be able to enter into an event like this and I think that’s the key. You don’t need dual suspension. You don’t need a $10,000 bike to do this event. Your bike obviously has to be in good working order and being serviced and be ready for 4 hard days. But some of the bikes now that are on the market for one or two grand are brilliant bikes. And I think that’s really opened up stage race events to a much wider market.

Rod: Yeah. Certainly. I agree you are spot on. There is some great value for money bikes out there and if you have got coin in your pocket, you might have spent big. You can certainly do that. But just to get out on the trails and enjoy yourself for a couple of grand… yeah in my view, I would still have as much fun on a bike for a couple of grands as I would for 10 grand possibly more because I wouldn’t break the 10 grand bikes.

Jason: Exactly. yeah. I reckon you spend your money on a good seat because that’s what you appreciate after 4 days.

Rod: Spot on. Yeah. Good one. Mate, if you had a secret about Port to Port what would it be?

Jason: We have added a section called Awaba which I had heard about but had never ridden and done in the first year everyone can we kept in here from these locals “Why isn’t Awaba in it? Why isn’t Awaba in it?” we were driving back to Newcastle one afternoon, I think after stage 2 and I typed into my phone Awaba and it popped up that it was only a 10 minute diversion off the highway. We went in and had a look into ride and got blow away. That’s now in it. That’s pretty special place.

Personally, I probably can’t go pass Glenrock. Incredible trails and the setting over looking the surf breaks and the beaches and then coming into Newcastle is an incredible place as well. So to finish there is I think everyone is on a real big high after coming through Glenrock and the incredible views as you head into Newcastle and Merewether Beach and that there is spectacular as well, that surprised me the most just how incredibly beautiful that whole coast line and area is. So between Awaba, Glenrock and actual Newcastle, where we finish, that would be my highlights.

Rod: Yeah. Terrific. I can certainly agree with you. Before I moved out of Newcastle, I have ridden and raced at Awaba and I have ridden Glenrock for probably 15 or so years before almost had a name if you like. It is a sensation spot and something like that is so unique right in the middle of town it is cracker. It really is.

Jason: Yeah it is. It won me straightway so I didn’t need any convincing.

Rod: Yeah. Good one. Good one. Mate, what would be some of the problems that some of the past competitors have come up against with The Port to Port?

Jason: Probably only real problem we have had over the years is just some inclement weather on a couple of days. I think couple of years ago stage 2 was really wet and it was tough. I remember Shaw Lewis, one of the top elite riders, was down in a creek bed at one stage trying to free his hub up and wash all the mud out.

Rod: Fantastic.

Jason: Get his bike going again. Two years ago it was stage 4 that just poured down and turned into a mud bath. I think you can plan for a lot of things in an event we just can’t control a weather, you know? We don’t what we are going to get even day to day and that makes that really adds to whole event experience. And I think that’s probably really been the biggest challenge that we have seen along the way just been down pour through that whole Hunter Valley, Newcastle region and about when it does decide it is really going to rain, it does rain.

Rod: Yes. It so does.

Jason: That’s probably been the biggest challenge over the last years that competitors they get a wet day. They are certainly going to turn up at the finish line covered in mud.

Rod: Yeah. Certainly which again is one of the beauties of mountain biking, isn’t it?

Jason: Well, I am not sure you enjoy when it really happen but when you get to finish line you do see a lot of white teeth smiling through the mud caked faces.

Rod: You bet. And the numbers increasing signing up for the following so that’s a good sign.

Jason: Yeah. It does make good photos and good media.

Rod: You bet. Very good. And mate where can people find more and more information about the Port to Port? I know you guys have got a great website.

Jason: Yeah the website so or find Port to Port on Facebook and we have got a heap of information on there as well.

Rod: Terrific. Mate that sounds great and again can’t thank you enough for your time today, just run through a few things, keen to spread the word because it is a fantastic event you guys have done really well. Yeah thanks again Jason.

Jason: No my pleasure Rod. If you are going to ride a let us know we will help you out with an entry.

Rod: I am as keen as I might have to juggle a few things this year but it is certainly on my list of events to do. So yeah on standby.

Jason: Good bye mate.

Rod: Good on you.

Jason: Thanks for your support.

Rod: Yeah. No worries at all. Thanks for your time. Have a good weekend.

Jason: You too.

To hear from great interviews from experts around the world on good nutrition, exercise, and men’s health head over to or jump on to iTunes or Stitcher subscribe to the podcast and leave a review. Thanks for tuning into the show.

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So keep in touch and see you out on the trails.

About The Author

Rod Bucton, mountain bike fanatic from Mid North Coast, New South Wales Australia… helping middle aged men improve their lives with exercise, good nutrition and good health and while you’re at it follow Rod on Facebook or Instagram.

Like any sport, bicycling involves risk of injury and damage. By choosing to ride a bicycle, you assume the responsibility for that risk, so you need to know — and to practice — the rules of safe and responsible riding and of proper use and maintenance. Proper use and maintenance of your bicycle reduces risk of injury.

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