The annual mountain biking stage race, Port to Port MTB, returns from the 26-29 May 2016. Designed for riders of all levels, the 4 day course weaves its way through sandy tracks, fire trails, steep hill climbs and descents across the Hunter Valley and Newcastle Region.

Here’s a look at the first two stages, which will take you into the heart of Australia’s oldest wine region.

Stage 1 – 34.5km from d’Albora Marinas Nelson Bay

It’s short but certainly not sweet, as Stage 1 of Port to Port MTB includes one of the most challenging sections of the entire race.

The start of this iconic race is set against the surrounds of the Nelson Bay Marina, allowing riders to warm up their legs as they take in the sights of the Port Stephens coastline. The competition then gets firing with an uphill tarmac sprint, round a tight hairpin corner and onto the first single-track in the dunes overlooking Shoal Bay. The track then follows a series of short but steep climbs up into Fingal Bay. This is the spot for some active recovery as you take in the views across the beautiful bay area before heading into the off-road tracks of Tomaree National Park.

The next 20km zig-zags through a series of tough climbs, fire trails and three very steep and ugly loose shale climbs, known to riders as the infamous Three Bears. This is where you’ll face one of the toughest challenges in this year’s course, with even the elite riders last year struggling on these climbs. It’s all downhill from there once you’ve conquered the climb, the course doubles back with a series of descents and quick sprints all leading back to the finish line.

Stage 2 – 48kms from Lindeman’s Winery to Briar Ridge Vineyard

Say goodbye to the beaches and coastlines and hello to the beautiful vineyards and landscapes of the Hunter Valley.

This stage is relatively simple featuring two epic climbs with a steep descent between. Your first climb will take you deep into the Pokolbin State Forest as the course snakes it way along a twisty fire road along to the ridgeline above. For those looking for the perfect spot to take a breather, this is it. The view from the top is well worth the tough climb up. You’ll then continue along the Brokenback trail with a series of 10km moto single tracks through trees, ferns and the stunning natural surrounds.

What goes up must come down; it’s time to hit the high speeds as you fly down the famed Rabbit Hole descent and across the Cedar Creek crossing. Take a moment to breathe and spin out your legs on the 5km tarmac section before you hit the stage’s second climb up Mount View. You’ll wind your way up onto the ridge and then descend with a series of lightening quick tarmac switchbacks which lead into the home stretch up Briar’s Hill. The finish line is right outside the Briar Ridge Vineyard, where you’ll no doubt have earned a crisp glass of the Hunter Valley’s finest drop.

Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley Sundown Shootout

The Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley Sundown Shootout will see the 18-hole championship golf course, featuring an expansive lake, rolling hills and tree-lined fairways, turned into a 2.5km technical MTB style course.

Australia’s best mountain bike riders will battle it out with the hopes of earning the crucial time bonuses on offer. The event is by special invitation only for those riders who have demonstrated exceptional riding skills in the first stages of the race. It’s a fast and furious short course filled with jumps and grassy berms where the top men and women of Port to Port MTB will leave nothing on the line on their journey to victory.

A presentation ceremony will take place in the Lovedale Bar at Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley where you can enjoy the Port to Port protein burger and lager combo, the perfect way to refuel after an exciting Shootout event.