If ever there was testament to the adage ‘great things come in SMALL PACKAGES’ then World Mountain Bike Champion Belinda Porter is it.
This 4ft 11, Port Macquarie dynamo is setting the mountain bike trails ablaze with outstanding results, all while having a great time. Statistics show that bicycle sales in Australia have outstripped car sales over the past ten years, with mountain bike sales taking up a 70% share of the market. So what’s the big deal? After her recent win in the Jetblack 24 hour event at Wiseman’s Ferry, FOCUS thought it timely to have a chat with ‘our Belinda’ about what makes this sport so special. We soon found out that for Belinda, it isn’t about winning as much as it is about enjoying the whole package of hanging out with friends, seeing incredible sights, having a laugh and the feeling of fun and achievement which comes with completing these rides.
Watching mountain bikes cascade down a mountainside on my television, I sit and think, ‘These guys are crazy!’ So tell me Belinda, what drew you to such an extreme sport?
That’s hard to say. I grew up on a sheep and wheat farm in Moree before moving to Port Macquarie, aged 12. I used to ride motor bikes around the farm with my 2 brothers and sister, which was lots of fun, so maybe that planted the seed. When I finished school in Port, I spent time at university in Lismore, before moving to Sydney and finally back to Port in 2004.
While in Sydney, I travelled south to participate in the Great Victorian Bike Ride, taking in the Great Ocean Road. This developed my love of cycling. You can see and feel so much more than being in a car, and I felt like I could really soak up the environment, really be a part of it. I was hooked! I started racing in local cross country and 100 km mountain bike races in 2004.
How many km per week do you train?
Around 300 km or more, depending on the event I’m training for. I also put in a core strength and muscle toning session once a week with Graeme at EveryBody Fitness, which is tough, but it’s what I need.
Do you see this as a dangerous sport?
There is always an element of danger in the fast downhill rides, where you may launch yourself off jumps, dodge trees or get caught up in a technical section of the course, but that’s what makes it exciting.
The challenge of handling these situations as they arise gives me more experience: having said that, there’s many different levels of mountain biking and the higher the standard, the more technical it becomes. The more technical stuff you do, the better you get at it. Even with my experience, I still get nervous when I have been off the bike for a while. Considering the nature of the sport, I have not really had any nasty injuries, really just scrapes and bruises – usually from tangles with Lantana.
In fact, I’d love to encourage more girls to ride, and I must say it’s usually the slower technical parts that might see you heading for a soft landing in the bushes. The Hastings Valley Mountain Bike Riders website www.hvmtbr.com has information about social rides for girls, so that’s worth a look for anyone who is interested.
How important is sponsorship when travelling and competing?
It’s huge! It would be very difficult to do what I do without the support of Lloyd and Gwen at Gordon Street Cycles. They look after all four of my bikes and are a huge support, not just financially but also for moral support and friendship. My husband Greg met Lloyd many years ago at a Kempsey race and when we moved back to Port, we looked him up and a great friendship developed.
Lloyd has been a huge influence as a training partner and coach for particular races. It’s not just the sponsorship, though. I have a loving and supportive family who encourage me and are very proud of my efforts. Mum and Dad often joke about my stubbornness being the reason I am able to ride for 24 hours continuously.
Is your social life hampered by all this training?
I’m lucky that the sport I love is also a part of my social life. If I don’t ride, I feel isolated, and don’t worry, I can burn the candle at both ends and easily be swayed into having a good time and pull up all right the next day. I do need to maintain some routine though, especially when getting up at 4-5am to meet my training buddies.
We ride in the mornings when roads are less busy, and having my husband as a training partner helps to maintain the routine. When it comes down to it, I do what I do because I enjoy it … the lifestyle, the social aspect and getting amongst the outdoors. Any race I do well in is just a bonus.
What do you eat for energy?
This may sound bad but, I ride to eat! I don’t follow a really strict diet and the energy I burn when I’ve got big races makes it guilt free food!
I do use Endura shakes as a supplement, usually after training, and I should be sponsored by the Natural Confectionery Company, because I eat so many snakes during the races. But seriously, I do have to watch what I eat for power to weight ratio, so I try to stay on a healthy, but practical diet. I use Shotz sports gels for an energy boost when racing, because they give a rapid response, which is what you need when you start feeling flat.
Tell me about some of your best moments on the bike …
I have to say that becoming World 24 hour Solo Mountain Bike Champion in my age category (women) is a great honour. I could rattle off a number of other races, but one that I really enjoyed was the Walcha Mountain Bike Challenge, where I got to race in a team with my friends (including Lloyd).
This race was to raise money for the Westpac helicopter and after winning the mixed category, we donated our prize money back. You never know; we may need it ourselves someday!
Other great moments include adventurous rides like the 360 km Mawson Track ride, where my husband and I rode together non-stop for over 18 hours and came third in the mixed category.
Stage races like the Mountain to Beaches will see you putting in huge days of climbing through varying weather conditions and landscape, but when you look out at the beautiful escarpment, it’s worth the effort.
What does the future hold?
I recently competed in the 2011 Mountains to Beach, which was a 380 km stage race from Thredbo to Narooma on NSW’s south coast, where I recorded second place in the Open Women’s solo. I was stoked with that result.
I guess a little rest is in order, and then maybe I will contest the National Solos again and possibly the World Titles … but due to the fact that they are in Europe this year, I’m not sure if that will be a reality.
How can the average person get involved in mountain bike riding?
I’d say, go and see Lloyd at Gordon Street Cycles, as he is good at setting people up with the bike that suits their skill level. While you are there, you can also find out information on riding groups and tracks that again, suit your skill level.
Thanks for your insight Belinda, and good luck. Somehow I think we’ll be reading more about your success in the future!
Interview by Eddy Godschalk.