The isolated point of Cape Leeuwin flooded with more than 1,300 mountain bikers last week as the Cape to Cape MTB returned for its seventh year. On the first 40km staged efending Cape to Cape MTB champion Andy Blair was joined at the start line by 2012 London Olympics representatives Dan McConnell and Bec Henderson, 2013 XCE World Champion Paul Van De Ploeg, and current female National XCM champion Melissa Anset, among others.
It all began with a tight scramble from the start line as riders approached the dreaded 4 kilometre ascent up Skippy Rock Road, quickly followed by the locally named Heartbreak Hill.
Mark Tupalski seized the opportunity to make the most of his strong point, the climbs. With TORQ team mate Chris Hamilton, they charged off the front of the pack up the first lot of hills, working together to establish an early break over Trek Australia rider Brendan Johnston and Andy Blair.
Hamilton and Tupalski worked with each other through the approaching fields of “The Farm” to hold the lead over Blair, before Hamilton was struck with a burst tyre. That left Tupalski and Blair to battle it out to the finish line with the two descending into Hamelin Bay to see Tupalski stay strong and take the Stage One honours by 7 seconds.
“I gave it my everything up Hamstring Hill, I knew I couldn’t beat him (Blair) on the following straight, so I had to get him on the final climb,” said Tupalski. “I’m pretty stoked to come away with the win today, it’s my first major win.”
Leading female and Olympic representative Bec Henderson dominated the females to come away with the stage win. Describing the event as not having any easy parts to it, Henderson recalls this stage as “truly brutal”. “Me and my bike went for a walk, a swim and a little bit of riding today,” she recalled.
After birthday boy Mark Tupalski won stage 1, the beautiful beaches of Hamlin Bay greeted Stage 2 competitors
As the gun fird the lead pack stuck together as they traversed through several back forests just out of Hamelin Bay.
After a number of breakaway attacks, it wasn’t long before the pack stretched as they flew into the serenity of Boranup Forest. Under a canopy of century old Karri trees, riders were faced with a 20km smorgasbord of single track.
2013 UCI Eliminator World Champion Paul Van De Ploeg recalls the tunnel run, a section of the single trail in the middle of Boranup Forest, as a scene of destruction.
“There were people crashing everywhere, it was madness,” Van Der Ploeg said. “It was real tight single trail so you don’t know what’s coming, left, right, left. It was pretty gnarly.”
After a number of attempted breakaways, the lead pack regrouped through the world-class vineyards of Leeuwin Estate and Voyager before the heat went on as the pack hit the final stretch through the 1.5km drive way of Xanadu Winery.
Van Der Ploeg seized the opportunity through the vineyards to make an attack on Mark Tupalski in the yellow jersey. But the pack of a dozen lead riders could not be easily broken and it always seemed like it would come down to a mad dash to the finish.
“I almost fell into a few vines on the way through Leeuwin,” he recalled. “There were poles and pea gravel and a few attacks getting launched. I just went as hard as I could and when I went for the sprint at the end both legs went up in full cramp and I could hardly pedal, I felt like I was turning squares,” he said.
Van Der Ploeg claimed today’s stage win ahead of Lewis and Blair.
2012 London Olympics Australian representative Bec Henderson backed up yesterday’s win, leading the females to continue to hold the pink jersey.
“Taking the win for both days doesn’t make it any easier, but the last two days have played out well for me,” Henderson said of her win.
THE REDBULL SHOOTOUT
The 20 fastest men, the 10 fastest women (that’s the new equal) – the winner took a time bonus. Andy Blair won the special stage and jumped into the leader jersey. Em Parkes rode a great stage, but her time bonus didn’t impact the deficit to Bec Henderson.
After claiming the yellow leaders jersey thanks to a 17 second time bonus over Stage Two leader Mark Tupalski, defending champion Andy Blair became the hunted (rather than the hunter) on Stage Three around the iconic town of Margaret River.
The flying start for the elite end of the field at Carters Road just north of Margaret River saw Blair’s ten second lead put immediately under threat.
A wild pack of over 100 competitors screeched into the first forest trail off the main road with young WA prodigy Reece Tucknott crashing in a mud hole, bringing a stop to the charging bunch and allowing a lead group featuring both Tupalski and Blair, together with Brendan Johnston, Paul Van Der Ploeg and Tupalski’s Torq teammate Chris Hamilton to establish an early gap.
The team tactics from Hamilton and Tupalski were clever as they controlled the single track pace where Blair excels, then worked him over by putting the pace on up the hills.
Van Der Ploeg and Johnston attacked the two Torq teammates up the climb and raced to the finish with Trek Racing’s Brendan Johnston holding out Van Der Ploeg for the stage win. It was a fitting result for Johnston who raced with emotion today after the morning news that his team manager’s (Richard Peil) father had suffered a heart attack.
Winner Brendan Johnston was thrilled to take out the Margaret River Special Stage. “Overall after day one I was not as far up in the overall standings as I’d like to be, so I’ve been racing for a stage win since, rather than the overall.”
“It was the real mountain biking stage today with all the pines in Margaret River. It’s the best singletrack in the world pretty much. Today I was really keen to get a podium for Richard and the Trek team. Really happy to get on the steps for him today.”
Torq Team rider Mark Tuaplski was thrilled to reclaim the yellow jersey after the shock of seeing his lead stolen from his the evening before at the Redbull Sundown Shootout.
“I’m super stoked, that was unbelievable, being able to grab onto the lead again is an amazing feeling. The awesome single track through that stage, words just can’t sum it up,” said Tupalski at the finish line. “It was a bit of touch and go, jostling through the single track. We wanted to get into the pines first to control it (over Blair).”
There was also a shake-up for the ladies today, with Bec Henderson’s 2 stage winning streak halted by last night’s RedBull Sundown Shootout winner, Emily Parkes. After catching up on time through the Pines, Em managed to keep a good distance from the rest of the females.
“Each time someone came up behind me, I was hoping it wasn’t a girl,” she said.
Whilst it doesn’t provide Em with the lift she needed to wear the yellow jersey tomorrow, she says she got a needed boost of confidence going into tomorrow’s final stage.
After yesterday’s unexpected overhaul by Torq Team rider Mark Tupalski, defending Cape to Cape MTB Champion and National Marathon Champion Andy Blair was determined to make up the 56 seconds today and ultimately reclaim his crown.
With Torq Team riders Mark Tupalski and Chris Hamilton planning to play it safe, it was young West Australians Reece Tucknott and Rowan Brown alongside Tucknott’s Trek Australia teammate Dylan Cooper who broke away first.
With the terrain uneven and unpredictable through the farmland, Cooper decided to lead the drive to create a break over the chasing pack.
“I thought it would be safer to get ahead, where it was clearer,” Cooper said. “Before I knew it I was up in the mix with the other guys. To be honest, I thought to myself ‘there’s over 60km to go, I’m not that fit and I don’t have the legs for this,” Cooper recalls. “But I had nothing to lose.
The breakaway group of Cooper, Brown and Tucknott exited the 6km of single track and were launched into a high speed race towards Meelup Park, continuously looking over their shoulders.
With Mark Tupalski still holding on to his overall lead not far behind, this was the time he had planned to launch his 19-year-old team mate Chris Hamilton to his very first stage win of the Cape to Cape MTB.
“But we didn’t realise we were on the climb until it was almost done, so that went out the window,” recalls Tupalski. Up ahead, Dylan Cooper was holding tight to his lead, tortured by the Meelup Bay trails, circling past the golf course, but then twisting him back to into the Park. Hot on his heels was 18 year old local prodigy Reece Tucknott who was desperate for his first stage win after placing second on this stage as a 16 year old in 2012.
“We were counting on the Torq Team to play it safe and hold on to the end for a sprint and attack, but in the end I was just lucky I wasn’t a threat so no-one attacked me and it ended in my favour,’ Cooper said.
In the chasing bunch, Andy Blair was first into the Meelup single track giving him a chance to go for broke and create a one minute gap to grab back the overall win. Not far behind, the Torq team pulled into the 18th fairway of the
Dunsborough Country Club securing Mark Tupalski with the overall race win as they stuck tight to Blair over the last five kilometres.
“This is my first big win, I couldn’t have done it without my team mate Chris Hamilton, he worked so hard out there for me all week,” the 2014 Cape to Cape MTB winner said. “It’s been pretty epic.”
2013 Cape to Cape MTB Champion Andy Blair was happy see Mark take the win. “It’s a real honour to come second to him (Mark Tupalski). This is his first big win and I’m sure he’ll go on to bigger things from here,” Blair said.
Dominating the females, 2012 London Olympic representative Bec Henderson claimed the top podium position of the Cape to Cape MTB a full 9 minutes and 46 seconds in the lead.
“I might have gained a lead on the girls on the first day, but when you’re out there it’s hard to know where they are. I didn’t expect to win this race or even make the podium, this event for me was all about having a go. But I must admit I’m pretty stoked for the win,” Henderson said.