The Cape to Cape’s eighth edition got underway today under perfect blue skies in WA’s Margaret River region. Over 1,000 competitors from across Australia formed a massive, multi-coloured snake stretching for hundreds of metres beneath Cape Leeuwin’s historic lighthouse.
Today’s stage, while the shortest at just 42 kilometres, was also widely touted as the race’s hardest, with 900 metres of climbing, much of it on loose sand, a beach ride, and techy descents, there were plenty of opportunities to lose time, crash, or just end up walking.
The elite field were called to the front of the bunch and the gun went off at 12:30, as the temperature crept into the low 30s. Rolling out behind a the lead car (equipped with GoPro), the elite riders held a steady pace for the first kilometre or so, but dug deeper and deeper into the initial three-kilometre climb as the top racers fought for position and splits began to form.
Before too long the race headed for ‘Heartbreak Hill’, a technical, loose, sandy climb that all but a few ended up walking – a longer, steeper version of the kind of terrain that characterised the entire first half of the race. After a brief reprieve on Green Hill Road at about the 20 kilometre mark, where many riders had arranged to take their feeds, the race then headed into sandier and sandier country, up and over dozens of short dune climbs and slippery descents, before finally emerging among the crashing waves of Deepdene Beach. After a 1.4-kilometre stretch along the wet sand, another section of dunes followed before ‘The Farm’, where a huge crowd of spectators helped cheer competitors towards the last five kilometres, a rolling, fast section on loose ground, a monster called ‘Hamstring Hill’, and a couple of road crossings, before finally emerging on yet another perfect beach and the finish line at Hamelin Bay.
2014 winner Mark Tupalski showed impressive form today, riding off the front of the lead bunch of riders over the top of the first climb, and holding off WA strongmen Jon Gregg and Craig Cooke. In the women’s race, Peta Mullens began her season with another great performance, winning in front of me, and Marie-Claude Baars (who also won the 50-59 category).
My race was a bit patchy! I thought I’d have a good chance to stay with the front bunch of guys over the first climb but to my dismay I had to let them go right near the top, not willing to dip too much into the red so early in a four-day event. I then got mixed up in the general mayhem that’s going to characterise any race of over 1,000 nervous, excited, fresh mountain bikers until everyone is sufficiently tired to calm down (that usually takes at least 30km). I crashed, watched other people crash, took terrible lines, and missed every.single.opportunity to grab a wheel for the open, fast sections. The tide turned for me at the beach (pun INTENDED), about ¾ of the way through the race, when I discovered, much to my amazement, that being a featherweight isn’t just good for climbing, it’s great on wet sand. I floated past what seemed like 20-odd riders – ‘she’s not even leaving tyre tracks’ one guy said – and I felt pretty smug.
I seemed to get some momentum going from there, and perhaps my legs got over their this-is-our-post-lunch-down-time-now-so-why-are-we-being-forced-to-do-stuff protest (the two hours of jet lag have definitely messed them up) and started working properly. I loved the sand dune hills and the fast descents, finally letting go properly, and especially enjoyed some cheers from the spectators gathered at ‘The Farm’ with just 5km left.
I had a messy first half of the race so was really pleased to be just a minute-and-a-half off the lovely Peta Mullens and really enjoyed the post-race atmosphere, which included but was not limited to: a top bike wash, amazing food trucks, some good music, and lots of chats. We all finished today completely covered in fine black-brown dirt looking like 19th century coalminers and I was a bit sorry to miss out on a dip in the ocean (too busy socialising), but I’m sure there’ll be more chances later this week!
Tomorrow’s stage takes us from Hamelin Bay to Xanadu Winery and starts at a much more leg-friendly 8:00am.