Mitch Wheatley made a move back to mountain biking about a year ago. After a promising start as a junior, the real world took over, including a fair bit of time riding and racing on the road. But the temptation of mountain biking was always there. While Cape to Cape is an excellent event to bring your partner along to – work commitments didn’t allow that and Mitch was instead granted a leave pass for the race.
If you told me 12 months ago, that I had recently completed the Cape to Cape, Australia’s premier mountain bike stage race, I would have laughed, given the last time I raced on dirt was back in 1999.
Fast forward a few years, and with some of my road cycling crew (shout out to the Boundary Riderss) in Sydney also riding dirt, that hunger to get back on a mountain bike started to brew. On to August 2015, I had negotiated the minefield of justifying to the better half, why buying another bike was a good thing, had raced a couple of 30-50km events, and was searching for some new challenges.
Looking at the MarathonMTB.com event calendar for some inspiration, I marked out a couple of the Shimano GP4 rounds, and a fellow rider suggested the Cape to Cape. He had shared his positive experience of the 2014 race, and it sounded impressive – but seriously, how good could it really be? Plus, given it was on the other side of the country, it wouldn’t be cheap getting there as a solo rider.
So I was now thinking, how can I make this happen? After some research, I was lucky to get to Perth on frequent flyer points and found some cost effective accommodation and car hire. Once I had booked, Cape to Cape’s travel partner Virgin Holidays also offered some extremely reasonable flight/accommodation packages for those traveling interstate.
Arriving in Margaret River, having travelled almost 3,600kms I was about to embark on my first mountain bike stage race. I prepared all my gear before heading to race HQ for registration; it was an extremely efficient process collecting my race pack, freebies and social event tickets. There was a great vibe with other participants sharing stories over the well regarding burgers and local beers on tap.
I wake, prepare for the day ahead and with a nervous energy, I drop my bike off in central Margaret River for transport to the start of Stage 1, where I meet other riders from far and wide, including others from Sydney. We grab a coffee and talk about the race ahead, before catching a bus down to Cape Leeuwin.
I must say after 8 years, the Cape to Cape team run a slick operation, with the above mentioned bike transport (to Stage 1 / from Stage 4), daily buses to and from the start / finish, and most importantly overnight bike storage, as where you finish one day, is where you start the next – brilliant. For riders like myself doing the race solo (or even small groups), this service takes the hassle ‘transport’ out of the whole experience.
While free wash stations were available at each stage finish, this year ‘Bike Dr’, a social enterprise supporting at-risk youth in WA offered a wash and lube service for $20 a day, or $60 for all 4 days. Being a team of one, I made the most of this service. Race sponsors, Giant were also on hand to fix any mechanicals from the day. You’ve gotta be happy when you can roll over a finish line and within 100m – drop off your bike and its washed, lubed and stored for the following day. Convenience at its best!
You may have already read the race reports from the MarathonMTB.com team, however I came to understand there’s much more than the excitement at the head of the race, in fact I also learned that Cape to Cape brings so many awesome people together to do what they love – riding bikes in an amazing part of our wonderful country! I respect Kyle Ward and Peta Mullens efforts in taking out race honours, just as much as the two riders competing on hand-cycles, and those weekend warriors who may have taken twice the time as the pros to complete their own race. This wasn’t the only factor as to why Cape to Cape stands above other stage races in Australia – with over 1,000 entrants this year, the race is accessible to everyone.
The social aspect of registration at The Common, and the events at Xanadu Wines and Colonial Brewery was great, yet the course and the racing still plays a key role and the team delivered in 2015.
Here’s a brief snapshot of my experience across the 4 days:
Stage 1 (42km) – Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse to Hamelin Bay Holiday Park
While the shortest of the 4 stages, stage 1 made for a tough day in the saddle or on foot with loose sandy corners and climbs such as ‘Heartbreak Hill’, where the gradient and too loose a surface makes it a challenge to ride up individually, let alone with 100’s of other riders around.
The highlight would have to be riding along Deepdene Beach, before the final 10km of terrain the characterises the day; short sharp climbs, and loose surfaces which make bikes have a mind of their own. Finishing the stage is an achievement, and all riders should be done. With a good time, you’re seeded for the following days.
Stage 2 (57km) – Hamelin Bay Holiday Park to Xanadu Wines
Setting off in drizzle (a stark comparison to the 30 degree heat the day before), there was more solid ground with roads, fire trails and single track mixed throughout the stage. Mid-race we turned back towards the western coast, and areas of soft sand returned, however it was at this point on a section named ‘Highway to Hell’ I took the time to look up and admire the scenery – I wasn’t disappointed with the Indian ocean stretching as far as the eye could see; I then returned my attention to the job at hand.
After 35-40km another challenge arises, with WA’s pea gravel making its first appearance, before heading into farm land / vineyards. Overall, a great stage with higher speeds and crossing the line at Xanadu Wines, you can smile knowing that you’re half way there!
Stage 3 (58km) – Xanadu Wines to Colonial Brewery
Stage 3 includes the mass bunch roll-out through the main street of Margaret River to the cheers of locals and family / friends of riders. An amazing experience and it’s inspiring to see that locals are supporting Mountain Biking in such a way.
The highlights of the ‘Margaret River Special Stage’ is the famous Pines single track, with about 15-20km of trail, jumps, rollers and berms. Once completed, you work your way back towards town along ‘Margaret River’ itself, before weaving along fire roads to reach Colonial Brewery. With Pizza and Beer on order, it’s a fun way to end the day, plus there’s only day to go.
Stage 4 (64km) – Colonial Brewery to Dunsborough Country Club
With almost no major climbs on stage 4, the pace was on from the start and stayed high throughout with many road sections. Stage 4 was highlighted by ‘Middle Earth’ single track providing 10kms of winding pleasure!
Big groups formed on the road and once reaching Dunsborough, riders were stretched out within the final 5km through the local mountain bike park, before the final sprint along the 18th fairway. The job was done and race over! Was time to grab a massage, a beer, some food and relax with fellow competitors!
After 3 months of commitment to training, completing pre-races and finally crossing the line in Dunsborough, I started to reflect immediately on the 4 days that had just passed. I was pleased to have exceeded my expectations finishing in just under 9 and a half hours, but enjoyed meeting so many great people (and you do get to know many riders) – whether it be in the groups on our course, on the bus to / from each stage or at the Social events. I loved every moment.
It wasn’t until I returned home and back to work that I truly understood what the Cape to Cape team have achieved, and will continue to deliver in coming years. A truly remarkable race, with great trails, great people, and I’m sure great stories for different reasons. I may not get back to race in 2016, however I do hope to return and experience to fun again in future.
For those who haven’t considered Cape to Cape, I would urge you to take some time and put it on a shortlist to complete at some time. If you live on the eastern side of our country and have thought it’s just too far away, I can say from my personal experience, even as a solo rider – take the chance, as it’s well worth the effort. If you’re still uncertain, why not attempt Port to Port in NSW (Port Stephens – Newcastle) run by the same team in May; the race follows a similar 4 day format, you might just get a taste of what to expect!