The Cape to Cape mountain bike race has gone from strength to strength, building with such a crescendo that the event in southern Western Australia that attracts riders from the local towns, Perth, the east coast and from overseas. With well over 1000 racers, Cape to Cape is one of the biggest mountain bike stage races in the world.
From Cape Leeuwin we go
I only came to Cape to Cape for the first time last year. In the earlier days I wasn’t really travelling to ride much, or I was living overseas, or I had just been riding and travelling overseas and was broke. Of course, the Cape to Cape also clashes with the Crocodile Trophy… but beyond being on the other side and corner of the country, the races couldn’t be further apart either.
And with an approximate 1350 riders lined up behind the solid as a rock Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, it’s clear the event crew have worked hard to develop and grow an outstanding event. The start list was stronger than most national rounds, and arguably stronger than our national XCM Championship. Cape to Cape is an event that has been designed to offer something for just about every kind of cross-country inclined mountain biker. Although that said, Sam Hill did race today as well.
The main teams are here in force, with Trek Australia, Torw Merida and Swell-Specialized all fielding strong teams. But you can’t discount some of the lone rangers like Kyle Ward (racing with sidekick Jayden Ward), Paul van der Ploeg, Jon Odams, and of course the whole women’s field who don’t have women’s team mates racing with them – the sport just isn’t big enough.
With a blustery wind, we took off away from the Cape, and it wasn’t long until I could sense we were getting strung out. Mostly as there were less random choppers coming up the outside. There’s always a critical time in a race, normally within the opening kilometres, where finally the race becomes a chop-free zone, thanks to enough of an increase in pace. It’s hard, but it’s good.
The front of the group surged away with a move from Tas Nankervis and Chris Hamilton. Those Torq kids have some serious firepower in their ectomorph frames. I dangled and dropped back, into a splintered group of people just hoping it wasn’t this bad this early. We tipped into the first descent and again the reality of needing to get prescription eyewear for mountain biking was brought home.
The next few climbs are sapping, to say the least. The course moves onto sandier trails, and they’re steep. It is really soft terrain to climb on, so it’s super draining. Port to Port winner Tristan Ward was off his bike, exclaiming how fast everyone was going. I noticed Samara Sheppard had just caught onto the group, and was leading lady.
The climbs really do sort people out back where I race, but further up it wasn’t too disimilar, as a smaller group was forming at the front of the race, with the likes of Ivory, Hamilton, Blair, Johnston, Nankervis, Ward and more.
I pushed on through the rolling firetrails, and was soon in no man’s land, which is rarely awesome. I could see a lone rider behind, but figured a group would be chasing as well and I might as well have a gel and wait for them.
Riding in sand in a small group is interesting. I don’t find it hard, but I do find the differences in technique can be amusing. Some people monster big gears, and have lots of trouble. Some try to find the best line and keep moving to get it. Neither of these tactics are any good. You need to float, and keep pushing hard, if not a massive gear, something that keeps you floating and pushing forward.
Our group played out like some small screen drama as riders came and went, but everything changed on the beach. The same applies for riding on a beach as it does for a sandy trail, but being close to high tide, the sand was really soft. To ride it you had to push very hard and commit. I didn’t have the strength to push, and was too heavy to float over the top. I was off the bike at least 3 times, and I even heard Andrew Low claim he lost 20 places on the beach.
Some rode the whole thing.
Finishing it off at Cape to Cape
Off the beach, we finally made our way to the farm, past some more supporters and down the grassy slope. My chain dropped off which is always annoying – why does it only happen at bad times? I lost the two guys I was with, but doggedly chased them down again before the final 5km.
The final climbs are testing as they’re still soft and sandy, but they’re relatively fast, as are the descents. In fact the descents can be super fast, and if you can make a bit of a gap here it’s not long that you need to hold it for the finish.
At this point in the race, Cam Ivory and Tasman Nankervis had about a minute lead on the rest of the field, with Brendan Johnston and Chris Hamilton chasing hard. Ivory won the stage with Tas 2nd, while Hamo pipped Trekky for 3rd. Kyle Ward was 5th with Andrew Blair in 6th.
While Samara Sheppard was the women’s leader for much of the day, she was caught in the final kilometre as Peta Mullens came up with a small group. Ever a bike racer, Mullens used her strengths and took the win with a sprint down the finishing road straight. Jenny Blair was 3rd over the line to round out the women’s podium.
The time gaps at the front of the race are very small. Seconds. There are 3 days of racing to go, plus time bonuses in the Sundown Shoot out. So while the jerseys currently sit on the shoulders of Cam Ivory and Peta Mullens, there’s every chance they could change before the race is out.
Stage two tomorrow takes off from Hamelin Bay, and makes its way to Xanadu Winery over 56km, with the shoot out in the afternoon.