It’s October, and that means stage races are going crazy. With the Cape Pioneer Trek, the Crocodile Trophy, Cape to Cape and soon the Brazil Ride kicks off – it’s a pretty hectic time. If you were gifted with unlimited funds, you’re looking at four really diverse events to pick from.
In Australia, the clear choice is the Cape to Cape MTB race. Now in its 11th year, it is one of the biggest events of its type around the world, and is a part of the Australian Epic Series, along with the Port to Port and new Reef to Reef.
This is the fourth time I have been to Cape to Cape, after 2011-2014 took me to the Crocodile Trophy in one form or another.
The four-day format in Western Australia changed from a traditional point to point last year to a clover leaf format mostly based right out of Margaret River. This year, it’s a mix of the two, and stage one headed back to the beautiful Cape Leeuwin, starting beneath the lighthouse.
But, conditions were different from normal. I drove to the race with Alex from Cyclist Australia, and after a quick look around we retreated back to our parked car, and were soon joined by Ryan Standish after he knocked on the window to as if there was room. It was wet, cold and windy outside. It was a little hard to get stoked on racing in it.
The time came to ride up to the start, and soon enough I had chattering teeth and I was shivering. On the start line it wasn’t dissimilar around me, and as another rain squall blew in off the ocean the shouts of ‘start the f$*king race” were hard to avoid. And we finally got underway!
It was pretty quick to turn to a mess as we hit the dirt road, with a layer of ochre mud covering almost any rider head to toe. Kyle Ward lit it up, and the race was splitting. I went backwards, having not raced since late August and even that wasn’t much to write home about!
But after a dodgy descent where I realised this was my first time on my new bike, Heartbreak Hill came around and I moved up a bit and into a group. The dirt was soft and great, it wasn’t raining, and I was finding my place in the race. Things were good.
Cape to Cape is a huge race and even if you’re not at the very front, you’ll find your own race. It’s happened to me every time, and I love that. It’s a competitive field and people are there because they want to have a dig. And that’s good.
The course took in some new trails, some maintenance trails, and not a small amount of climbing over the shortened route. Some of the trails took more energy than expected, and others were riding so well considering the rain. There was a little bit of sliding, but mostly huge amounts of grip and a whole lot of fun.
I ended up back with my media bud Alex coming into the final kilometres. I poured sports drink into my eyes trying to wash grit out of them. It was slightly successful.
The finish was a non event, with enough grit my chain didn’t like the 11 or 12t, but I was happy to finish about 23rd. Not my greatest start at Cape to Cape but actually far better than I expected.
Brendan Johnston won the race in a sprint from the small group of 4 at the front. This had Kyle Ward, Andrin Belli (over from Switzerland) and Reece Tucknott who was 2nd.
Samara Sheppard won the women’s race with Holly Harris about 2 minutes back, and Renata Bucher was 3rd.
The big part of today was the clean up. The line for the jetwashers became huge pretty quickly, and actually getting clean enough to get back in the car was tricky – a bit of a nude dip in the ocean turned out to be the best option to be a little more comfortable for the drive home, where a jetwash availed itself for the final bike clean.
The thing about Cape to Cape is, all this was done, with a little bit of faffing post-race, by a out lunchtime. It leaves time in the afternoon for other activities, depending what they might be. I washed clothes and did some media work, but I also hung out with friends, and spoke about the day. We’d all had fun and are keen for tomorrow.
It’s not hard to see why so many riders return to Cape to Cape each year. They put on a good show, and the location delivers. Will the sun come out tomorrow? Maybe – but it doesn’t really matter. WE’ll be starting and finishing at Leeuwin Estate, for about 63km of racing in the Boranup Forest. While I won’t see the best of the best doing their thing, I’ll get to push myself hard and see where I stand. And I love that about mountain biking.
Photos: Tim Bardsley-Smith and Dave Acree