If I’m honest, when I woke up this morning I really didn’t feel like racing the 4th and final stage of the 2018 Cape to Cape. This sounds a bit rubbish but there are a few excuses (I can’t call them reasons). It was raining again, I was tired, the ride to the start (this is a race training camp after all) was over 20km, and did I mentioned it would be wet. I don’t particularly like riding my mountain bike in the wet. It sounds soft, but I’ve done it plenty of times over the past 15+ years of mountain bike racing. I’ve done my time. I know I don’t particularly like it, so given the option of riding in the wet, or not, I’d opt to not ride.
But this isn’t just choosing about getting on the bike or not, it is finishing a stage race. It is very easy to justify not starting a stage, or a race at the time when you’re not feeling it. But you cannot change that decision later on. Remorse can be strong, and if you truly are too tired or unwell then you can always stop. But I’ve learnt the best thing to do is to just finish it.
We rode to the start today, on a complete Alex Malone stitch up. While Alex has not only been my chief wheel to follow to and from the race each day, a cycling media contemporary, and purveyor of fine bike cleaning items, I’ve also let him do the navigation. He’s remarkably adept at using his Wahoo ELEMNT computer, while I mostly use mine for data collection and wireless uploads. Still, we circled around the suburban backstreets of Margaret River looking for the right dirt track, then we found it, then it was wrong, we went back and found the bridge we missed, then a gate, then we turned back, rode a few climbs, found a new major road that was unopened, then an air strip, then it was raining, and then we came along a service road with bog holes I remembered from a stage last year, then we were in a forest, then we came out onto the road to Colonial Brewery where the stage would start and finish, and came across the huge line of cars heading into the carpark. While I hadn’t expected such a ride in, my severe dislike of being in traffic or being late meant it actually worked out ok in the end. It was a pretty good warm up for a final stage – we arrived with 20 minutes to go so all was good.
Like every day, the start on this stage is a little hectic. With the race so close at the front between race leader Brendan Johnston and Kyle Ward 9 seconds behind in 2nd place, the pace lifted pretty quickly once on the opening dirt road. I drifted back pretty quickly until I realised people were letting splits go, so moved back up a little. But when we turned off the farm road and onto double track, things were split and strung out.
There was standing water and sandy puddles and that ended up covering us all, turning drivetrains into a grinding mess and making brakes rub and howl. That said, the Ride Mechanic Bike Mix has done an amazing job on my drivetrain every day, and considering my Shimano XTR drivetrain was brand new coming in it’s not too surprising that I’ve had just about zero issues over the four days, save for a bit of crud in the 11 at the end of stage 1.
Part way along here I passed Alex. He crashed yesterday in The Pines, landing on his hip and shoulder. He was a man of few words but I suspected that he may have had bad sensations after the crash, and felt ‘blocked’.
The highlight of this stage is the 20 or so kilometres of trail at Middle Earth. The stage is flat out there, dizzying on the trails, then flat out back, for a total of 57km. Being called Middle Earth, the trails have appropriate names. The one that sticks with me is Mordor. It’s flat, has flat rock gardens, and is a bit over halfway through. So you hit it tired, and with not a whole lot of speed. It wears a bit thin. But after that you’re back into the little berms and features over fallen trees. Some trees were slippery and best avoided, some were fun. A rider behind me told me to watch out for the sketchy log coming up so I was on high alert for about a kilometre and 20 logs – but I’m not sure which one it was.
By the time your hands are numb, you’re hungry and thirsty, there are about 5 more kilometres of the Middle Earth singletrack. There really is quite a lot! Onto the double track and then farm road, the wind was immediately noticeable. I found solace in being with a group of riders, and our group stayed together more or less until the finish, including some deep creeks, a muddy trench, and plenty of cow poo water.
Colonial Brewery is a really rewarding finish, and we received our beer tokens once crossing the line, which were gratefully swapped for a beer to accompany a deserving sit down on the grass.
At the front of the race, Kyle Ward won the stage but Johnston won the overall. Holly Harris finished in our small group and won the stage and the overall. You can find all the results online.
Alex crossed the line a while back, stuck in the singletrack traffic. That’s just how it is sometimes. We had lunch and rode home, and I’m really glad I started and finished the stage. It was dirty, I’m still cleaning kit and I have to get my bike cleaned properly to pack it. But that’s mountain biking, and that’s mountain bike racing. I’ve met too many great friends and interesting characters around the world while having a number on my bars, and I’ve had countless life experiences I’ll never forget. And you don’t get those by sitting out race days.
All photos by Dave Acree