The Melbourne Cup is the race that stops the nation, but for mountain bikers with a penchant for endurance mountain biking, Cape to Cape is the bike race that grabs a lot of attention. With 1300 riders swamping Margaret River for the four days of racing, Cape to Cape sits head and shoulders above any of the other mountain bike stage races in Australia – and it draws a bigger crowd than most marathons, too.
Racing started for some riders last night with the time trial at Leeuwin Estate, as that is invite only it’s not really part of the race (although the time bonuses do go towards GC – yeah it confuses me as well). The time trial acts as a great leg opener and a handy pocket money earner, but I’d like to see it more as a dash for cash sort of event, as those who won don’t have the leader’s jerseys for today’s stage. But hey, it all seems to work out so let’s see how it evolves.
Stage One of Cape to Cape
After 2017 saw Cape Leeuwin missed out, it was back in 2018 and here again in 2019. There were pretty minor changes to the loop used last year, and it remained as what many might expect – a climb to sort things out, then a second climb up Heartbreak Hill to really sort it out. With such large numbers at a bike race, even with staggered starts, races really need hills to sort the wheat from the chaff, and today’s stage was high on hills and double track which is perfect for pairs racing and ideal for passing and figuring out where you stand.
At the front of the race, things were pretty close, and the Masters pairing of Andy Blair and John Gregg were active amongst the top few teams for about half the race. But at the finish line back at the lighthouse, it was Reece Tucknott and Brent Rees coming in for a sprint with time trial winners Brendan Johnston and Jon Odams. Tucknott and Rees nabbed the stage win by about half a second.
“There was a lot of sitting on out there, following the moves and making sure we ate and drank and stayed near the front of the bunch,” said Brent Rees after the race. “I knew I had a bit of form but I didn’t know how I was going to climb compared to the likes of Ivory, Trekky and those guys. We were lucky that one team mate of all the leading teams was struggling a bit. It was me in our team! Reece really helped me and we raced as team mates – it paid off in the end.”
“Everyone here is strong,” Brent continued, when asked about who else was looking good. “The Nankervis boys were a bit unlucky today with a stick in the derailleur at about 5km to go. Trekky and Jonny proved that overall they’ve got what it takes. Cam and Cal will have some fire in their belly and probably ride with a point to prove tomorrow – those two can ride singletrack really well and we’ll likely see that.”
By the finish, Andrew Blair and Jon Gregg came in 6th as the leading Masters team. While Blair has just moved into Masters in the past couple of years, Jon Gregg has been a frequent winner of the Masters category – quite often when Blair won the open overall. So it’s a good partnership.
“We’re trying to ride a good overall, we got distanced over the first climb but we managed to use Neil van der Ploeg to get us back on on a flatter section. We were at the front of the race around the half way point. When it got hard again we were gone, but it was good to mix it in the race and to get a win in the masters.”
“I lost my usual team mate, he was a bit sick and decided to pull the pin at the last minute. At the last minute I gave Jon a call and he didn’t have a team mate either so it worked out. Pairing up with someone like Jon, you don’t even need to think about it. We’ve never ridden together, never trained together, we’ve only raced against each other. We have a lot of years under the belt. He’s a tough man and I know he’s just going to hang in there.”
Ella Bloor and Lucy Bechtel won the stage for women’s pairs, ahead of Anna Beck and Briony Mattocks. In the mixed pairs Holly Harris and Michael Harris made amends for not winning the time trial last night, putting about 5 minutes into their rivals.
I’m here racing with Chris Panozzo – it might seem like an odd pairing as Chris is a gravity enduro racer and was Australian National Enduro champ in 2015 and 2016. I don’t have that pedigree but we both like riding and racing bikes.
Chris may not still be a full-time rider but he’s got plenty of fitness and knows where to put his wheels. He was the perfect team mate, keeping the pressure on, backing off when I was struggling, and having fun the whole time. We rolled in 15th overall and had a blast!
Tomorrow we start and finish at Leeuwin Estate – it’s a long stage at a little over 70km, and with a bunch more singletrack than today.