In 2019, the stage plans for Cape to Cape had a bit of a shuffle. While the past two years have seen the final day start and finish at Colonial Brewery, this year that stage is stage 3 (today) and tomorrow we will finish on Margaret River’s finest singletrack.
This stage is all about Middle Earth, a circuitous singletrack loop that twists and turns and twists some more. There are small berms, logs with built up roll overs, trees that are about handlebar width, small climbs, small descents, and flat rock gardens.
Of course with so much singletrack, traffic can be a problem. You race for about 40 minutes before hitting the singletrack, and with road, dirt road, farm tracks and sandy double track, the race does split up – but you will most likely ride Middle Earth with other riders. It’s a test of patience as much as singletrack finesse.
The front men’s teams and leading masters moved off the front of the race with relative ease, and while the Nankervis brothers gave it some gas, four teams came to the finish, with race leaders Jon Odams and Brendan Johnston winning the sprint.
“Everyone is on a high level at the moment,” said Odams post-stage. “The weaker element of each team will start to show tomorrow, and even today we could see that. Tomorrow should be fun, more singletrack suits us even better I think.”
Without a national series for cross-country, the Epic Series is really become the place top racers come for a good race with the best in the country. But Odams thinks it’s actually a type of event that is really achievable for a lot of mountain bikers.
“The length of the stages is really good, it’s achievable for anyone to train for and be competitive with race times at about two hours. I have a full-time job, a family with two kids and I don’t get that much time to train. So I challenge someone to come and challenge me to be the fastest dad!”
In the women’s race Anna Beck and Briony Mattocks won the stage, and have taken the race lead. The open women’s field isn’t as large as the mixed field – and some say having less emphasis on the mixed category could increase the women’s pairs field size.
“It’s best to race a category you’re comfortable in,” said Mattocks. “I love mixed racing as there are so many different tactics to a women’s team. So I really like that element. But when you’re racing pairs the elite fields in Australia just aren’t as big as elsewhere in the world. So with men’s, women’s and mixed it often does limit the women’s field a little.
“But here, we have Ella and Lucy from the Specialized Women’s Racing road team, they’re here and racing and they’ve had a great race so far.”
Em Viotto and her partner Karl Michelin-Beard were in another close battle in the mixed pairs race, coming 2nd after closing the gap to race leaders Michael and Holly Harris. And Viotto feels that the best partnership for a race is the person you’re most comfortable racing with. “I would struggle to find a woman to ride with. I trust Karl 100% and he knows my weaknesses and my strengths as we ride so much together. It’s great to see Lucy and Ella racing here but they train together so much on the road so they know each others strengths. It’s hard to find a female competitor who is similar.”
Having the right team dynamic is what is driving Brad Clarke. While the accomplished mountain biker has come west a little under the weather, he’s not sitting back and still giving his all in the race with his team mate Rohin Adams. They’re sitting in 2nd place in Master’s men, as Andy Blair and Jon Gregg won another stage and increased their lead.
“The drive to keep pushing is to not let my team mate Rohin down. At the end of the day I push myself well and truly past how I will push myself in training in a race like this, just to make sure I’m doing the best job I possibly can for my team mate. If I was racing solo, I might have backed off and ridden at a more manageable pace, but the team dynamic is a big part of this sort of race. Rohin did a lot of work on the front today but when I felt I could contribute I did what I could for a short amount of time.”
My day at Cape to Cape
Another day, another race where Chris says he’s happy to just cruise, then we move up a little and the racer in us both comes out. That internal racer is a lot more capable in Chris than it is in me, but we rode consistently (ok, I survived) and got to the Middle Earth singletrack in good spirits. It does go on for a long time, and when you’re in traffic in Middle Earth, you really just have to deal with it.