Cape to Cape, Port to Port and Reef to Reef are some of the best promoted mountain bike races in Australia at the moment. But does that mean they are the best? That is something worth thinking about, as it really depends what you define as best.
This has been my fifth visit to Western Australia for the Cape to Cape mountain bike stage race, and I would be happy to say that it might have been the best visit too. There are a few things that have made that, and of course a few things that could have made it even better.
Updated courses at Cape to Cape
Sure, there hasn’t been a whole lot of change in the courses for Cape to Cape since 2017 when the four stages all started and finished near Margaret River. Yes, we no longer raced from one cape to another, but it did take well over 1000 vehicles off the road for long periods of time, and allowed the course directors to incorporate some better trails. Another part of that is that new trails were being built in and around Margaret River.
With 2018 seeing a return to Cape Leeuwin, and 2019 creating a change between the last two stages, I think in 2019 the course team have nailed it. Today’s 42km route that took in some of the finest trails around Margaret River was hands down my favourite stage, and a brilliant way to finish the event. Such well-prepared trails do help, and finishing right here in town at Margaret River (ok, at the Gin Distillery).
Pairs Racing at Cape to Cape
There are plenty of people who don’t like racing in pairs – and fair enough, it isn’t for everyone. But there is a certain reward for managing your team dynamic over the four days and any extra travel around it. As cyclists it is easy to be selfish and think mostly about yourself. From finding time to train, to spending a lot of cash on bikes (and events!) and of course the time away from home. And while a pairs race might not give that time back to a family or significant other, it does make you need to think about your team mate. You can only race as fast as the weaker member.
At the recent Swiss Epic, I was probably the weaker team member overall, making up for being a bit crap by shouldering some duties off the bike like bike cleaning. This week racing with Chris Panozzo it was clear that I was going to be dragging the chain. But that didn’t ever bug Chris and he was happy to be riding, to be racing wherever our race happened to be, and to chill out over a coffee or wine or beer. A team dynamic is what you make it and Chris made it easy, even though I was on the ropes every day!
You cannot discount how much of a difference a slick race organisation makes. The event team run bike races around the world and their local crew have now put on 12 editions of Cape to Cape. They know what they’re doing. From start and finish setup, rider services, course marking, communication and more, it’s slick. Their races have an app so you can even get any details you need around the clock. These things make a difference.
That’s not to say it is perfect. The inclusion of a time trial or prologue on Wednesday afternoon for suspected top teams did dictate who won. The time bonuses available did influence the overall result for open men’s. I think the time gap should either be as it stands from the clock, or just a cash prize. With $500 up for grabs any elite rider will still race hard. I’ve never organised a race but I think it would be worth considering how this extra event works with the 4-day race in future editions.
Bike races are best in beautiful places
You don’t need scenery for a good bike race. I mean, take a look at track racing or club criteriums. But when you’re taking days off work and spending a considerable amount of money to be at a stage race, being somewhere enjoyable makes a difference. There are a lot of special places around the world, but the south west of Western Australia is unique. From rugged coast lines, tall Karri forests, sublime singletrack, world-class vineyards and plenty of natural beauty, the area around Margaret River isn’t short of breathtaking beauty. Even racing and seeing black cockatoos soaring above, or blue tongue lizards scurrying away and hearing kangaroos hop away through the undergrowth is pretty special.
When you roll all this together, Cape to Cape is one of the best mountain bike races in Australia. There are events with better trails. There are events that are less crowded and more about the vibe. There are races with longer distances and more days, and there are races that are easier to get to! But there isn’t a race that is so professionally run that evolves with riders and the sport, and gives a great experience to just about anyone who takes part.
How it unfolded on Stage 4 at Cape to Cape
With 42km to race and a pretty tight general classification in open men’s, many wondered how it might play out. But by their own admission, Brent Rees and Reece Tucknott (2nd overall) didn’t expect to be able to gain the 30 seconds needed to take the overall lead from Brendan Johnston and Jon Odams, especially when the previous stages had come down to a sprint finish!
Johnston and Odams defended their lead, but Callum Carson and Cam Ivory took the stage win, and almost the 2nd place overall – but they ended up in 3rd by 0.5 of a second.
The Master’s men came in for a sprint and Rohin Adams and Brad Clarke won the stage and finished 2nd overall as Adny Blair and Jon Gregg maintained their strong grip on the Masters overall – and 7th outright.
Anna Beck and Briony Mattocks won the stage and overall for the women’s pairs, and siblings Mick and Holly Harris maintained their lead with another stage win in Mixed. The racing behind was close and Em Viotto and Karl Michelin-Beard were 2nd on the stage and overall, ahead of Peta Mullens and Jarrod Moroni.
Everyone agreed the final stage was a blast on the trails at Margaret River – let’s hope this stage plan remains for the coming years.