Cape to Cape race report
All photographs with kind permission of Travis Deane – www.travisdeane.zenfolio.com
Having got into mountain biking and cross country racing in particular in June of this year, I felt it rude to pass up the opportunity to compete in one of Australia’s best mountain bike stage races which happens on our door step – the Cape to Cape. This stage race takes place over 4 days in the Margaret River region and attracts an entry of 1200 riders, with some of the best cross country and marathon mountain bikers from all over Australia and further afield entering.
I promptly entered and got busy tailoring my riding to best prepare myself for the event. Three weeks back in Wales visiting family in late August and early September gave me the opportunity to get in some serious km’s (by my usual standards) as base training in the hilly terrain of Snowdonia. Once back in Perth the opportunity to train was limited to the weekends due to my FIFO roster. My focus changed to building my speed and power, mainly by trying to hang onto the wheel of stronger riders than myself in the Saturday Fast group while also doing the EBR to build endurance, while I never managed to hang on for the whole Fast route steady progress was made each week. The Sunday long hills ride helped to further build my strength and also the endurance required for the 4 days of hard racing that lay ahead. Only the odd mountain bike ride was thrown in due to a shortage of training days. Going into the event I was content that I couldn’t have done much more to be ready for the challenge ahead.
Day 1 – Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse to Hamelin Bay
Although the shortest day by distance at 42km’s, day 1 has a reputation for being the toughest day of the event! This is due to a series of tough climbs early on and a 1.5km section along the beach. The news before the event was that the tough climbs had been washed out by all the rain over the winter and even the best of the elite riders had been struggling to ride them in pre event training.
My day started early with the drive down to Cape Leeuwin from Perth for a 12:30 start, in the lead up to the event I had been feeling a little under the weather and to my frustration I still wasn’t feeling 100%. There was nothing I could do about it other than carry on and hope it cleared up quickly. After all the signing on formalities I was ready to race in good time and tried to stay relaxed while checking out the impressive lighthouse and coastal views. I managed to secure a reasonable starting position alongside fellow SPR regular Jay Richardson, as we got closer to start time the nerves really kicked in and my heart rate was at 130bpm before I even turned a wheel!
With the elite riders gone first the remaining 1100ish riders rolled over the start line, once up to speed I found I was continually passing riders on the long drag up the hill away from the lighthouse along gravel roads, then we hit our first descent and the fun began with some nice little lumps giving the chance for some air time.
My heart rate was still elevated compared to usual however my legs were feeling good. We crossed some grassy areas where the organisers had kindly mowed a line to show the way! From here we hit the major climbs including the infamous ‘Heartbreak Hill’ and as expected everyone was off there bike and pushing their way to the top, while this was frustrating and gave the sense that I was losing time in reality it was the same for everyone. From here the course flattened out a bit with no major hills just gentle undulations along sandy fire trails, feeling good I pushed on and managed to pass a fair few riders. The course then headed down through the sand dunes to the beach, some of it was rideable however it was very easy for your front wheel to get bogged in the sand and send you flying. Conscious of this I proceeded with caution and dismounted when close to the actual beach section, from here it was a steady jog pushing the bike down to the water line across the loose sand.
In previous years I gather the beach was rideable, however looking around there was very few people even attempting it. I decided I had to give it a go and promptly fell on my side and got soaked by a wave which was actually very refreshing; it did however make my shoes very heavy for the trudge along the beach. I tried on another 2 occasions to conquer the beach, 50ish metres being the longest I rode before the seemingly inevitable ‘timber’ moment. I admitted defeat and walked the rest of the beach and dunes section at a steady pace hoping my body would recover enough for a strong final 15km’s or so of riding to the finish line. Once back on the bike the course really did provide a sting in the tail with several fairly steep climbs on a loose sandy surface, followed by ‘Hamstring Hill’ which really finished me off and had me aching for the finish line!
I rolled across the finish line and was given the all-important black sticker for my race plate, this meant I had finished in the top 200 and would start each subsequent day in the first group with the elite riders! I was ecstatic with this as I had little idea how I would get on, but thought the top 200 was unlikely.
Stage result: 169th Time: 2hr 22min 29secs
Day 2 – Hamelin Bay to Xanadu Winery
The second stage started at the previous days finish point at Hamelin Bay Caravan Park and proceeded to Xanadu Winery near Margaret River, this was the longest stage of the event at 70km’s and was a mixture of open fire trails, gravel roads and some very nice single trail. Having taken the event bus to the start I arrived with only 20 mins until we headed off, this didn’t give much time to collect the bike from storage, lube the chain, have a bit of a warm up and get lined up on the start line. I had to jump the fence to get in with the first group and in doing so secured a decent position in the top half of the group which was nice.
The pace from the off seemed quick, certainly I was pushing quite hard to hold the wheel of the bike in front. Very soon we came to a short sharp hill and to my annoyance I couldn’t drop down to the small chain ring, I tried several times and adjusted the cable on the go but it made no difference. As a result I had to get off the bike and walk to the top losing a few positions. After this there were a fair few hills and one which seemed to drag up a steady incline for a long time. These were manageable in the large chain ring by grinding out a higher gear than I normally would, I’m normally a bit of a spinner preferring to keep the cadence up. In between the hills there were some sweet single track descents to have some real fun on, as well as a nice flattish section of single track to blast through.
This was then followed by some more open fire trails and gravel roads, I joined a bunch of strong riders including John Breed from the club and we took turns on the run in to the finish keeping a strong pace as we passed lots of riders who bizarrely didn’t seem to make an effort to join the group. I tired in the last few KM’s and the group kind of separated as well, I rolled over the finish line on my own feeling more exhausted than day 1, but confident I had set a decent time. A good rub down at the massage tent had me feeling refreshed ready for the second half of the event. While the helpful chaps at the Giant service tent fixed my front derailleur, it turns out it had become bent, probably when it jammed during a gear change early in the day.
Stage position: 94th, GC position: 116th, Stage time: 3hr 1mins 53secs
Day 3 – Xanadu Winery to Colonial Brewery
This was the day people seemed to be looking forward to the most, with far more single track than any other day including the renowned ‘Pines’ section close to Margaret river itself. This was the only stage that started with a neutralised road section as we trundled through the grounds of the winery and down the high-street of ‘Margs’ before the racing started just North of the town, with a 7 km neutralised section and 47 km of racing. It was quite a spectacle looking back to see over 1000 riders filling the road in one big group, also riding through the town to the plaudits of all the watching crowds! Nerves also got the better of me and several others as we stopped for a ‘nature break’ before racing through the pack to re-join our correct group before the racing started.
During the neutralised roll out I had managed to manoeuvre myself towards the front of the group, probably in the top 50 or so riders (look to the left). I was conscious that a good start would be all important to make sure I didn’t get stuck behind slower riders when we hit the single track, aside from costing time this would have diminished the fun that could be had! As we rolled over the timing mat the surge came quickly before a tight turn off the road onto a narrowing gravel track, there were some big puddles and deep mud initially and a few riders went down, fortunately I managed to negotiate around these with little delay. The track went up and down several times and really put the hurt on as everyone wanted a good start, I knew I was going quite well as some of the elite ladies were around me. I was really struggling though and a downhill single track section came at just the right time to give me some rest. This was followed by another drag up a fire road prior to finally hitting the pines single track, by the time I got there I had dug real deep and was struggling to keep concentration, I was bouncing off obstacles rather than avoiding them and taking poor lines on berms etc. Thankfully after a few minutes I came good again and we hit the main section of the pines. As with the vast majority of the event this was my first time on these trails, and they lived up to their reputation for being ‘world class’. Beautifully sculpted berms, jumps and table tops provided an exhilarating ride, my plan had worked and I was not held up by anyone nor did I hold anyone up allowing me to relax and focus on my lines etc. The only sketchy moment I had was my front wheel almost washing out on a berm coated with pea gravel but I got away with it. After exiting the pines single track the remainder of the route was mainly fire trails and a bit of gravel roads with the occasional stream crossing to cool the feet, most of which was ridden within a group of about 10 riders.
At about 10km’s from the end my legs didn’t have it in them to keep up and I was dropped on a steepish hill, rather than going to deep to hang on I thought it best to switch to pacing myself for the finish line. Slowly but surely I passed a few other riders who had been dropped prior to crossing the finish line at the Colonial Brewery.
Stage position: 96th, GC position: 103rd, Stage time: 2hr 13mins 54secs
Day 4 – Colonial Brewery to Dunsborough Country Club
The final day has become known as the fast day with most of the route on either fire trails, gravel roads or sealed roads over a distance of 62km’s. However for this year the organisers had included more single track which I was happy about. As I was lying in 103rd overall I felt I had a chance of getting in the top 100 and was prepared to give it everything to do so, things didn’t get off to the best start however as I got to the start line too late to secure a good starting spot and was near the back of the 200 riders.
Straight off the start we hit the loose trails and roads and I was keen to get through as much of the pack as possible, spotting the stronger riders and getting on their wheels as they did the same, before long the trail narrowed and passing spots became limited. I was aggressive in passing some riders where it was safe to do so however progress through the pack was slow. Once back onto the more open roads I found myself in a group of about 15 riders going at a decent pace and gaining on a group ahead, however once we hit a hilly section the speed really dropped off. Feeling good I decided to try and jump across to the group 300m up the road, I upped the tempo on the hill and stayed strong once on the flat to catch the group. Shortly after we entered a sweet section of single trail known as ‘Middle Earth’ which featured some enjoyable drop offs and some rocky technical areas to negotiate, while the pace of the group was reasonable we weren’t exactly shreading the trail up! This did however give me a period of lower excursion to have a bit of a rest after my group jumping antics.
When we left Middle Earth and hit the open roads again the group had swelled in numbers, we must have gained time on riders on the single track section. I spied an SPR jersey further up the group and went to see who it was, it was Jonny Keyes and after a brief word I pulled into the main group with him. At this point there was a short hill pinch which wasn’t too steep, I noticed the group slowing and in a spare of the moment decision decided to pull out of the group and maintain my momentum and speed as the legs felt good after the relaxed single track section. I passed the group and hoped a few riders would follow me however no one did initially, by the top of the hill I was struggling and thankfully someone from the group had made a late surge to come across to me. From here we were able to work together well, we slowly caught some other riders until we had a strong group of 4 riders all taking their turn on the front. Before long we caught a group of around 10 riders and sadly the pace really dropped off with only a few of us willing to work on the front. I found this very frustrating, with hindsight the strong group of 4 we had would have been better off riding straight past the larger group or trying to break away again. I tried on a number of occasions to inject some pace at the front but no one would come through. This group stayed together until we reached Dunsborough and the final climb, at this point the group became strung out. I gave it everything I had left up the hill knowing a tight single track section was coming to end the stage and I wanted a decent position, this was the only trail I had ridden previously, while competing on a 3hr enduro a few months back. The trails were a lot drier than previously and being pea gravel based they were very sketchy but provided great entertainment and were a great way to finish off the stage after a long road section. Coming into the finish area I couldn’t help but get out of the saddle and give it everything I had left in the tank, this was the last day after all! What a sense of satisfaction after 4 hard days in the saddle J.
Stage position: 99th, GC position: 101st, Stage time: 2hr 29mins 49secs
In the end I didn’t quite make it into the top 100, which had been my target having been so close after the 3rd day. However I am very happy with my result indeed, being the first time I had entered a stage race I had no idea where I might end up but thought before the event that the top 300 would have been good. I was also happy with how my body held up to the consecutive days of racing, I had done a lot of research before the event on recovery and nutrition and sticking to it payed off. It was great to see numerous SPR riders in the event and exchange tails with them after each stage, as well as occasionally riding with them out on the trails. I highly recommend doing the event, even if mountain biking isn’t usually your thing the riding isn’t really that technical, I know a few of the SPR guys took on the event with little mountain biking experience. With the exception of the first day the racing is finished by late morning/early afternoon giving the afternoon to do something else.
Now it’s over I would just love to do it again! The organisers of the event are starting a sister event called the Port to Port in the Hunter Valley area of NSW in May, that could be another opportunity too good to miss…