In the isolated west, a small event and marketing team set about making a mountain bike event to show off the stunning natural beauty of the forests and coastline of Western Australia. That was back in 2008, and in 2017, that event celebrated its 10th year, and attracted close to 2000 riders from not just Australia but around the world to experience the unique environment, awesome trails and world-class event that Cape to Cape has grown into.

Cape to Cape has many things to offer those who attend. The natural beauty of Southern Western Australia can’t be denied, and for anyone on the east coast seeing the sun set over the ocean is a novel experience, especially when accompanied by a locally brewed beer. But it’s a bike race after-all, and that’s where Cape to Cape really shines. The four stages offer a great mix of terrain from purpose made singletrack in The Pines, to fast and open double-track, farm trails, the crazy twisting maze of Middle Earth, and much more.

With the nation’s best on the start line, the racing is impressive to watch, but in 2017 Cape to Cape introduced wave starts. So the fastest racers started at the front, and then wave after wave had their own race start meaning there could be more singletrack, with less bottlenecks. Add to that a revised format where each stage started and finished right near Margaret River, not being a true ‘Cape to Cape’ for the purists, and you have a high fun, low stress event for everyone who enters. 


Words: Mike Blewitt     Photos: Mike Blewitt, Travis and Jane Deane


A FEW TIPS TO START

Don’t wait until you’re in Margaret River to realise that you’re in one of the most beautiful locations for a bike race in the world. Plan accordingly and make sure you’ve got some time before or after the event to relax and unwind.

Leave plenty of time to get your bike packed for the trip if you haven’t travelled with your bike a long way before. And get in touch with your local bike shop well in advance, let them know you’re doing Cape to Cape and get your bike booked in for a service.

While the introduction of start waves in 2017 made the starts a little less hectic, there are still lots of mountain bikers in this race. Make sure you’re comfortable with plenty of riders around you for the starts, and with people passing you on the trails.

It is a stage race, so remember to set some good habits for after each stage, to make sure you’re set to ride again the next day. Clean your bike, lube it, check out any funny noises you heard in the stage. And make sure you get some good food in and some water before you get an alcoholic refreshment.


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STAGE ONE - WITH BRUNO WIKI

Bruno is one of the faces of Cape to Cape, having competed in the first event, and every one since. Swiss born but a Perth native, Cape to Cape has become the mountain bike in his backyard – sort of.

“Yes it’s my tenth, I’m really proud of it, of hanging in there,” said Bruno when we caught up with him after stage 1. “From the first year with 80 people to over 1800 now it’s insane, we never expected it to get this big.

If you haven’t been to Perth, you might not understand just how isolated it is. Perth is the most isolated capital city in the world. So having the biggest mountain bike race in Australia ‘just down the road’ a few hours in Margaret River is quite a gift for mountain bikers in Perth.

“I used to go outside Australia to race before it started,” says Bruno, who has been cycling for decades, “but to have something here in WA, I could not miss it, not to have to travel all the time is great.” But Bruno adds that there’s more than that, there is a sense of pride too, especially when people are travelling from outside of Australia to come to a bike race in Margaret River.

“We have international people coming, people from all over the place, it’s great.” And it’s not just the event that is growing in isolation – mountain biking is growing, and so too are the amount of trails we have to ride on. “It’s growing amazingly, all the tracks they’re building everywhere - Margaret River, Dunsborough. Perth is absolutely amazing, it’s a dream up there, it’s a dream to ride, I go two to three times a week. I went to Europe two months ago, you don’t get tracks like that. It’s amazing here in Australia.”

Stage One was a new route, something special for the 10th anniversary, and as Bruno has raced in each event so far, I’m keen to hear his thoughts.

“Yeah, actually, it was really hard, then it was longer as well, but the first stage from Cape Leeuwin is only 38kms but this, longer stage was hard, the first time I’ve started to get cramps, which I usually never get. Yes, it was hard.” That sentiment seems about right too, when looking around the finish area. There’s a mix of people lying on the grass, getting a burger or a beer, or lining up for a massage. Still, there are plenty of smiles. Difficult? Yes. Too hard? Not likely. Fun? Most certainly.

With the new route for Cape to Cape being a clover leaf style, in that the stages start and finish in one location, always very close to Margaret River, I’m interested to hear what Bruno thinks of the changes.

“I definitely prefer the point to point,” states Bruno emphatically. “I love point to point. I love stage racing. It’s nice to have a change], like the Alice Springs races, it is central. It’s not bad but point to point is so much more interesting, more little towns get involved and profit from people being there, like Hamelin Bay. I think it’s much better.”

STAGE ONE THE DETAILS
55km (ok, maybe 63km)

Winners
Open Men: Brendan Johnston
Open Women: Samara Sheppard
Masters Men: John Gregg
Masters Women: Fiona Whelan


 

STAGE TWO
WITH SARAH MCLACHLAN


Stage Two was slated to be the longest for the 2017 Cape to Cape, and with a further reduction of tarmac and more singletrack in Boranup Forest, this new Stage Two was always going to put a smile on people’s faces. Except for maybe Kyle Ward, who crashed out with a broken collarbone from the front of the race.

Someone who finished with a huge smile was Sarah McLachlan, who can pretty much call herself a local to these trails.

“Today was different from last year in that it was 10-kilometres on the rivet, leaving with the elite crew, which very quickly dispersed into smaller groups before we hit the trails down in Borunup that we’ve done every year. We did see the best trails of Boranup, the Jedi Trail, Lord of the Rings, and all the features through there that are very fun and very flowy. It was quite fast. The trails are in great condition this year, and this carried us all the way through. The surf is in great condition, the sea is brilliant blue, and I believe some of the locals here ‘had to stop and take a photo as it was a really neat swell’ so some of us need to be reminded that it is a race but there is so much fun factor and camaraderie, even for people who do it every year. It is a mini party for us, it is a getting together of mates, and to see that on the trail and between both people from the east and locals is fantastic.”

That camaraderie seems to be something that has pulled Sarah not just west, but into mountain biking too.

“I’m from Sydney originally, started racing in Sydney on the road, but moved over to Perth where I took up MTB almost four years ago.” So how many Cape to Capes does that make? “This is my fourth year that I’ve done it.”

You tend to learn something in any mountain bike stage race you do – and the Cape to Cape is no exception. If this event is part of what you do each year as you transition from road riding to mountain biking, surely it’s like a trip to MTB school each year?

“The first year I learnt how to ride in sand, and the second year how to try to keep with a group - in sand. I think having done the Cape to Cape while I lived in Perth was a big reason behind my relocating down here was the riding and particularly the mountain biking to be honest.”

Perth is about 3 hours up the road, but Cape to Cape is big – and Sarah states that it really is a landmark event for mountain bikers in Perth and Western Australia.

“There’s definitely a building crescendo through the year. Riders, whether that be people new to cycling or people that have been racing for ten years will start to train for Cape to Cape months in advance. They’ll start to look at where they want to stay so they can come to the event and still see the area. I live less than an hour down the road but I still choose to come and stay at Margaret River so I can spend the four days completely immersed in it and enjoy the facilities that the area has.

There’s a certain feeling when a town comes alive with an event – and Sarah says it’s something you really notice in Margaret River.

“ The town itself has a completely different atmosphere when the riders come in. The locals are fitting cyclists in and showing cycling-related things and I feel that the community does come out more to check out the riders and see what they may usually walk through but will come out to see 1800 people roll through.”

We’ve said it before, but Western Australia is isolated – and Sarah claims that there’s a real honour in having riders come from interstate.

“It is special, especially to have elite riders, who haven’t done some of the trails, I get quite excited sharing with them what’s to come, and I think they share that and get quite excited as well, so I think it’s a highlight for locals to be able to say ‘this is what we get everyday’.”

Given she’s made the transition from road to dirt, we had to ask, what would Sarah recommend for people coming to Cape to Cape?

“I think that the first year I finished day one and said ‘I’m not going to ride my road bike to train for this, I’m going to practice running on sand for four kilometres!’ Depends what happens next year. This year has been particularly long, that’s a lot of time on the bike for people who haven’t done the Cape to Cape or ridden back to back three or even five hour days, so you do need to have a bit of fitness, you do need to be used to the heat, and otherwise it is a bit of everything. You need to experience flow, and experience little jumps, and nice berms and hardpacked trails. It’s a bit of everything.”


STAGE TWO THE DETAILS
63km

Winners
Open Men: Brendan Johnston
Open Women: Samara Sheppard
Masters Men: Andrew Low
Masters Women: Fiona Whelan


 

STAGE THREE
WITH ARRAN PEARSON

Stage Three started and finished at the ever-popular Colonial Brewery. And if the thought of finishing a 56km ride at a brewery isn’t enough to get you excited, then knowing you’re about to launch into the Middle Earth trails should be.

With enough twists and turns, rises and falls and pops and drops for anyone to get dizzy and disoriented, Middle Earth is a pretty special 20km-odd section of singletrack, before a farmland (and mud trench) finish brought riders back for a well-earned beverage.

We caught up with Arran Pearson, who has written for AMB many times and now resides in Singapore. He was in Margaret River with members of the ANZA Cycling Club.

“We’re an offshoot of the Australian Association in Singapore. About 1/4 of the population of Singapore is expat, and of that about 600,000 Aussies and Kiwis that are doing all sorts of things. As a cycling club we have about 340 members, so there’s lots of roadies, but there’s a hardcore ANZA ‘mountain biking and drinking club’. So we ride on a Saturday, we do a night ride once or twice a week, and we drink every other day! It’s living the expat life! So Singapore surprisingly has a couple of pretty decent bike paths, it’s less than 10kms to get to my trails, and from my house I can put together a 40km loop without trying too hard. But it’s not the same as riding Margaret River.

“My friends and I have ridden to the start finish every day. It’s the same place for the start and finish. We’ve got people from our club that have got family here. They can get dropped off and picked up at the same place, or when their wives want to visit wineries they can drive there and get dropped off. I really like the new format.”

Pearson also came in 2014, and the simpler format for the 2017 event made the whole Cape to Cape feel much more like a mountain bike holiday. While it’s a professionally run race, it’s also low key and social.

“I’ve done Cape Epic and I’ve done the really big, long stage races, and I put this in a different category. It’s fun and we’re all competitive amongst each other but it’s fun. It’s done by lunchtime. We can chill we can have a beer afterwards. So part of a cycling holiday is you ride to the track. None of us are racing for sheep stations so like a ten kilometre ride before you start, especially after a few beers the night before, works the kinks out of the legs. I think it’s part of the whole experience. It’s nice to be able to get here, ride to the start, race, have a few beers then ride home. It’s part of the experience.

As Stage Three was heavy on singletrack, how do riders from a tropical, small island city cope? “So being in Singapore we ride a lot of road, so the long roady stages suit us. We know how to get in a pack, how to work, sit in. It’s a bit different doing 25-km an hour in doubletrack. For me most of our trails are muddy, rooty, rocky. The dry pea gravel scares me a lot, but today where it’s basically rock, tree roots, and some water that’s what we ride every day. In Singapore it rains every day, so today was great. Much better. I was a bit nervous. I crashed here when I did it a couple of years ago, and today was much better. The trails are in such good nick. It was lots of fun.”

Much of the terrain Cape to Cape crosses is uniquely Australian. You couldn’t really mistake it for anywhere else. And as an Australian living overseas, Pearson says it’s hard not to miss that tug of home.

“The trails and the experience of getting out in the Australian bush is just amazing. So there’s a thriving MTB scene in SE Asia, but it’s lots of jungle, it’s very dense, the tracks are compact, it’s very humid, so to come here and ride amazing flow trails with more jumps than you can poke a stick at, just endless amounts of singletrack… The amount of singletrack today almost did my head in, I was quite happy when we got out of it, but it’s just kinda nice, and it’s nice to be surrounded by Aussies at an Aussie run event. This event is so professional. The organisation is top notch. You just need to go where you need to go and start. Ride. Have a good time, drink some beer, and then just finish.”

We couldn’t agree more.


STAGE THREE THE DETAILS
56km

Winners
Open Men: Dan McConnell
Open Women: Samara Sheppard
Masters Men: Brad Clarke
Masters Women: Fiona Whelan


 

STAGE FOUR
WITH DAVID JOHNSTON
 

Stage Four started right in town at Margaret River, before riders entertred the South Carters loop gets the dirt started ahead of a visit to the trails at The Pines and beyond. This was a stage that left everyone with a smile on their faces, even if for the race leaders it was a little more of a grimace.

We caught up with David Johnston after the stage. Johnston is a Sydney-based mountain biker, with a history of racing mountain bikes for laughs or more since the late 90s. Having witnessed the growth and demise of many mountain bike events of 20 years, Johnston had the Cape to Cape on his bucket list for many years – but how long exactly?

“Look, as long as it’s been on, it’s been on my radar, and the tenth anniversary is the clincher that got me over the other side of the country to race.”

And while Johnston knew what to expect given the amount of coverage from the big race in the west, it wasn’t until he has on the ground and on his bike he truly gained an appreciation for it all – especially how good the trails are.

“Just the sheer quality of trail is amazing and how it all links together. The course designers have set an amazing course. Every day has been something fresh and luckily we got to go through Compartment 10 twice because I think that’s one of the best trails I’ve ever ridden.”

There was a little bit of rain on Saturday night, but Johnston said that just made everything better.

“It just made everything a little bit sticky so some sections are a bit slower and some are a bit faster, but all those berms in compartment 10, and there are 100s of them, they all held together nicely and it was super quick, so I think the weather actually improved things.”

While Johnston was happy to toe the line in National Series events in the late 90s, that time has long passed and Cape to Cape marked his first big event in a long time. So – was he prepared enough?

“Cape to Cape definitely does need dedicated training. My physique handles about two hours and then I limp home and most of the stages have been two and a half to three hours year so, I’ve just been packing plenty of food and plenty of gels to fake the preparation!”

But even when suffering through the final part of each day, Johnston was adamant that the camaraderie out on the trails was top notch.

“It’s great, everyone’s polite, everyone’s willing to move out of the way and to give everyone the space that they need to go at their own speed.

Like many of us, Johnston has a partner who doesn’t ride the same amount. But instead of just making Cape to Cape a riding trip, his wife found plenty to do in the region.

“There’s plenty of options for her to enjoy herself, she’s done a few yoga classes and tasted lots of wine this weekend and she’s been out the the Venison farm and stocked up on some cured meats, so she’s had plenty to do while I’ve been on the bike.” And it’s reasons like this that mean Johnston would come again – and see some of those sights for himself.

“I’m pretty light on annual leave so it’s a quick trip in and out this year, but there’s a lot here to do so a little time on either side would be great. There’s some amazing AirBnB places here that are very family orientated and plenty of things for the kids to do while mum or dad are on the bike, and plenty of things for them to do at the event start finish to cheer on their parents when they come in – it would be a great place to come with a group of friends.

Cape to Cape in 2018
Expect more of the same, with wave starts, great trails and course design, and one of the best organised bike races in the world. The 2018 event will run 18-21 October. Entries are open, and early bird pricing is active!

capetocapemtb.com


STAGE FOUR THE DETAILS
50km

Winners
Open Men: Brendan Johnston
Open Women: Samara Sheppard
Masters Men: Brad Clarke
Masters Women: Fiona Whelan



OVERALL WINNERS

Open Men: Brendan Johnston
Open Women: Samara Sheppard
Masters Men 40-49: Brad Clarke
Masters Women 40-49: Fiona Whelan
Masters Men 50-59: Paul Morgan
Masters Women 50-59: Sarah McKie
Singlespeed: Peter Butt
60+ Men: John Allison
60+ Women: Sharon Prutton