Stage 2 of the 2019 Cape to Cape started and finished at Leeuwin Estate Winery - but it's the action between that was interesting.
With the first stage of the 2019 Cape to Cape out of the way, we move into the next phase. While some know it as stage two, it can also be seen as settling for some, and planning next moves for others. Who was foxing on stage 1? Who had bad luck but good legs? Who burnt most of their matches and now don't know how to get through three more days?
The whole race headed back to Leeuwin Estate Winery, enjoying the ample lawns and beautiful setting as the soft morning light glowed through the vineyards. With 1300 riders, the event team manages the human traffic with staggered starts. Those with a coveted black dot (for 8am starts) fill the start chute - and that's just a couple of hundred riders. The size of the event is truly impressive.
The stage today would tackle 72km, with a flattish start that would be punctuated by a few climbs later on fast singletrack. Much of the race stayed together at first, and the mixed teams looked to be locked in a close battle
"We must have been about 5th," said Peta Mullens when asked how her day went after I last saw her on the trails. "I said to Jarrod that I wanted to really settle into today. It's been a long time since I have ridden 72km on a mountain bike and I didn't know how I'd go. We let them go a little bit on the climbs then felt really good on the singletrack. But after the feed zone about 4 groups of mixed teams came together and then it was on!"
"Holly was smashing it across the sand, Jarrod and I got a bit of a gap on the downhill, and Holly, Mick, Jarrod and I got a gap at around Highway to Hell. As we were coming in on the firetrail we put it in the gutter with 2km to go and rode away from the group we hadn't done a turn in... which is pretty poor ettiquette!" Peta added with a laugh. "We're really excited to take the stage, and excited for the rest of the week."
The men's race came down to a sprint finish again amongst the same two teams as Stage 1, with Brent Rees and Reece Tucknott coming back to Leeuwin Estate with race leaders Brendan Johnston and Jon Odams.
"Reece was riding at the front for most of the first part of the stage, but when we got to the Boranup trails I went to the front on the singletrack with Jonny right behind me. It's the best place to be for us through that sort of stuff. That area can be a bit messy with the sticks and stuff and we can ride safely near the front there," said Johnston after the finish.
They lead until Highway to Hell from near the beach, and while attacks came nothing worked, until Reece Tucknott and Brent Rees attacked out of the last water crossing close to Leeuwin Estate. With the two Giant Australia riders on their wheels, the two fastest teams sprinted for the stage, and Johnston and Odams took the win.
"Those two are riding well, they tend to get better later in the stage," said Johnston. "In the mid point of the stage they were at the back of the group and struggling but they were on the attack in the last 10 kilometres. We can't rule them out."
The women's race was close at the finish line with Anna Beck and Briony Mattocks winning the sprint with race leaders Ella Bloor and Lucy Bechtel. But the day was not without drama, with Beck's bike being a magnet to sticks, having to stop a number of times to pull rogue branches from her bike.
In Masters, Andy Blair and Jon Gregg added to their lead, though they're still just outside the top 5 overall. With two stages to go that truly reward masters of the singletrack art, we may see these two classy riders edge into the top 5. Watch this space.
Kathryn McInerney schooled the rest of the solo women again, and Trevor Spencer was the fastest bloke.
Our day on the trails at Cape to Cape
This year, I'm racing with Gravity Enduro whizz Chris Panozzo - here's his view on how today panned out:
For those that haven't seen a roadie turned mountain biker navigate a sand patch or gravel turn, it's like those cat videos on Youtube where the cat tries to navigate a wet floor, all you see are legs going a mile a second, but the cat is going anywhere, and when it does, it crashes into a wall or door or something. That is preceisly what happed today, over and over again.
With fast fire road sections linking up singletrack, it gave the roadies a chance to feature a bit closer to the front than they might normally be. There would be a train of riders all working against the wind, a tiny patch of soft sand on the trail, then out of nowhere some would literraly make a 90 degree turn straight off the track and into the scrub. It was very funny, that is, if you didn't get caught up in any of it.
Once the field settled down after the start groups would form up all throughout the field, some riders would be lucky enough to be caught up in a fast bunch, able to sit on and let others do the hard work out in the wind, others tried to hang on for dear life.
Watching riders take an unexpected stage left mid race in clear sight in Australia is rare, normally to be so close to one another you have to ingest one litre of dust for one litre of oxygen, but I think we get one week a year where there is enough moisture in the ground to get perfect conditions, no dust, no mud, and that week is this week, and I couldn't be any happier.
Up next at Cape to Cape
The stage plan for 2019 has had a little bit of a shuffle, so tomorrow we race from Colonial Brewery out to the Middle Earth trails. Will riders become motion sick with all the turns? Will some lose their race by refueling too extensively at the brewery? We'll fill you in from the action on the trails tomorrow.