It's the weekend, so Cape to Cape had a singletrack party on the Middle Earth trails.
It's the weekend but when you're in the middle of Cape to Cape - what's the difference? On a crisp Saturday morning well over 1000 avid mountain bikers set Google Maps to Colonial Brewery. Not for an early morning pint, but for Stage 3 of Cape to Cape.
This stage is a little bit unique, as the route charges out of the brewery like someone who has left a tab open at the bar, taking to dirt roads and farm tracks, before diving into the turns'n'berms of the Middle Earth singletrack, then charging back again. Throw in some murky creek crossings and that's Stage 3.
With a friendly start, things got serious as the trails got a little narrower, rougher and sandier, and most groups were strung out with ones and twos and threes drifting around in the sand traps.
The front of the race was much like it has been all week, with race leaders Johnston and Odams, the Nankervis Brothers, Cam Ivory and Callum Carson, and Reece and Brent.
"The singletrack felt quite comfortable today," said Jon Odams after another stage win with team mate Brendan Johnston. "It was a bit athletic on the way out, and the Nankervis brothers did really try to get onto it, although they did realise that Brent and Reece were trying to bring a gap back that had been created. They gave it a bit of gas and it was super fun through there. We knew it was probably going to come down to a race back to the brewery, and we thought a couple of the creek crossings might be a bit more decisive than they were."
In the end it was four teams coming into the line, although Russ Nankervis did attack solo to see if that could break it up. "Brent and Reece went as well but as a race time is based on the 2nd rider we rode across together with Tas Nankervis and won the sprint." Trek-Shimano were 2nd, with Brent and Reece in 3rd.
In the women's race Anna Beck and Briony Mattocks were on the hunt for time again, taking the race to leaders Ella Bloor and Lucy Bechtel.
"I love this stage," said Briony at the finish. "Even when we raced this stage solo in past editions this was still a favourite. I seem to always do well on it. We rode smooth and consistent and then tried to really pull it back in the past two kilometres." And that's exactly what they did, winning the stage and grabbing plenty of minutes to put themselves way into the lead in the women's pairs.
"It was a tough day out there today," said Brad Clarke, sitting 2nd in Master's Men with teamie Rohin Adams. "The pace from the start was ok but it did get quick. I found myself a little bit off the group that Rohin was in and found myself on struggle street trying to get back on. I had Jon Gregg with me just as I was at my weakest heading into Middle Earth, and they just got away." Gregg and team mate Andy Blair would go on to win the stage, and gain time in the Master's Men class.
The Mixed category continues to be one of the most competitive. While Michael Harris and sister Holly got a huge gap on stage one - they have been under attack since then.
"It's super competitive out there," said Em Viotto at the finish. "We're swapping turns with who is in front. Today Renata and her team mate were really strong and early on we lost Peta and Jarrod. We figured if we could really work the singletrack we could get away." In the end Peta and Jarrod rode back to the group and there was some confusion about who had a flat. Peta thought Karl did but it turned out Peta did, so after Karl stopped he and Em got going again but Peta and Jarrod had to pull off to fix the flat.
"We just rode hard and really gassed it on the fireroad, and that's when we put the gap into Renata and Benny. We caught Holly and Michael but they dropped us on the last hill."
With one short stage packed with singletrack to go, the men's race is wide open but from where I'm sitting the other categories look pretty set. Damon Willmore won the stage in solo men and Kristen Gardner won the women's stage - although Kathryn McInerney still leads overall.