Cape to Cape is almost here! And 2017 winners Samara Sheppard and Brendan Johnston are ready to defend their titles.
In 2017 the Cape to Cape MTB race celebrated its 10th year. If you weren't there, trust us when we say that it was massive. The attendance was crazily huge, but the traffic on the trails was probably better than ever thanks to more start waves of fewer riders. 2017 also saw a new course plan, using more of the trails around Margaret River, and meaning we didn't need to spend so long in the car before and after each stage.
For 2018, the event crew are turning it up to 11, with a course that marries some of the original route it starts at Cape Leeuwin) and keeps some of increased fun and flow of 2017. It should be a cracker.
And while Margaret River and surrounds is a great place to ride, relax and revel in the trails of south Western Australia - Cape to Cape is also one of the most competitive mountain bike races in Australia, and one of the biggest stage races in the world.
Samara Sheppard has won the past two Cape to Cape races, and has been preparing for the 2018 event in her adopted home in Wollongong.
The Kiwi has a string of recent successes, including winning the mixed pairs race at Reef to Reef with Kyle Ward, winning the Flight Centre Epic, the You Yang Yowie and most recently the Terra in the Berra - a 3 day stage race in Canberra. You could say she's in form.
“This race carries a lot of weight and everyone goes there and does their best and you can judge or forecast how the summer season might go based on how you pull up after Cape to Cape. There is a lot of history and prestige attached to Cape to Cape I would love to win three in a row, I think that would be super special."
Sheppard will likely see her strongest competition come from Holly Harris - who has just returned home after two World Cups, and two World Championships. Harris was also the winner of the 2018 Port to Port, so knows the ins and outs of 4-day stage races.
Harris did confide to AMB that she "really wants to win Cape to Cape." So expect to see a good battle between these two starts of mountain biking.
All hail the king
Of course, the 2018 Port to Port was one by the all-conquering Brendan Johnston. Johnston also won Cape to Cape in 2017, and won the inaugural Reef to Reef in 2018 with partner in crime Jon Odams. The Cape to Cape, Port to Port and Reef to Reef are being touted as the Australian Tripple Crown of mountain biking - and we aren't here to argue. if you can win or place in just one of those races you're doing a lot of things right. If you can win all three? That's a huge achievement. And that's something Johnston has in his sights in Western Australia.
“Port to Port and Reef to Reef turned out really well and anything is possible. If I can remain consistent over the four days it generally pays off.”
Of course, Cameron Ivory might stand in his way. Ivory is the current cross-country, cross-country eliminator, and marathon national champion. Ivory has also pipped Johnston in a few marathons this year - and that normally doesn't happen. However Johnston knows his strengths and even came from behind to win Port to Port ahead of Ivory in May.
“It is looking alright. I have had some good battles with Cam Ivory this year and I am sure he will be in good shape. He is going very well and there are always some strong guys over there. I think it is the toughest one to win out of the three and potentially being the last individual Cape to Cape before it swaps to the pairs format I really want to get some success there. It is definitely possible,” he said.
That's right - next year Cape to Cape will be a pairs race for those wanting to chase the glory, along with Port to Port and of course Reef to Reef. While it doesn't diminish the prestige of the race - this is the last opportunity to win it before the dynamic of the race changes.
Like the rest of us, bikes are a hobby and for Johnston, getting to Cape to Cape is as much about the holiday as it is racing his friends and competitors between the tape.
“Cape to Cape is an event I really enjoy and I am keen to get over there. My wife Sue is coming over again and she really enjoyed it last year. We loved the area and the way the event allows you get around and see so much as well as being the most competitive race in the country. Which is pretty cool,” Brendan said.
So who will come out earning the titles come the end of the race? We don't know - but it's going to be a great spectacle, and we'll be there covering it and taking in the sights and singletrack. Entries are still open, so why not join the fun?