The Cape to Cape MTB is a four-day stage race held in the south-western corner of Australia. It is a race that is on many an Australian mountain biker’s bucket list. I was thrilled to have the support of my family to take off alone to the other side of Australia for a week and make the 10th-anniversary race my first stage race.
I’m prone to some pretty ridiculous race day nerves, but rolling up to the start line for stage 1 had them at epic levels. With over 1,800 riders entered in the Cape to Cape, I was totally overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of fit and capable riders wandering around and felt myself starting to doubt my capability. After reminding myself that the only person I was competing against was me and that I was here simply to achieve my goal of completing my first stage race, I made my way over to the start line for my wave start. As is always the case, once the start gun went off, I quickly forgot my nerves and settled into a good pace for the first section of the gravel road and fire track. Then came the fun bit: some of the single track that the Margaret River region is renowned for. Although I’d caught some of the slower riders from the earlier wave starts and didn’t get to ride these tracks quite as fast as I would’ve liked, it was still so much fun riding through these sections chatting away to other riders. After some more fire road, 55km ticked over on my GPS but the finish line was nowhere in sight. But I love the way a bit of fatigue and a few extra km’s will bring riders together... “What distance does your GPS say?” “How much further do you think we’ve got to go?” Eventually, after an extra 8km’s a spectator assured me that this was the last hill and the finish was just around the corner! I was so relieved to finally finish stage 1 and beyond surprised to find I was the 29th female over the line.
Stage 2 – 63km
Naively I’d thought that once I’d survived day one, I wouldn’t be nervous for the other stages because I’d know what to expect. Turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was still really apprehensive about stage 2. It was the longest stage and I had no idea what it would feel like to back up rides two days in a row. But if there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s how to just let my nerves run their course and keep on doing what I need to do to get myself to the start line. Once the stage was underway, I stuck to my plan, starting out easy and building pace as the stage went on. I was pleased to find that I was able to finish strong and without a doubt, stage 2 was my favourite of the four days! Spectacular views of the ocean, and gorgeous riding through the ancient tall trees of the Karri Forest. An earlier start wave also meant I had free reign on the fun stuff!
Stage 3 – 56km
A good friend of mine had warned me that there is usually one day of a stage race where you just struggle from start to finish. For me, this was stage 3. There was nothing overly difficult about stage 3, it was just that it followed two big days and my legs weren't used to racing day after day. I rolled out from the start line and within 2km I was already looking at my GPS wondering how much further I had to go. Not a good sign. I ended up riding the first 20km along dirt roads and fire track without another rider in sight. Just me, my tired legs and my critical mind. It was not a helpful combination. But once I hit the single track my mood lifted and so did my speed. I had an absolute ball on the single track and may even have been guilty of a little squeal of delight over some of the jumps. The last 15km was a hard slog and I was so relieved to eventually cross the finish line.
Stage 4 – 50km
After a tough ride the previous day where I’d struggled from start to finish, I was really anxious about what the fourth and final stage would be like. I was very relieved to find my legs felt pretty fresh once I got started, so I gave it everything I had. It was a fun stage and I had the added bonus of riding most of the stage with another rider who kept me laughing and pushing myself to the very end. As I rode up the road coming into the finish line, I was totally overwhelmed with emotion and can admit to having tears roll down my face as I crossed the finish line. Four months prior, I wouldn’t have thought it was even possible for me to compete in a race like the Cape to Cape, let alone do it well.
I learnt a lot from my first stage race. I learnt that just because you have a horror day one day, doesn't mean tomorrow will feel the same. Don't give up, just keep your legs ticking over, tomorrow is a new day. I learnt that adequate nutrition is critical. Eat, eat and eat again, both during and after stages. And finally, I learnt that my favourite part of MTB racing – the camaraderie out on course – is even better in a stage race. You get to see and chat to those strangers that became your friends on yesterday's stage again the next day!
Hailing from different countries, with different backgrounds, careers, and obligations, the women of the Trail Squad are just like you: they are moms, nurses, designers and teachers, and they love mountain biking. Together, these women are setting out to complete the most EPIC mountain bike stage race of them all, the 2018 Absa Cape Epic.