Dan McConnell has a laugh with World Champion Paul Van Der Ploeg at the start line

Dan McConnell has a laugh with World Champion Paul Van Der Ploeg at the start line

Some of the world’s best mountain bike riders today kicked off the sixth annual Cape to Cape MTB with an incredible racing start.

They were joined by over 1,200 riders gathered at the footstep of Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse in Augusta, ready to tackle the 40km first day of the four-day test of endurance.

The iconic Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse and spectacular scenery took a back seat as riders were hit straight up with a 4km climb up Skippy Rock Road before dropping into Augusta’s stately forest. Riders then dropped down onto Deepdene Beach, popping out at Cosy Corner Road before traversing private farmland. A final stretch of tarmac led straight into the finish line at Hamelin Bay.

It was a tight group that led the stage, with 2011 Cape to Cape champ Andy Blair, four time World MTB Orienteering Champion Adrian Jackson, and 2009 Australian MTB Representative Brendan Johnston riding alongside Shaun Lewis and Mark Tupowski for the first half of the stage. Early on team mate Lewis put in a lot of hard work to help Blair get away and will save his legs to help build upon his lead time again tomorrow.

“It was a really fast start for around the first 20km and the main climb…the three of us just got away,” said Blair. “Those guys were really strong, but when we were pressed at the top of the course, there was a slight reluctance from everyone in the group to do too much work…there was a little bit of looking at each other and I just tried to be patient.”

The trio rode together at the front of the field for the first half of the course, before breaking away. Ultimately though, this stage once again came down to the beach portion of the day’s ride.

“I tried to go as hard as possible without going too hard because I wanted to make the beach my opportunity to get away”, said Blair. “The beach is a bit of a lottery and this year it was carnage. I was lucky enough to get away from Adrian Jackson at the beach.”

It was a case of deja-vu for today’s stage with Blair (Swell Specialized) claiming the leg once again in a time of 1 hour and 37 seconds . Adrian Jackson (Flight Centre Merida) followed Blair across the line around shortly thereafter at 1 hour and 39 minutes. Five time world MTB orienteering champion, Jackson, is in good form and tipped as a possible winner of the 2013 Cape to Cape MTB as he is well known to shine in these big events. Blair charged across the line like it was a sprint finish, knowing every second counts. Blair now only has to mark Adrian Jackson for the next three days and the race could be in the bag.

London 2012 Olympian Dan McConnell worked hard to set up team-mate Brendan Johnston, who crossed the line in third position with a time of 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Brendan-Johnston-Andy-Blair-and-Adrian-Jackson off the front of the pack. Blair would win the stage with Jackson in 2nd and Johnson in 3rd

Brendan-Johnston-Andy-Blair-and-Adrian-Jackson off the front of the pack. Blair would win the stage with Jackson in 2nd and Johnston in 3rd

“I managed to hang onto Blairy and AJ, but on the beach the legs crept up on me…the run off the beach is a good hike and unfortunately I wasn’t able to hang onto Blairy, he’s got longer legs than me”.

“I’ve got some good team mates here and I’m sure they’ll do all they can to help me out to gain some time back on Blairy. Getting time is something that is really hard to do and I don’t know how I’m going to do it but we’ll definitely give it a good crack”.

Cape to Cape MTB defending champion, Irish National TT Champion  and 2011 Real Insurance XCM Series Champion Jenny Fay was beaten across the line by local rider and tri-athlete Jo-Anne Bennett, who crossed the line for the ladies with a time of 02.03.23. Riding in her first Cape to Cape MTB, Bennett competed in the event for the first time.

“Jenny Fay was in front of me until we reached the beach, I jumped off the bike and that’s where my running experience kicked in”, said the Alice Springs Anaconda Enduro Winner and Coffs Harbour Marathon Winner. “From there I caught up on some time and got Jenny in the paddock. I found my second wind, put the hammer down and charged.”

Tomorrow’s stage will see riders leave Hamelin Bay for Xanadu Winery in Margaret River, across 64kms of track.

For updates and full results www.capetocapemtb.com