Robyn de Groot on the charge at the FNB W2W. Photo: Dwayne Senior

The dormakaba duo of Robyn de Groot and Amy McDougall start the FNB Wines2Whales on the front foot, having won Berg and Bush, just three weeks before. We spoke to them about their preparation and how they were feeling ahead of the richest three-day stage race in the sport.

 

FNB Wines2Whales: Robyn & Amy, firstly congratulations on your Berg & Bush win. Was that the first time you two have raced together as a partnership? And how are you feeling as a team/combination ahead of FNB Wines2Whales?

Robyn de Groot: Thank you, we had a good weekend there racing as team dormakaba for the first time. It was definitely a good exercise as a “pre-run” for the FNB Wines2Whales; it’s still a new partnership but we worked nicely together. The depth of the field at this year’s W2W is going to be strong with internationals being drawn to come and race. I am certain the racing will be tight and exciting.

 

Amy McDougall: Yes, it was the first time we’ve ridden as a team. Berg and Bush was a great dry run in that we got a feel of what it’s like to partner up and we got to know each other on and off the bike which was great!

 

FNB W2W: Robyn, what a difference a year makes! Last year this time you were pretty down and contemplating the dangers of the vascular surgery you were about to have. Now you’ve just won a bronze medal at the XCM World Championships. Is it safe to say you are back to your best?

RdG: So true! Last year this time was an extremely difficult time physically, emotionally and mentally for me. I was very down with so many questions and unknowns in my mind, about whether to have the surgery, how to fund my surgery and rehabilitation and the question about what lay ahead for the future. Without a doubt the surgery was worthwhile, I feel like a totally different athlete and for sure the results I had in Europe have put me in a good space leading into this year’s event. It’s been an incredible journey. I wouldn’t change a thing.

 

FNB W2W: Amy, you’ve also had surgery this year. Are you happy with your recovery thus far and with FNB Wines2Whales essentially being the last opportunity of the year to race at a high level, do you approach it looking to end a difficult year on a high?

AM: It’s been a tumultuous year indeed but definitely seems to be ending on a high. The surgery took longer than expected to heal properly, but it was well worth the wait because I can finally get air into my lungs during intense efforts which is a great feeling!

 

FNB W2W: It looks like the 2019 W2W Chardonnay race could feature the most competitive elite women’s field in the event’s 11-year history. Who do you see as your main rivals?

RdG: What great news – the women’s race this year is going to be so exciting! It has progressively drawn more and more riders, including international athletes with notable palmarès. All of the riders in the 2019 field will be riders to watch, everyone has their own right to be respected for sure!

 

AM: Yes, as Robs says, the field is stacked with elites which is so exciting! It could literally be any one of the teams who take the title!

A superstar loaded FNB W2W Women’s field. Photo: Greg Beadle

With a whopping R252 500 in prize money up for grabs, including R100 000 to the winning team, it is no wonder the 2019 FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay race has attracted a stellar field from across the globe. Boasting national champions aplenty, an Olympic gold medallist and a World Championship bronze medallist, it is without a doubt the strongest ever elite women’s field for a South African three-day stage race.

 

Headlining the elite women’s category are the defending champions Candice Lill and Adelheid Morath. Lill has continued on from her strong 2018; securing her first senior South African title and is the highest UCI ranked rider lining up in the 2019 FNB Wines2Whales events. The South African XCO champion will continue her successful partnership with 2019 Swiss Epic champion Morath, who stormed to victory in the five-stage race, which took place in the Graubünden canton of Switzerland in August.

 

“Yes, we’re returning to defend our title, but it does not add any pressure” Morath revealed. “I see it as a gift to be the team which sets out to defend the title. We will do our best and race all out. After the race we will see which team will win the title in 2019” the German rider pragmatically stated.

 

“I also enjoy the feeling of teaming up with such a strong woman and as a result I want to give my very best [to support Candice Lill]. In stage races it’s not all about a once-off performance – you have to perform well every day. The challenge is to take care of yourself, your bike, your partner and the team around you, which supports you, throughout the race” Morath advised.

 

“The season has been quite long – beginning with the Cape Epic in March – with no break in between – until my final race of the season, at the end of October with FNB W2W. I’m honestly a little bit tired mentally and physically, but I’m still very motivated about it” she confided. “I’m coming with a lot of self-confidence, taken from the Marathon World Championships in September. I missed the bronze medal there by just 1 second and finished in an unlucky fourth position!”

 

The woman who pipped Morath to third place in the XCM World Championships is South African, Robyn de Groot. De Groot will be racing alongside dormakaba teammate Amy McDougall. The pair come into the FNB Wines2Whales straight from a general classification victory at Berg and Bush, in KwaZulu-Natal, where they held off Galileo Risk’s Sarah Hill and Theresa Ralph to claim the title.

 

In Ralph’s absence, Hill will be teaming up with Danielle Strydom for the 2019 race. “As much as I love the Western Cape, I unfortunately don’t get many chances to visit; however, that’s part of the reason why I’m so excited to be racing the FNB Wines2Whales” Strydom enthused. “The province is known for its amazing mountain biking trails with their spectacular scenery. I know that W2W will take us through the cream-of-the-crop of those trails and I cannot wait! It will be my first W2W, but from what I hear, I think the routes and trails will suit my riding style; as I love singletracks and the challenges of climbing.”

 

Like Hill and Strydom, the Fairtree-Rotwild, SA Roadtrippers and Ghost Factory Racing teams feature untested line-ups. Swedish XCM champion and former FNB Wines2Whales champion Jennie Stenerhag will start alongside Nadine Rieder for Fairtree-Rotwild. SA Roadtrippers will be represented by the South African/German combination of Katie Lennard and Laura Stark. While Barbara Benko and Catherine Colyn are another international/local duo.

 

“FNB Wines2Whales is my last target of the season and it fits perfectly as I will stay in South Africa after the race, for a little bit of a holiday” the Hungarian XCO champion, Benko explained. “I love South Africa and the weather will be good there too, as we will enter winter in Europe soon. I have a bit more of a reason now to stay longer too, as my boyfriend lives in South Africa. It will be time to reconnect again after the long season and spend some quality time together. Plus, I have a new, South African, coach. So, it makes sense to stay there, do some testing and planning with him for the next season. All-in-all racing FNB W2W is quite a winning situation for me!”

 

In order to match the winning rationale off the bike with results on the bike at FNB Wines2Whales, Benko and Colyn will have to best the Kross Spur team. Swiss XCM champion Ariane Lüthi, will team-up once more with New Zealand’s Samara Sheppard. Lüthi, who needs no introduction to South African mountain biking fans, but the woman from the Land of the Long White Cloud is somewhat of a dark horse.

 

Having placed fifth in the XCM World Championships in 2019 after racing to third in the Swiss Epic, alongside Lüthi, Sheppard is in formidable form. Unlike most of her rivals, her racing season does not end with FNB Wines2Whales either, as she is targeting The Pioneer, fuelled by Nutri-Grain in her native New Zealand in December. The friendly Kiwi is also a proven stage racer, having secured victories in the Australian – Port to Port, Reef to Reef, and Cape to Cape – Epic Series races.

 

The final team, making up the formidable FNB Wines2Whales elite women’s line-up, is the pairing of Alice Pirard and Sabine Spitz, who will also be flying the dormakaba flag. Although an untested pairing, the Belgian – German team appears on paper to be a strong one as Spitz recently claimed a top 10 finish at the UCI Marathon World Champs and Pirard secured second place at the Swiss Epic.

 

Mountain biking fans can follow the women’s racing action, live from the FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay event, on the race’s social media channels or online at www.wines2whales.com. The first stage starts at 07h00, from Lourensford Wine Estate, on Friday 25 October. Live racing coverage can be found on Twitter, @w2wmtb, while Facebook, Wines2Whales, and Instagram, @wines_2_whales, will feature the best photos and videos from the three-days of superb mountain biking.

Riders battle the heat during the FNB Wines2Whales. Photo: Greg Beadle

In 2019, the FNB Wines2Whales rider dining marquee will be more comfortable than ever, thanks to Fourways Airconditioning. While every rider is hoping for warm temperatures and clear skies throughout their three-day celebration of #SeriousGEES, nobody wants to sweat over dinner. Fortunately, with the help of Fourways Airconditioning, the dining marquee will feature a cooler atmosphere this year.

Not only will Fourways Airconditioning be providing cooling units for the dining marquee but they will also be proving mobile air conditioners for the medical tent. Thus, ensuring that any rider who is taken in for treatment will be in a pleasantly cool environment, out of the baking heat of the Western Cape summer sun.

“We are excited to be partnering with FNB Wines2Whales and look forward to being able to provide much-needed comfort to the riders” Richard Perry, CEO of Fourways Airconditioning, said. “With so many riders in the dining marquee we know how hot and stuffy it can get in there. Our air conditioners will hopefully alleviate that and ensure a cooler dining experience.”

“It is great to have Fourways Airconditioning on-board as a sponsor of the 2019 FNB Wines2Whales events” Hendrico Burger, Race Director of the FNB Wines2Whales, stated. “The dining marquee is one of the best places in the race village to relax but when the evenings are hot, the riders prefer to eat a quick dinner and move down to the FNB Rider Lounge or the CBC Chill Zone. Having the Fourways Airconditioning units in the dining marquee will ensure riders can take their time over dinner, enjoy the evening presentations and spend more time socialising over a post-dinner beer or glass of wine.”

Fourways Airconditioning was founded in 1999 and has over the last twenty years grown into one of the South African industry leaders. With outlets in all major metropolitan areas they provide complete after-sales support. While they also boast certified installation technicians across the country, as well as in both Mauritius and Perth, Australia. Since 2004, Fourways Airconditioning has been an authorised importer and distributor of Samsung air conditioners, in South Africa, and have also designed the Alliance range of air conditioners and heat pumps specifically for the local market.

For more information on Fourways Airconditioning visit www.fourwaysaircon.co.za. While for details on the 2019 FNB Wines2Whales events please visit www.wines2whales.com.

Alan Hatherly, Simon Andreassen of Team Spur Specialized and Matthew Beers, Wessel Botha of Team NAD 2 during the 2018 FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz 3 day mountain bike event stage 2 in and around Oak Valley and Paul Cluver. Image by Greg Beadle

For 2019 the FNB Wines2Whales prize purse swells to R550 000, with the elite men and women rewarded down to tenth position.

FNB Wines2Whales has for a number of years held the title as the three day stage race with the biggest prize money purse in mountain biking. In 2019 that is once again true as the event increases its prize purse, offering equal prize money across genders and deepening the number of teams who can contest for the races’ financial rewards. The events will also boast prize money for age group categories and a reinvigorated Whale Category in this year’s editions.

Elite riders competing in the Open categories of the Chardonnay and Shiraz events will be racing for their share of R252 500 in each event with prize money being awarded all the way down to 10th position.

A major change has been implemented and unlike in previous years, elite riders in the Chardonnay and Shiraz races can only compete in the Open class, regardless of their age. That frees up the Sub-Veteran (30-39), Veteran (40-49) and Masters (50+) categories for the competitive weekend warriors in the field. In addition to age group winners being rewarded with a R3 000 cash prize, the leading team in each category, after each stage, will earn the right to wear dedicated Ciovita leader jerseys for the following stage.

In the Shiraz race, the prize purse for the event will be slightly higher than at the Chardonnay race, due to the additions of the Mixed and Exxaro categories each competing for a R3 000 cheque.

For the second year running, the Exxaro race will offer riders from historically disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to race for FNB Wines2Whales glory. In addition to the glory of wearing the Exxaro leaders’ jersey, the winning team will walk away with a cash prize and they will receive a bursary from Curro for schooling from Grade 1 through Grade 12. Each winner can nominate a family member to take advantage of this life-changing opportunity.

A whale’s tale:

Unlike the more serious categories at FNB Wines2Whales there is one where the stakes are just as high, but only bragging rights and a fitting prize or three is on offer. The Whale category will once again allow the larger lads in the field to showcase their mountain biking skills. All teams, where both riders tip the scales at over 99 kilograms, are eligible to enter and the top performers will be rewarded in wine from the route’s most iconic farms. Last year’s whale category win was no fluke as the category was dominated by Matthijs Finke Jasperse and his Dutch Olympic Rowing partner Mitchel Steenman. They claimed the highly acclaimed honours in not just one, but all three FNB W2W events on their way to also adding their names to the Jeroboam finisher list.

For more information about the categories, prize purse and for entries to one of the three 2019 FNB Wines2Whales events please visit www.wines2whales.com.

Biking in the Bosch skills guru, Joanna Dobinson, knows a few things about thriving, rather than just surviving, at the FNB Wines2Whales.

Don’t just survive the 2019 FNB Wines2Whales. Learn to thrive; regardless of the trails, weather and the antics of your fellow riders with the sage advice of Biking in the Bosch’s Joanna Dobinson.

“It’s a bucket list race because of the incredible beauty of the route” Dobinson praised before elaborating. “It is also a very ‘do-able’ route for most people. It’s very obtainable, in terms of distances for most riders too, which really helps. The highlight for me is the spectacularly diverse scenery and lekker gees among the riders! Traversing through the majestic mountains on Day One, into the fun technical “play day” in the vineyards and apple orchards on Day Two, and then dropping down the gorge to the pristine ocean views over Hermanus is just world-class.”

Turning her addition to skills, riders can practice in the final weeks leading into the event, the Stellenbosch based skills coach said: “The biggest request I get from my FNB W2W clients is to get them ready for the switchbacks on Day Two, in Paul Cluver, and on Day 3, into Houw Hoek. Getting into the Attack Position, looking ahead and remembering that momentum is your friend are the first steps! Then focus on line selection; take the corner wide on entry and cut onto the inside to give yourself space in the turn. The same applies for your lines on uphill and downhill switchbacks. A handy trick to put into practice is elbows out on the downs, for stability, and elbows in on the uphill switchbacks to prevent your front wheel from lifting.”

“This will be my fourth FNB Wines2Whales” Dobinson continued. “So, I know the route relatively well. For me the toughest section of the route is the piece between the Gantouw Pass portage and the Grabouw Country Club water point on Stage 1. The A2Z Trails, though fun, are sandy in places and after using different muscles for the portage can cause you to cramp. So, take a cramp-blocking tablet.”

Dobinson listed The Gorge, Stage 3’s Land Rover Experience Section trail as her favourite of the route. Then added it was difficult to pick a second favourite from the plethora of trails on Paul Cluver and Oak Valley on Stage 2.

The FNB Wines2Whales is not just about amazing riding however. Many riders camp in the race village and for them Dobinson has advice too. “Be sure to pack ear plugs” she warned. “And bring as much bedding as you can to ensure you’re warm, there’s nothing worse than not sleeping before a ride because you got cold during the night. It’s really helpful to have a shoulder bag, or backpack, with everything you need for showering. I always pack flip-flops too, but also fill it with your towel, shower gel, casual clothes, etc. It makes your life so much easier and saves you extra trips to the showers because you’ve forgotten something.”

“The pros watch the amount of time they spend on their feet post stage, so do everything you can to minimise walking around aimlessly or standing around” Dobinson added. “Get yourself a spot in the FNB Rider Lounge or Cape Brewing Co Chill Zone and put your feet up.”

“From a personal point of view, Kasha Dickie and I will be riding the FNB W2W Chardonnay race as Team Wild & Free” Dobinson stated. “I’m really excited. It’ll be the first time I start in an all women start group. And to be honest it is a little intimidating to line up alongside some of the best riders in the world. But Kasha and I are really looking forward to it and getting a free run into the singletrack downhills!”

Joanna Dobinson’s Top Tips for Thriving Through FNB W2W

Top Tip for Stage 1: Don’t start too fast! It’s a long day, which starts with a 7-kilometre-long climb and includes the portage too. So, pace yourself on Stage 1. I’ve found riding Stage 1 in shoes with a non-carbon sole is best, they’re more flexible and comfortable to hike-a-bike up the Gantouw Pass in.

Top Tip for Stage 2: There are so many switchbacks on Stage 2, so my tip for the day is regarding line choice. Start the corner wide, cut though the apex and make sure you turn your head and look towards where you want to go.

Top Tip for Stage 3: Save energy for the climb from the Wildekrans trails to Water Point 2. You need to conserve energy there so you have lots of gees for the Gaf-se-Bos and Hemel en Aarde singletracks.