Luyanda Thobigunya has started two FNB Wines2Whales races in the Exxaro Jersey competition and has won both. The BMT Fairtree rider has proved unbeatable, winning six stages with two different partners in the process. In 2019, he defended his title alongside Lorenzo le Roux, beating the Exxaro/PwC1 team of Lucky Mlangeni and Anrique Davids.

 

Along with the prize money, awarded by the competition’s title sponsors Exxaro, the winning team members will each receive a bursary to a Curro School of their choice. As the bursary covers education from Grade 1 to Grade 12, Thobigunya and Le Roux will each be able to nominate a young family member to take up the bursary. Valued at 1.2 Million Rand each, the prizes will change the life of a young person, from a historically disadvantaged community, in a way which cycling has been able to improve the lives of the BMT Fairtree team.

 

“It’s an incredible prize” a clearly emotional Le Roux enthused. “My twins turn six next year, so they are nearly ready for Grade 1. I will have to speak to some people and see what we can do. Otherwise, I have an impossibly difficult choice on my hands.”

 

Thobigunya meanwhile did not indicate who he would gift the scholarship to. He is a man of few words who prefers to let his riding do the talking. “It was easy” he said, after the victory sealing race through the third and final stage of FNB Wines2Whales. “One of the Exxaro/PwC1 riders crashed early in the stage, so we knew we just had to keep ahead of them and get safely to the finish line.”

 

The undisputed powerhouse of the team drove himself and Le Roux to an impressive twelfth overall. A result made more impressive by the fact that the BMT Fairtree team spent the second half of Stages 2 and 3 riding within themselves to conserve their Exxaro Jersey lead. One has to wonder how well they would perform if they had chosen to race for the overall general classification rather. The result is a six-position improvement on Thobigunya and Baphelele Mbobo’s eighteenth in 2018.

 

“Luyanda is power” praised BMT Fairtree Academy founder Chris Norton. “I wish I could see him in action on a road team. I think he would amaze people with how strong he is. His climbing, in particular, is exceptional” Norton revealed, explaining why Thobigunya found defending his Exxaro Jersey so easy.

 

“We have to thank Exxaro, FNB Wines2Whales and Curro for the opportunity” Le Roux thanked, as the realisation of victory sunk in. “We also have to thank Chris Norton for being such a great mentor, for believing in us and helping us every step of the way. And of course; thank-you too to Stephen Brown, of Fairtree Capital, for sponsoring us throughout the year and to Trek South Africa for our bikes” the more talkative member of the team concluded.

 

Exxaro/PwC1’s Mlangeni and Davids joined BMT Fairtree on the final Exxaro Jersey podium, in Onrus. Their Exxaro Mountain Biking Academy stablemates, Thabiso Rengane and Khutso Tlou overcame a difficult first stage with strong performances on Stage 2 and 3 to secure third place in the competition.

 

In total, twelve teams contested the Exxaro Jersey during the 2019 FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz event. Seven of those teams finished in the Top Fifty, overall, in a highly competitive field. While Mlangeni and Davids joined Thobigunya and Le Roux in the Top Twenty. Former Exxaro Jersey rider Sithembiso Masango, meanwhile joined Oliver Munnik in the sub-veteran age group, racing to a category podium place for team Land Rover 7.

 

The future of the Exxaro Jersey competition is thus brighter than ever, with young riders developing through the Spur School’s Mountain Biking League every year. With the manageable step into stage racing provided by the FNB Wines2Whales, it is only a matter of time before the next Phillimon Sebona emerges to ascend into the elite ranks. That rider could well be Luyanda Thobigunya.

 

Results: FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz

Exxaro Jersey General Classification after Stage 3:

  1. BMT Fairtree: Luyanda Thobigunya & Lorenzo le Roux (08:30:58)
  2. Exxaro/PwC1: Lucky Mlangeni & Anrique Davids (08:45:04)
  3. Exxaro/RMB1: Thabiso Rengane & Khutso Tlou (08:55:21)
  4. FNB Change a Life 1: Bongumusa Zikhali & Sipho Kupiso (09:00:38)
  5. FXTM-VELOKHAYA 2: Loyiso Fulu & Mthetheleli Boya (09:09:00)
  6. FNB Change a Life 4: Nkululeko Pewa & Nhlanhla Mthembu (09:29:06)
  7. Exxaro / Pepto: Mphodisa Sebopa & Anele Mtalana (09:37:02)
  8. Kinetic Racing Snakes: Chris Engel & Denver Isaacs (10:48:58)
  9. songo.info: Sipho Futhela & Ntlantla Nonkasa (11:47:50)
  10. Roderick MYW 3: Roderick Price & D’Angelo Mouries (12:42:09)
  11. Exxaro/PwC2: Keneth Kabelo Tshukukudu & Andisiwe Skeyi (12:59:01 | Mixed Team)
  12. Jamian MYW2: Jamian Soldaat & Lu-Wayne Khani (15:35:33)

Riders during the 2019 FNB Wine2Whales Shiraz 3 day mountain bike event stage 3 from Oak Valley to Onrus. Image by Nick Muzik

NAD Pro MTB wrapped up the 2019 FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz title in fine style, by winning their third successive stage, on Sunday, 3 November. Stage 3, which started in Oak Valley and finished at the seaside in Onrus, saw Matt Beers and Wessel Botha cross the line first; their stage-winning feat was matched by BMT Fairtree in the Exxaro Special Jersey.

 

“From the start, today, we set quite a hard pace” Botha recounted about how the final stage was won. “The plan was to test the other guys a bit. On the Houw Hoek climb, we saw DSV Pro Cycling struggling a little bit. So, we knew we were the stronger team. On the Kat Pas, we took it easy, to avoid punctures, and they re-joined us.”

 

The NAD Pro MTB team and DSV Pro Cycling’s Gert Heyns and Arno du Toit went through the first waterpoint, at Botrivier Primary School together. The quartet then raced their way through the Wildekrans singletracks in close formation, before the open climb towards waterpoint 2 provided an opportunity for Beers and Botha to attack.

 

“On the climb to the Art House, Matt wound it up and we managed to get a gap” Botha continued. “From there it was just heads down to the finish. We went full gas on the road sections but took it a little easier in the singletracks, just to avoid any punctures or mechanicals. Luckily we could hold it to the finish and take the third stage win.”

 

“To come back as the defending champs is not always easy” Beers reflected. “There is always extra pressure and it doesn’t happen often that a team can defend their title. To get three stage wins in doing so was just a bonus. I’m really happy to get another win.”

 

“I was a last-minute call-up. Nico Bell phoned me on Wednesday and told me that he couldn’t race because he had a chest infection” Beers clarified. “I’ve been riding a Specialized Epic Evo Comp, so I actually raced on Nico’s bike. Fortunately, we both ride extra-large frames – it went way better than I expected. Wessel has progressed so much since he joined the team; people underestimate him because he is so softly spoken, but he is one of the best mountain bikers in the country” he concluded, praising his young partner.

 

DSV Pro Cycling was caught by a recovering PYGA Euro Steel in the Gaf se Bos singletracks between the Art House waterpoint and the Karwyderskraal Road. That set up a tense final 20 kilometres for Heyns and Du Toit, who had clearly  burnt too many matches trying to take the race to NAD Pro MTB.

 

“The prize money for second is still a nice bonus at the end of the year [R50 000]” Heyns confessed after finishing second on the stage and second overall. “Matt and Wessel rode really well. We tried our best, so second is not too bad.”

 

“Today we kept up with NAD really well” Heyns explained how the day unfolded from a DSV Pro Cycling perspective. “When they decided to really go, we just didn’t have the firepower to follow them. But luckily, we could still hold onto second overall.”

 

PYGA Euro Steel’s Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes finished the stage in third, after losing out to Heyns and Du Toit in the sprint for second. The result secured them third overall, on the final general classification standings. NAD Pro MTB’s time of 7 hours, 32 minutes and 37 seconds was a massive 27 minutes faster than the event record, set by Buys and Beukes in 2017. DSV Pro Cycling and PYGA Euro Steel both comfortably beat the previous record time, as did the fourth-placed team of Keagan Bontekoning and Jean-Pierre Lloyd. The fifth spot on the overall standings was filled by SPOT Africa DEVMCO Umhlanga Arch’s Timothy Hammond and Julian Jessop.

 

The Exxaro Special Jersey competition was won by Luyanda Thobigunya and Lorenzo le Roux. The BMT Fairtree pair claimed their third successive stage victory, capitalising on a crash by one of the Exxaro/PwC1 riders. Lucky Mlangeni and Anrique Davids were helped to the line by the Exxaro/RMB1 team of Thabiso Rengane and Khutso Tlou. Though Rengane and Tlou outsprinted Mlangeni and Davids to claim second on the stage, Exxaro/PwC1 maintained second in the Exxaro Special Jersey race’s overall classification, while Exxaro/RMB1 completed the podium.

 

Along with the prize money that Thobigunya and Le Roux won for their stage wins and general classification title, the pair also won education bursaries. Curro Schools donated two scholarships, covering school fees from Grade 1 to Grade 12 for a family member of each of the winning riders. Valued at 1.2 Million Rand each, the prize truly showcases that “bicycles change lives.”

 

Back on a cycling front, there was excitement on the final day in the Mixed category as a three-way sprint for second unfolded. Conway Brett Oliver and Catherine Williamson pipped Marco Schaer and Yvonne Waltert, along with the Linaqua team of Henry Liebenberg and Christie Hearder. The overall standings remained unchanged, with Fairtree’s Jennie Stenerhag and Craig Gerber securing the title by 4 minutes.

 

Giordana’s Schaer and Waltert maintained their second position in the category’s general classification standings, despite finishing third on the final stage. While PITSTOP SPORT 2’s Oliver and Williamson completed the podium; behind the dominant Stenerhag and Gerber.

 

With the Shiraz champions crowned, the 2019 FNB Wines2Whales series of events came to its conclusion. Attention now turns to 2020 when the famous race from the wines of Lourensford to the whales in Hermanus will change direction. The Switchback event sees the race change direction and 2019 riders have access to priority entries to this exciting initiative until midnight on Sunday. General entries to the 2020 FNB Wines2Whales Switchback open on Tuesday, 5 November 2019. For more information please visit www.wines2whales.com.

 

Results: FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz

Elite Men Stage 3:

  1. NAD Pro MTB: Matthew Beers & Wessel Botha (02:23:50.4)
  2. DSV Pro Cycling: Arno du Toit & Gert Heyns (02:27:20.4 | +03:30.0)
  3. PYGA Euro Steel: Matthys Beukes & Philip Buys (02:27:20.6 | +03:30.2)
  4. Jaguar Power Products: Keagan Bontekoning & Jean-Pierre Lloyd (02:31:06.7 | +07:16.3)
  5. Canyon Werner: Sebastian Stark & Robert Hobson (02:35:09.6 | +11:19.2)

 

Exxaro Jersey Stage 3:

  1. BMT Fairtree: Luyanda Thobigunya & Lorenzo le Roux (02:42:49.9)
  2. Exxaro / RMB1: Thabiso Rengane & Khutso Tlou (02:49:26.7 | +06:37.8)
  3. Exxaro / PwC1: Lucky Mlangeni & Anrique Davids (02:49:27.0 | +06:38.1)

 

Mixed Category Stage 3:

  1. Fairtree: Jennie Stenerhag & Craig Gerber (02:55:34.2)
  2. PITSTOP SPORT 2: Conway Brett Oliver & Catherine Williamson (02:57:32.5 | +01:58.3)
  3. Giordana: Marco Schaer & Yvonne Waltert (02:57:32.9 | +01:58.6)

 

Elite Men’s General Classification after Stage 3:

  1. NAD Pro MTB: Matthew Beers & Wessel Botha (07:32:37)
  2. DSV Pro Cycling: Arno du Toit & Gert Heyns (07:37:40 | +05:03)
  3. PYGA Euro Steel: Matthys Beukes & Philip Buys (07:40:04 | +07:27)
  4. Jaguar Power Products: Keagan Bontekoning & Jean-Pierre Lloyd (07:54:34 | +21:57)
  5. SPOT Africa DEVMCO Umhlanga Arch: Timothy Hammond & Julian Jessop (08:10:09 | +37:32)

 

Exxaro Jersey General Classification after Stage 3:

  1. BMT Fairtree: Luyanda Thobigunya & Lorenzo le Roux (08:30:58)
  2. Exxaro / PwC1: Lucky Mlangeni & Anrique Davids (08:45:04 | +14:06)
  3. Exxaro / RMB1: Thabiso Rengane & Khutso Tlou (08:55:21 | +24:22)

 

Mixed Category General Classification after Stage 3:

  1. Fairtree: Jennie Stenerhag & Craig Gerber (09:11:24)
  2. Giordana: Marco Schaer & Yvonne Waltert (09:15:24 | +04:00)
  3. PITSTOP SPORT 2: Conway Brett Oliver & Catherine Williamson (09:20:26 | +09:02)

 

For the full results from the FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz race please visit www.wines2whales.com.

 

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The Race Village erupts as the Springboks secure the Rugby World Cup title. Image by Nick Muzik

There was nervous tension aplenty on the start line of Stage 2 of the FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz race; on Saturday, 2 November. The start time was brought forward to 06:00 and a short-cut was added to ensure everyone who wanted to watch the Rugby World Cup Final was able to. So, when the Springbok’s kicked off against England – at 11:00 local time – the Race Village was filled with riders and crew.

 

Few were to be seen riding or strolling around between the marquees, tents or stalls,  however. Virtually every eye in Oak Valley was locked on a television screen. 80 minutes later, the 04:00 am wake-up call, the hour and a half time adjustment for taking the short cut, and all the nerves were worth it.

 

Despite starting the match as underdogs, following England’s barnstorming win against the world number one All Blacks, the men in green and gold prevailed – turning physical dominance into a resounding 32-12 win. A victory margin only exceeded by Australia when they defeated France, 35-12, in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

 

There was no early indication that the game would finish with a 20-point margin of victory. “I expect it to be a 3-point game” former Springbok captain Corné Krige predicted earlier in the day. A tense first half, which finished 12-6, pointed to the wisdom of Krige’s prediction.

 

Willed on by the throngs of riders gathered in the FNB Rider Lounge, Woolworths Rider Dining, and Cape Brewing Co Chill Zone, along with the 58 Million South Africans watching from within the Rainbow Nation and abroad, the Springboks tightened the noose. Utilising their scrum dominance to keep piling on the pressure, they drove the English back and kept the scoreboard ticking over.

 

A brief swing in momentum, when England were awarded two kickable penalties in three minutes, was stopped by Owen Farrell missing the second kick at goal. During those brief moments, one could hear a freehub spin in the silent Race Village. The few English fans in attendance had the good sense to stifle their cheers.

 

The tide turned for the good when Handrè Pollard slotted his sixth penalty of the match. 9 points up with 20 minutes to play, even the most sceptical Springbok fans were starting to believe. A fourth penalty for Farrell and England did little to dent the growing confidence, which was spectacularly rewarded in the 66th minute.

 

One of the quirks of watching the game in the Race Village was the timing of the various feeds. While the main viewing areas were connected to SuperSport via satellite, small clusters of fans were gathered around laptops watching on DSTV Now. With the online streaming feed delayed by over a minute, the fans watching through that service were forwarded of any significant moment.

 

Makazole Mapimpi’s try was the loudest such instance. It sounded for all the world as if the massive Bedouin tent, which houses the Cape Brewing Co Chill Zone, would be blown from its tethers. Such was the wall of noise which erupted from it. When Pollard added the 2 extra points, by way of a simple conversion, the 13-point buffer it provided sent the Race Village into raptures.

 

When Cheslin Kolbe scored the try which put the game beyond doubt, 9 minutes later, the FNB Wines2Whales Oak Valley Race Village was already in full party mode. Queen’s “We are the Champions” was blaring over the emotional rugby commentary being piped through the loudspeakers. Siya Kolisi’s men had defied the odds and united a nation.

 

Sunday’s 69-kilometre-long final stage may seem longer and more arduous than it otherwise would be, though rumours of a later start to accommodate those who continue the celebrations late into the night are entirely unfounded. There is prize money to be won and who knows; maybe South African Marathon Champion Arno du Toit, and his DSV Pro Cycling partner Gert Heyns, will upset the odds on Stage 3 by drawing inspiration for the Springboks to overrun the favourites NAD Pro MTB.

Matt Beers and Wessel Botha secured their second stage victory by blitzing the Elite Men’s field. Image by Nick Muzik

Stage 2 of the FNB Wines2Whales is known as Play Day. There was no fun and games to be had for the riders who tried to hold Matt Beers’ wheel however, as he and Wessel Botha blitzed the trails of Oak Valley and Paul Cluver. The NAD Pro MTB pair claimed their second stage victory to extend their general classification lead on Saturday 2 November, while their exploits were copied by the BMT Fairtree and Fairtree teams in the Exxaro Jersey race and Mixed category.

 

In the Elite Men’s category, Beers went on the charge from the first climb of the day. Ascending out of Oak Valley, the NAD Pro MTB rider split the field with a stinging acceleration. Only his partner, Wessel Botha, along with his fellow Stage 1 protagonists, DSV Pro Cycling and PYGA Euro Steel could follow the early move.

 

“The plan was to make it tough from the off” Beers explained. “I tried to set a high tempo on the first climb and only Matthys Beukes, Philip Buys, Arno du Toit and Gert Heyns could follow Wessel and myself. I saw HB Kruger and Frans Claes trying to close the gap to us after the climb, so I drove on again. The more riders there are in the front group, the harder it makes it to navigate the singletracks safely. Because of that, I really didn’t want them to catch us.”

 

“We saw yesterday that we could put Matt and Wessel under pressure a bit in the singletracks” Du Toit revealed. “But we hardly got a chance to lead into any trails today, Matt controlled the race too well.” With nearly 80 percent of the Play Day route being made up of singletrack, the battle for the first 40 kilometres was to lead the group into each trail.

 

Beers and Botha were virtually ever-present at the front of the trio. With Beers setting a consistently ferocious pace. “I think Matt is probably the best mountain biker in the country right now” his NAD Pro MTB teammate Botha praised. “It’s an honour to race alongside him.”

 

After softening up their rivals for the first 47 kilometres, the NAD Pro MTB team launched the stage winning move. On the climb towards the Hickory Shack waterpoint, Beers and Botha increased the tempo. Beukes was the first to drop off, forcing Buys to slow down to help his PYGA Euro Steel partner through the final 17 kilometres of the stage. Then DSV Pro Cycling started to falter, initially holding NAD Pro MTB in sight until the Thandi Switchbacks; 10 kilometres from the finish, the elastic snapped.

 

Beers and Botha rode home as comfortable stage winners, putting 1 minute and 32.2 seconds into Du Toit and Heyns. Beukes and Buys crossed the finish line third, 3 minutes and 56.7 seconds after the stage winners. The result sees NAD Pro MTB extend their general classification lead to 1 minute and 33 seconds.

 

Behind the podium finishers, Kruger and Claes bounced back from their puncture on Stage 1, to finish fourth on Stage 2. The Devonbosch Stellenbosch pair’s result leapfrogged them into fifth on the general classification. While the young Jaguar Power Products team, of Keagan Bontekoning and Jean-Pierre Lloyd, maintained their fourth place on the overall standings.

 

In the Exxaro Jersey competition, Luyanda Thobigunya and Lorenzo le Roux extended their category lead by winning the stage ahead of Lucky Mlangeni and Anrique Davids of Exxaro/PWC1. The BMT Fairtree team recovered from Le Roux crashing into a tree, to put another 4 minutes and 24 seconds into the Exxaro/PwC1 team. Exxaro/RMB1’s Thabiso Rengane and Khutso Tlou were third on the stage. That result moved them into third on the Exxaro Special Jersey overall standings, behind Exxaro/PwC1 and BMT Fairtree.

 

The Mixed category stage honours went to the category leaders; Jennie Stenerhag and Craig Gerber. The Fairtree team extended their general classification advantage to 2 minutes and 1 second over Giordana’s Marco Schaer and Yvonne Waltert. PITSTOP SPORT 2’s Conway Brett Oliver and Catherine Williamson are third in the competition, 7 minutes and 3 seconds behind Stenerhag and Gerber.

 

On Sunday, 3 November, FNB Wines2Whales departs Oak Valley for Onrus. Racing to the whales on the Atlantic Coast, the teams will have a challenging 69 kilometres to complete their Shiraz event adventure. Despite their advantage, Beers and Botha are weary of the potential for disaster, having seen what happened to the Faces team of Candice Lill and Adelheid Morath in the Chardonnay race.

 

“It’s not over until we reach Onrus” Botha stated. “Tomorrow will be a tough day and I’m sure the other teams will take the fight to us. But after the final stage having to be rerouted to finish at Oak Valley last year, I’m looking forward to finishing at the sea. It’s going to be an exciting last day of the FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz.”

 

Results: FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz

Elite Men Stage 2:

  1. NAD Pro MTB: Matthew Beers & Wessel Botha (02:27:59.3)
  2. DSV Pro Cycling: Arno du Toit & Gert Heyns (02:29:31.5 | +1:32.2)
  3. PYGA EuroSteel: Matthys Beukes & Philip Buys (02:31:56.0 | +03:56.7)
  4. Devonbosch Stellenbosch: Frans Claes & HB Kruger (02:33:38.2 | +05:38.9)
  5. SPOT Africa DEVMCO Umhlanga Arch: Timothy Hammond & Julian Jessop (02:37:43.2 | +09:43.9)

 

Exxaro Jersey Stage 2:

  1. BMT Fairtree: Luyanda Thobigunya & Lorenzo le Roux (02:46:35.6)
  2. Exxaro / PwC1: Lucky Mlangeni & Anrique Davids (02:51:00.5 | +04:24.9)
  3. Exxaro / RMB1: Thabiso Rengane & Khutso Tlou (02:57:05.4 | +10:29.8)

 

Mixed Category Stage 2:

  1. Fairtree: Jennie Stenerhag & Craig Gerber (03:01:52.0)
  2. Giordana: Marco Schaer & Yvonne Waltert (03:02:54.6 | +01:02.6)
  3. PITSTOP SPORT 2: Conway Brett Oliver & Catherine Williamson (03:03:44.3 | +01:52.3)

 

Elite Men’s General Classification after Stage 2:

  1. NAD Pro MTB: Matthew Beers & Wessel Botha (05:08:47)
  2. DSV Pro Cycling: Arno du Toit & Gert Heyns (05:10:20 | +01:33)
  3. PYGA EuroSteel: Matthys Beukes & Philip Buys (05:12:44 | +03:57)
  4. Jaguar Power Products: Keagan Bontekoning & Jean-Pierre Lloyd (05:23:27 | +14:40)
  5. Devonbosch Stellenbosch: Frans Claes & HB Kruger (05:23:58 | +15:11)

 

Exxaro Jersey General Classification after Stage 2:

  1. BMT Fairtree: Luyanda Thobigunya & Lorenzo le Roux (05:48:08)
  2. Exxaro / PwC1: Lucky Mlangeni & Anrique Davids (05:55:37 | +08:28)
  3. Exxaro / RMB1: Thabiso Rengane & Khutso Tlou (06:05:54 | +17:45)

 

Mixed Category General Classification after Stage 2:

  1. Fairtree: Jennie Stenerhag & Craig Gerber (06:15:50)
  2. Giordana: Marco Schaer & Yvonne Waltert (06:17:51 | +02:01)
  3. PITSTOP SPORT 2: Conway Brett Oliver & Catherine Williamson (06:22:54 | +07:03)

 

For the full results from the FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz race please visit www.wines2whales.com.

Image by Xavier Briel

It has been 12 years since the Springboks last played in an IRB Rugby World Cup final. In 2007 the team was captained by (now avid mountain biker) John Smit and they defeated England by 15 points to 6 in the Stade de France. Halfway around the world, the Springboks are preparing to take on the same opponents, in the International Stadium Yokohama, on Saturday the 2nd of November 2019. Back in South Africa meanwhile, the FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz event is taking every step to ensure every rider, who would like to, can watch the final.

 

Two riders, in particular, are very eager to watch the game. One, Jeremy Thompson will have no trouble finishing in time for the 11:00 kick-off. In fact, Thompson is a mountain biker of such skill and fitness that he is likely to be showered, and ready to put his feet up with a cold Cape Brewing Co beer, in time for the big game. Kyle Brown might cut it a little finer in his quest to reach Oak Valley in time for the final.

 

“I’ve told Mboneni [Ngcobo] he’ll have to pull hard tomorrow” Thompson joked, suggesting that his teammate Mboneni Ngcobo would have to set a ferocious pace for the Land Rover team on Stage 2. “I don’t think we’ve peaked yet as a team. And I honestly believe we have one left in the bag. One card left to play and I think we’re going to pull it off tomorrow” the former Sharks centre enthused.

 

Given his and Ngcobo’s finish time of 3 hours, 12 minutes and 43.8 seconds on the opening stage, the Land Rover team are likely to finish Stage 2 just after 09:00. Leaving them with nearly 2 hours to prepare for the rugby. To aid the slower riders, the FNB Wines2Whales have decided to bring forward the start time to 06:00.

 

Brown, who is riding with 2016 Olympian Mari Rabie, will need that extra hour to make it back in time. The 64-kilometre-long Stage 2, tends to be completed in a faster time than the 65-kilometre-long opening stage, but still without the benefit of an early start, Brown would have been in trouble.

 

“I only bought a mountain bike three months ago” the recently retired Blitz Bok revealed. “Don’t all retired rugby players become mountain bikers?” he joked. As part of the Land Rover team, and with an accomplished mountain biker at his side Brown, has made the exceptionally rapid progress. Showcasing the enviable ease at which gifted sportsmen and women pick up new skills.

 

“I love how mountain biking takes you to places you would otherwise not be able to see” Brown continued. “When I’m on my bike I nearly forget about the outside world.” Except of course he has not forgotten about Saturday’s game. “I like the way we have been dominating the breakdown” the former Springbok Sevens captain offered as analysis. “If we can disrupt England at the rucks and stop them from getting quick ball, then we can nullify their attack. If we do that, we have an excellent chance of winning.”

 

For the riders who, unlike Brown and Thompson, will not be able to finish the full Stage 2 before 11:00, the race has provided an official short cut. The “Bok Supporter” short cut starts at the 40-kilometre mark and reduces the route by 12 kilometres. Riders who wish to make it back to Oak Valley in time for the final should look out for the “This way to the RWC Final” sign which will be put up at 09:15. Riders taking the short cut will receive a 90-minute time adjustment, but will still be regarded as official FNB Wines2Whales finishers; should they reach Onrus on Sunday.

 

 

The Elite Men’s race went right down to the line as NAD Pro MTB claimed the honours. Image by Xavier Briel

The Shiraz race is the final event in the FNB Wines2Whales series. Following on the heals, or wheels rather, of the Chardonnay and Pinotage races, the Shiraz allows the elite men to revel in the media attention. It was not just the Elite Men who departed, from Lourensford on Friday 1 November, for Oak Valley, however. The Shiraz also features the Exxaro Jersey and Mixed Category races.

At the very front of the field, the Elite Men ensured the race got off to a firecracker start. NAD Pro MTB outsprinted PYGA Euro Steel and DSV Pro Cycling to take the finest of advantages into Stage 2. Nobody would have guessed that Stage 1 would end in a sprint the way it started.

“Our plan was to get rid of as many teams as possible” Matt Beers of NAD Pro MTB revealed. “And we managed to get rid of all the teams, but we knew it was a long way to go to Oak Valley; so, while we made it hard for PYGA Euro Steel to get back, we were glad that they caught us.”

The catch happened at Water Point 1, after 20 kilometres of the 65-kilometre-long stage. “We didn’t panic when NAD got away on the Lourensford Neck climb” Philip Buys pointed out. “We could still see them and we knew we could close the gap. We struggled a little with the fast start but we knew we would get stronger as the stage progressed.”

It did not quite turn out as PYGA Euro Steel would have liked, however. With Matthys Beukes nursing a cough, it appeared that he and Buys would be in trouble going up the Gantouw Pass portage. Their canny racing experience negated any physical disadvantage though. “We went to the front in the singletrack before the portage and were able to slow it down to our pace” Beukes confessed. “I’m glad we didn’t go up there any faster, I hate running!” Wessel Botha, of NAD Pro MTB, laughed at Beukes’ revelation.

PYGA Euro Steel’s slowing of the pace allowed DSV Pro Cycling’s Gert Heyns and Arno du Toit to join the front group. The pair had been a minute behind at the Idiom Wine Estate waterpoint, just 7 kilometres before the start of the portage. The trio of teams summited the Gantouw Pass portage together, setting up a thrilling finale to the stage.

“From the top of the pass to Oak Valley there aren’t many places to get away” Buys explained. “Descending at over 50 kilometres per hour on the gravel road towards the finish made overtaking dangerous, so the order was pretty much set 2 kilometres out,” he said. Picking up the story of the sprint Beers concluded: “I’ve lost enough sprints to Alan Hatherly to know exactly what to do.”

Beers crossed the finish line first, but with the second rider from each team determining the order, the result came down to Botha. The young NAD Pro MTB rider did not disappoint his senior colleague, holding off Beukes by 0.2 seconds and DSV Pro Cycling’s Du Toit by 0.9 seconds.

The top five places were rounded out by the surprise package of Jaguar Power Products and the SPOT Africa DEVMCO Umhlanga Arch teams. Keagan Bontekoning and Jean-Pierre Lloyd inherited fourth after the Devonbosch Stellenbosch team of Frans Claes and HB Kruger punctured on the Vergelegen Climb, 28 kilometres into the stage. The Jaguar Power Products then held the position throughout the rest of the stage. Timothy Hammond and Julian Jessop finished the stage in fifth, 7 minutes and 30.4 seconds behind the sprint for first.

In the Exxaro Jersey competition, the BMT Fairtree team finished an impressive fifteenth overall, on their way to stage victory. Luyanda Thobigunya is a formidably strong rider and won the Exxaro Jersey at the FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz event last year; alongside Baphelele Mbobo. In 2018 he ended up eighteenth overall, so he and Lorenzo le Roux are on course to improve that result.

“Today was easy” Thobigunya smiled. “I knew the trails from last year and that really helped. The portage is always hard though, and I was cramping a bit after that. It makes it difficult to get going again.” Get going again he and Le Roux did, and they finished 3 minutes and 3.8 seconds ahead of the Exxaro/PwC1 team of Lucky Mlangeni and Anrique Davids. FNB Change a Life 1’s Bongumusa Zikhali and Sipho Kupiso claimed third.

In the Mixed category, Jennie Stenerhag returned to the FNB Wines2Whales, just a week after securing third overall in the Chardonnay race. She and her partner, Craig Gerber, won the stage by 58.8 seconds over Marco Schaer and Yvonne Waltert. Conway Brett Oliver and Catherine Williamson were third on the opening stage of the Shiraz race.

On Saturday, 2 November, the FNB Wines2Whales action continues with the Shiraz race’s Play Day. The 64-kilometre-long out-and-back stage starts and finishes at Oak Valley; taking in 1 400 metres of climbing. Filled with singletrack as it is, it will reward the riders with the best technical skills; but on past evidence, that means it is nearly impossible to pick a favourite for the stage from Stage 1’s main contenders.

Another fiercely contested day could well be on the cards. So, mountain biking fans would be wise to tune in from 06:00 when the racing kicks off. The earlier start is to ensure more time is provided for the slower riders to get back to Oak Valley in time for the IRB Rugby World Cup final, which takes place at 11:00. The game will be broadcast live from the FNB Rider Lounge and in the Cape Brewing Co Chill Zone.

Results: FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz
Elite Men Stage 1:
1. NAD Pro MTB: Matthew Beers & Wessel Botha (02:40:47.8)
2. PYGA Euro Steel: Matthys Beukes & Philip Buys (02:40:48.0 | +0.2)
3. DSV Pro Cycling: Arno du Toit & Gert Heyns (02:40:48.7 | +0.9)
4. Jaguar Power Products: Keagan Bontekoning & Jean-Pierre Lloyd (02:45:44.5 | +4:56.7)
5. SPOT Africa DEVMCO Umhlanga Arch: Timothy Hammond & Julian Jessop (02:48:18.2 | +7:30.4)

Exxaro Jersey Stage 1:
1. BMT Fairtree: Luyanda Thobigunya & Lorenzo le Roux (03:01:32.7)
2. Exxaro / PwC1: Lucky Mlangeni & Anrique Davids (03:04:36.5 | +03:03.8)
3. FNB Change a Life 1: Bongumusa Zikhali & Sipho Kupiso (03:08:48.1 | +07:15.4)

Mixed Category Stage 1:
1. Fairtree: Jennie Stenerhag & Craig Gerber (03:13:58.4)
2. Giordana: Marco Schaer & Yvonne Waltert (03:14:57.2 | +58.8)
3. PITSTOP SPORT 2: Conway Brett Oliver & Catherine Williamson (03:19:09.6 | +05:11.2)

For the full results from the FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz race please visit www.wines2whales.com.