Lorenzo Le Roux and Luyanda Thobigunya, winners of the Exxaro Special Jersey at the 2019 FNB Wines2Whales, received their bursaries from Curro Holdings.

Most mountain bike stage races, including FNB Wines2Whales are raced in teams of two for a reason. When crossing high alpine passes and snaking through rugged terrain, the presence of a partner is necessary for safety. In a sport which takes riders into areas where the weather can change quickly or a fall can leave them unable to help themselves, help needs to be close at hand.

For riders who enter simply to soak up the experience, having a partner by your side gives you someone to share the memories with. While for racers, who are contesting for podium positions, the balance is a little trickier. As the old cycling saying goes: “sometimes you are the hammer and sometimes you are the nail.” Therefore, teammates have to look after one another, nurse them through the moments of weakness and thrive together, rather than racing against one another.

Luyanda Thobigunya and Lorenzo Le Roux of BMT Fairtree are one such team. In fact, they go beyond helping one another on the bike. The story began with them aiding each other to the Exxaro Jersey victory in the 2019 FNB Wines2Whales.

The Exxaro Jersey is a competition within the Shiraz race, in the FNB Wines2Whales series. It allows riders from historically disadvantaged communities to compete in one of the world’s premier stage races and race for prize money. In 2019, the stakes were raised by Curro Holdings, when they added two full scholarships to the prize the winning Exxaro Jersey team would ride away with. Valued at R1.2 million each the bursaries are set to cover the education of two young South Africans, from Grade 1 to Grade 12 at any Curro school. The idea behind the prize was that the winners would each be able to nominate a family member to take up the scholarship.

Thobigunya and Le Roux won the competition by 14 minutes and 6 seconds after three challenging days of racing. In so doing providing their children with a lifechanging opportunity. There was however one issue, Le Roux has twins who turn six in 2020, meaning they will start Grade R next year.

In an act of truly inspiring generosity Thobigunya nominated the second of Le Roux’s twins as the recipient of his Curro scholarship. “It was a chance for our kids to have a better start in life and that is why we rode like we did!” Thobigunya explained. “Cycling has provided me with a reason to avoid getting involved with nonsense, like alcohol and drugs, but also now with the chance to provide a great education to Lorenzo’s children.”

His generosity comes as no surprise to those who know Thobigunya. Though shy by nature he is the key figure in the BMT Fairtree academy. “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. He has put in a massive amount of hard work, on and off the bike, to become the great rider he is and the rest of the guys really look up to him.”

Le Roux, who works for South Industries – a South African company specialising in the manufacturing of hand-built carbon bicycle wheels – is eternally grateful to his FNB Wines2Whales partner. “This is why we ride; to constantly improve ourselves and our families” he said “I cannot thank BMT, Chris Norton, Fairtree, Exxaro and Wines2Whales enough, for providing us with the opportunity to race for such amazing prizes, let alone Luyanda and Curro. I’m so grateful to them and I’m sure my kids will be too!”

For Curro, education is a lifelong journey. “FNB Wines2Whales is more about the journey than the destination and, as South Africa’s largest independent education provider, we’ve spotted great synergy in this message” Marí Lategan, Head: Marketing and Communications at Curro Holdings, stated. “We are looking forward to starting Le Roux’s children on the journey to an outstanding education at the Curro group of schools.”

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.

We have borrowed this image of Erik from his social media, but we know he’ll look this majestic during the 2019 FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz event.

Thanks to the Canyon connection between Katusha Alpecin’s Willie Smit and former professional rider, turned Canyon South Africa Market Manager, Erik Kleinhans, the pair will be riding the FNB Wines2Whales together. Racing as Katusha Alpecin Canyon, they will start the Shiraz event, on the 1st of November, among the other elite riders contesting for overall victory.

 

Smit, who is affectionately known as Smurfy Smit on social media, spends the vast majority of his year living and training in Andorra. His partner, Kleinhans, is the self-styled Lion King of South African cycling; because of his wild mane of hair. Living in nearby Stellenbosch and having notched up numerous FNB W2W finishes, there is arguably nobody better to guide Smit through his first mountain bike stage race than Kleinhans.

 

“I won the first FNB Wines2Whales in 2009 and it is special to have been there in the beginning and see how the event has grown through the years” Kleinhans reflected. “The event is also not far from my home town, so it is a lot of fun for me to participate as I know quite a lot of people. Other than that; it is super fun, well organised and in a beautiful area!”

 

Smit, like most professional road racers, does not get to spend much time on any other bike besides his road bikes. “To start off with I don’t actually own a mountain bike” he confessed with a laugh. “Erik is organising me a Canyon Lux especially for the FNB Wines2Whales. I haven’t been on a mountain bike for the last two years, in fact. I’ve focused so much on my road bike and on my rest days; rather than go trail riding I’ve spent them hiking or going for a run with my wife. So, I think this weekend is going to be quite challenging. I’m going to have to follow Erik’s lines and hopefully he takes really safe lines or I might be stuffed. If he hits any jumps, I’m in trouble!”

If Willie Smit can comfortably do this on a moving road bike, he shouldn’t have any problems with the trails! Image sourced from Willie’s Instagram: @williesmurfy

The pair will be racing on a set of Canyon’s new full suspension cross-country/marathon mountain bikes, which should alleviate some of Smit’s fears. “I’m sure Willie will be almost as fast as Mathieu van der Poel on the climbs, and almost as fast as Pauline Ferrand-Prévot on the downhills” Kleinhans joked. “We will be riding the Canyon Lux, which is a super-fast bike! So, we will definitely not be able to use our bikes as an excuse, if we aren’t up to the pace of the rest of the racing bunch during the FNB W2W.”

 

Kleinhans’ enthusiasm for the event was instrumental in getting Smit to agree to riding the FNB Wines2Whales. “I’ve always liked the idea of mountain bike races, simply because my mountain biker friends have told me how much fun they are” Smit revealed. “I’ve ridden 3 Towers, joBerg2c and Crater Cruise but I’ve never done a three-day stage race in the Western Cape. So, it should be a great adventure. I’m not sure how well stocked the water points are, but I think that will be the major determining factor for how fast Erik and I will be riding this weekend. The better the water points, the longer we’ll be out there” he said; unaware that Woolworths will probably ensure that he and Kleinhans will be finishing well down the Shiraz field, if that is the case.

 

Asked how he broke the news that Smit would have to portage his bike up the Gantouw Pass, Kleinhans laughed: “I was keeping it as a surprise for him! But now that he knows, I will just tell him to watch the Video of Froome up Mont Ventoux in 2016. Luckily Willie is tough, so I’m sure he will be all good!”

Matt Beers leads the Elite Men during the 2018 FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz 3 day mountain bike event from Lourensford to Oak Valley. Image by Nick Muzik

 

When the final race in the three-event 2019 FNB Wines2Whales series kicks off at Lourensford Wine Estate, on the 1st of November, eight teams start with a realistic shot at the title. As befitting of the final race in the South African calendar, the list of five-star favourites is a who’s-who of local stage racing, with a couple of international talents in the mix. Picking a stand out team from the line-up proves difficult though, as every squad is a danger in their own right. 

 

NAD Pro MTB, the 2018 FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz winners, earn the right of headlining the list. Wessel Botha starts his title defence alongside Matt Beers this year, who returns from a road racing campaign for UAE Team Emirates. “Winning last year’s event was a great accomplishment and highlight of the year for me” the 20-year old Botha stated. “I also gained some experience in where time can be made or lost during this race. It does add some pressure but has also given me the confidence of knowing it can be done and has made me prepare for this event to the best of my ability. I am confident that we will be in the mix for the title again!”

  

PYGA EuroSteel 1 and 2 were both trumped by NAD Pro MTB in KwaZulu-Natal and will be out for revenge. Matthys Beukes and Philip Buys have started virtually every South African stage race in the last five years as the race favourites. The same holds true for the Shiraz, though they start with only the sani2c title as a major local stage race win to their names in 2019. “We had a great year overall and sure, we didn’t reach all of our goals,” Beukes reflected, before adding: “but I think we stepped it up and showed that we can ride with the big dogs. Coming to FNB W2W actually feels like a nice weekend away at this stage. As you said, in the past we have swept up SA stage races but we are looking at new horizons now. Our focus has definitely shifted to the world stage and I think it shows in our recent results at Worlds.”

 

Beukes and Buys have the advantage of a support team, in the form of Phillimon Sebona and Pieter du Toit. “Our tactics will not be affected much” Buys explained, on the advantages of having two teams in the race. “Thanks to our sponsors, we are fortunate to have two teams at most of our events and this puts us all under less pressure and presents great opportunities for all our athletes. Having our whole team at events also creates a lekker vibe and we enjoy being at races even more.”

 

For their part, Sebona and Du Toit are gearing up for a support role, should anything major go wrong for the PYGA EuroSteel 1 team. “As the second team for PYGA EuroSteel, we have a lot of freedom,” Pieter du Toit said. “But the main objective is to stay as close to team one as possible, so that we can help them if they have a problem, like a puncture. That said, if we are stronger than them, we will be free to try to win a stage. But that is very unlikely.” 

 

Buys and Beukes’ former teammates Arno du Toit and Gert Heyns are also a pair with clear aspirations for victory. The DSV Pro Cycling team boasts the current South African marathon champion, as well as the 2018 champion. The DSV duo starts the FNB W2W off the back of success at the Eselfontein Mountain Biking Festival; which may not have featured the most competitive field but certainly provided them with the chance to hone their already impressive technical riding skills to a razor-sharp level. 

 

They and the more established South African stage racing teams will have to best the young upstarts of the 2019 season, Imbuko Giant. Nicol Carstens and Marco Joubert have been knocking on the door of a big win this year and have their sights firmly set on FNB W2W. “We’ve been beating the other top SA teams throughout the year, but just not all of them at once, just yet” Carstens revealed. “We’re one of the youngest teams and we’ve gained valuable experience over the last few months and I believe that’s all we’ve needed to make the final step and defeat the other top SA teams.”

 

The teams Imbuko Giant will need to defeat include the SPOT Africa DEVMCO Umhlanga Arch combination of Timothy Hammond and Julian Jessop. Having raced the Swiss Epic together in August, the pair have their teamwork dialled. “The opportunity to race overseas and elsewhere in South Africa is special and improves you as a rider when you compete in different places and against different nations” Hammond mused. “But the FNB Wines2Whales has some of the best singletracks and race organisation in the world, which makes the last race of the season very enjoyable. It also draws all the biggest names in South African mountain biking, so you get a chance to really test yourself and see how you’ve improved through the season, or gone backwards” the SPOT Africa rider laughed. 

 

“The FNB Wines2Whales is almost like the Grand Finale of the racing mountain bike scene in South Africa” his partner, Jessop added. “The last showdown before a break and then pre-season training for the following year. The FNB W2W also has a great route, and always brings a super competitive field which makes the racing super hard and the most rewarding.”

 

Frans Claes and HB Kruger are also looking forward to the hard racing and rewarding trails. The pair will race in the colours of Devonbosch Stellenbosch. 2019 is Belgian, Claes’ second FNB W2W experience and the second time he and Kruger will team up. With more event and team experience under their belts, the pair could strike up a formidable partnership. 

 

As could Canyon Werner’s Sebastian Stark and Robert Hobson. Remarkably it is Stellenbosch resident, Hobson’s FNB W2W debut. In Stark, he has a supremely experienced partner. Though, as Stark explained, their build-up was anything but smooth. “After Rob had crashed badly at the Cape Pioneer Trek leaving him with an injured shoulder and a concussion; we had to wait with a final decision on whether to enter FNB W2W until very late” the German rider, who now resides in South Africa explained. “It’s difficult to make any predictions right now. I won’t have been back on the mountain bike for quite a while when we line up at the start. So, we’ll have to see how stage one goes and take it from there. For now, our cards are close to our chests” his young South African partner added. 

 

The final team to watch is more likely to cruise rather than race but made-up as it is of two supremely talented and competitive riders, whether or not they can stick to the goal of a fun ride remains to be seen. Hobson’s mentor and former FNB Wines2Whales champion, Erik Kleinhans starts the 2019 event alongside Katusha-Alpecin’s Willie Smit. The all-star pairing will ride as Katusha-Alpecin Canyon and though Smit is sure to be fatigued after a long World Tour season, his obvious pedigree means their rivals will need to keep a close eye on the road racer from Nelspruit. 

 

Time and the FNB Wines2Whales route – from Lourensford to Onrus, via Oak Valley – will tell which team will ride home R100 000 richer on the 3rd of November. The 2019 Shiraz race is sure to be one for the history books, and with no major pre-race advantage lying with any of the favourites, it could be the most open and competitive edition in the eleven racings of this famous event. 

 

Mountain biking fans can follow the men’s racing action, live from the FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz, 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 1 November. 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.

The #SeriousGEES was ever-present during the 2019 FNB Wines2Whales Pinotage. Image by Xavier Briel

The FNB Wines2Whales Pinotage race wrapped-up under clear skies and the warmest temperatures of the week, in Onrus; on Wednesday, 30 October. No amount of rain, hail or mud could dampen the event’s #SeriousGEES on the preceding days; so, the riders deserved the better weather for the final stage. The relaxed atmosphere of the mid-week event ensured that all conditions were embraced with equal gusto.

 

“Over the years, I’ve done all three FNB Wines2Whales races” Craig Kolesky reflected. “I think the mid-week, Pinotage, seriously has all the gees. The people out there are suffering at times, but they’re smiling. Everyone is riding together and having fun. I’ll definitely be back every year to keep riding” the man who is usually seen behind the camera, rather than taking part in events, said.

 

Another stage race veteran, Jaco Pelser concurred with Kolesky. “I rode the first weekend too” Pelser began, explaining how he had taken part in the Chardonnay event. “It’s a race, but you can’t really race it; because it’s the women’s race. So, it’s more about racing for bragging rights between your mates. The Pinotage though is a proper jol. It’s the FNB Wines2Whales event where you just go out every day and have fun. And the food is great! I mean Woolworths outdid themselves. I’ve definitely put a bit of weight on during the event” he laughed.

 

Jeannie and Martin Dreyer eased their way to the Mixed category title at the FNB Wines2Whales Pinotage. Though they were initially more intent on having a good time. Advising fellow married couples on how to take on a stage race Jeannie said: “If you go by what the woman in the team says, because the woman is always right, the situation on the bike will always be a happy situation.” “Jeannie is always right” Martin agreed. “We had two good nights’ sleep, had great chow, amazing trails and even a tail wind today, so I did something right by entering us into the FNB Wines2Whales” he joked. “I didn’t think it could get better than yesterday, but somehow it did. All the downhill today it made it very special” Martin concluded.

 

Having only received an entry on Tuesday, less than a week before the FNB Wines2Whales Pinotage started at Lourenford, Renata Bossi had no time to develop the usual anxiety which plagues first-time stage racers. “The FNB Wines2Whales was my first stage race” she recounted. “I was nervous starting out on Stage 1, but every day I walked or ran a bit less. It was the most rad event ever” the avid trail runner turned mountain biker raved.

 

On Friday the fun continues when the Elite Men and the more serious amateur mountain bikers take to the trails, from Lourensford, to Oak Valley, to Onrus. In the FNB Wines2Whales concluding Shiraz race, there is R100 000 up for grabs for the winning men’s team. Plus, prize money for the Mixed category riders as well as prize money and two bursaries from Curro for the Exxaro Jersey competition winners. Mountain biking fans can follow the action on www.wines2whales.com from 07:00, on Friday the 1st of November.