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.

Varsity MTB women’s winners, Courteney Webb and Amy Tait celebrate in style after securing the title. Image by Xavier Briel

The University of Cape Town’s men’s and women’s teams claimed five stage victories, from a possible six, on their way to winning the 2019 FNB Wines2Whales Pinotage and Varsity MTB titles. Richard Simpson and Michael Lambrecht contributed two wins on their way to the men’s race victory, while Courteney Webb and Amy Tait were crowned champions; in Onrus on Wednesday, 30 October, after three straight wins.

Varsity MTB men’s winners, Michael Lambrecht and Richard Simpson celebrate after three days of intense racing at the 2019 FNB Wine2Whales Pinotage 3 day mountain bike event stage3 from Oak Valley to Onrus. Image by Xavier Briel

 

Stage 3 was not without drama though. The men’s race saw mechanicals, Simpson taking a brief swim, and a broken handlebar for Tuks’ Andries Nigrini scuppered his and Antonie Joubert’s chances of a stage win. The women’s race was smoother, with UCT racing without incident to the finish.
“Andries and Antonie really made it hard for us today” Simpson confessed. “I finally popped in the Wildekrans singletracks. But missing the bridge had nothing to do with that. I just couldn’t see where it was and I underestimated how deep the stream was. I thought I could just ride through it” he recounted, still wet and starting to shiver, on the finish line.
“Tuks had a lead of nearly 2 minutes at the end of the singletracks, but when we got to Water Point 2 [44 kilometres into the 69-kilometre-long stage] we saw them stopped with a broken handlebar” Simpson explained. “I come from a road racing background and we tried to use road tactics on them today” Nigrini said, clarifying how the stage unfolded from a Tuks point of view.
“We managed to get a gap in the Wildekrans singletracks, but then, approaching the next water point, I slipped on a bridge” Nigrini added. “I took it a bit wide and lost my front wheel when it rolled off the mesh and onto the wet wood. My front wheel washed out and I fell, snapping my handlebar.”
The only option for Nigrini and Joubert was to duct tape Nigrini’s shifter and brake lever in. That left his bike lopsided and though Tuks were able to catch up to UCT again, Nigrini was at a definite disadvantage, in the final 10 kilometres. “Shame, it must have been really difficult for him in those singletracks” Simpson commiserated.
In the singletrack-filled closing kilometres, Nigrini was unable to keep up with Simpson and Lambrecht. He and Joubert slipped from parity to 2 minutes and 6 seconds behind the general classification victors by the time they crossed the finish line. UCT’s stage win secured them the overall title by 7 minutes and 36 seconds over the Tuks team.
The Maties men were third on the stage and the general classification.
Things were less dramatic in the women’s race, though it was no procession to the sea for Webb and Tait. The Nelson Mandela University team, of Jean-Marie Roelofse and Stacey Hyslop, along with the Stellenbosch University team, of Catherine Pellow-Jarman and Susan Kruger ensured the racing was tough on the final stage.
Roelofse and Hyslop had endured a difficult day on the muddy trails of Stage 2, but the pair enjoyed the drying conditions and more open roads of Stage 3. They pressed Webb and Tait all the way to the final 10 kilometres, after Pellow-Jarman and Kruger had dropped off the pace a little earlier. There was no stopping the UCT women, as Webb and Tait proved unbeatable.
“This was the most amazing experience ever” Tait grinned after securing her third stage win of the race, alongside Webb. “The trails were amazing and everything was just great, especially my partner Courteney!” “Getting to the sea here in Onrus was special. It was such a stunning ending to a fantastic FNB Wines2Whales and Varsity MTB event” Webb enthusiastically added.
Webb and Tait’s winning time was 4 minutes and 43 seconds faster than the Madibaz pair’s 3 hours, 35 minutes and 51 seconds. “I raced the Varsity MTB in 2017 when it was a stand-alone stage race” Hyslop remembered, choosing to focus on the race as a whole. “It being part of the FNB Wines2Whales Pinotage this year was so special. It was great to be part of a bigger event and to represent our universities on a big stage” the Stage 3 runner-up said.
After finishing second for the first two days of the race, Pellow-Jarman and Kruger had to settle for third on the final stage. They did enough to remain second on the overall classification though, finishing 23 minutes and 14 seconds behind the race winners. Roelofse and Hyslop’s storming race through Stage 3, was enough to leapfrog them up into the final general classification podium position.
Results: Varsity MTB within the FNB Wines2Whales Pinotage
Men’s Stage 3 Results:
1.    UCT Men: Richard Simpson & Michael Lambrecht (02:53:11)
2.    Tuks Manne: Andries Nigrini & Antonie Joubert (02:55:17 | +02:06)
3.    Maties Men: Michael Sutton & Morné Hollander (03:14:37 | +21:26)
Women Stage 3 Results:
1.    UCT Women: Courteney Webb & Amy Tait (03:31:08)
2.    Madibaz Ladies: Jean-Marie Roelofse & Stacey Hyslop (03:35:51 | +04:43)
3.    Maties Ladies: Catherine Pellow-Jarman & Susan Kruger (03:37:15 | +06:07)
Men’s General Classification after Stage 3:
1.    UCT Men: Richard Simpson & Michael Lambrecht (08:37:45)
2.    Tuks Manne: Andries Nigrini & Antonie Joubert (08:45:21 | +07:36)
3.    Maties Men: Michael Sutton & Morné Hollander (09:51:00 | +01:12:15)
Women’s General Classification after Stage 3:
1.    UCT Women: Courteney Webb & Amy Tait (10:57:54)
2.    Maties Ladies: Catherine Pellow-Jarman & Susan Kruger (11:21:08 | +23:14)
3.    Madibaz Ladies: Jean-Marie Roelofse & Stacey Hyslop (11:54:19 | +56:25)
For the full results from the FNB Wines2Whales Pinotage race please visit www.wines2whales.com

Image by Dwayne Senior

38 kilometres into a stage packed with amazing singletracks, comes one of the Western Cape’s most iconic trails. Built for the second edition of FNB Wines2Whales, back in 2010, the Pofadder was an instant hit. Though in the early years it was more notorious than famous. Rebuilt for 2019 it doubles as Stage 2’s Land Rover Experience and it is easy to see why.

 

Climbing from the Paul Cluver Amphitheatre via the Cobra, Mamba and Boomslang singletracks, riders reach Pofadder in need of downhill thrills. It does not disappoint, though it also does not drop as precipitously as the gradient on the profile suggests. Rather, the Pofadder slides along a descending line into a narrow gorge, overlooked by a spectacular waterfall.

 

Given the buckets, or perhaps jo-jo tanks is more apt, of rain the Egin Valley received in the four days leading into the Pinotage’s Play Day it was no surprise that the Pofadder waterfall was raging. Great foamy torrents of cola-coloured water thundered over the ledge high above the bridge which makes the trail so unique.

 

The trail itself starts on clay; banked to a perfectly flat surface on the steep, fynbos covered slope. Then the clay gives way to a short bridge as the trail winds into the narrow ravine. Chicken mesh lines the surface, ensuring grip in even the worst of conditions. The first, short, bridge is followed by more clay singletrack; interspersed with concrete stepping stones on a steep section.

 

Approaching the right turn which heralds the start of the truly noteworthy section of Pofadder a small sign provides some final advice: “relax and have fun.” A phrase which could well be the maxim of the entire FNB Wines2Whales series of events. And the tag-line for the Pinotage in particular.

 

Sweeping off the soil and onto the wine-barrel bridge, the real fun begins. Constructed from the ribs of old wine barrels, pulled apart and lashed to the supporting spine, concave sides facing up. Short and wide, like the adder which gives it its name, the main feature of the Pofadder is banked and surfaced with chicken mesh to ensure it can be navigated at speed.

 

Dropping off the wine-barrel section, the bridge continues, crossing the gorge and the raging torrent below. It is broad and stable, constructed to last the harshest Elgin winter. Surely only a fire, like the one which raised the latest original Pofadder to the ground, could bring the new bridge down.

 

To celebrate the rebuilding of the Pofadder, Race Director Hendrico Burger nominated it as the Land Rover Experience trail for Stage 2. Among the many iconic trails of the area it stands out, unique and instantly recognisable. It is also easy enough for anyone to ride and challenging enough, when ridden at full speed, to be fun for even the most skilled riders. It, like the advice, originally provided by Burger himself, is indicative of the FNB Wines2Whales more generally: technical at speed, safe for all mountain bikers, and most importantly a source of #SeriousGEES if you just relax and have fun.

Courteney Webb and Amy Tait descend on of the many incredible trails of Play Day. Image by Nick Muzik

The University of Cape Town’s men’s and women’s cycling teams had stellar days on the muddy trails of the Elgin Valley. Both claimed stage victories on Stage 2 of the FNB Wines2Whales Pinotage race, which doubles as the Varsity MTB. After the intermittent rain of the opening day, the largely clear skies ensured the trails were drying, on Tuesday 29 October, but conditions were still tough. Perfectly suited it seemed for the men and women from Cape Town, where their home trails snake through often similarly wet terrain on the slopes of Table Mountain.

 

Richard Simpson and Michael Lambrecht took the stage honours in the Varsity MTB men’s race. The pair had started the day just 35 seconds behind the Stage 1 winners, Andries Nigrini and Antonie Joubert, of the University of Pretoria. “What happened to them?” Simpson asked of Nigrini and Joubert upon crossing the finish line at Oak Valley. “They were two minutes behind us at the Peri Kromco Play Park” the UCT rider pointed out, eager to see if they had done enough to secure the race lead.

 

Nigrini and Joubert, it transpired, struggled in the muddy and sometimes cold weather. “It was very muddy, but a lot better than yesterday” smiled Lambrecht upon sealing the stage win. “Our legs were feeling a lot better. And despite the mud, the trails were awesome and we had a lot of fun.” Fun, it turns out, is fast, as Lambrecht and Simpson claimed the stage victory by 6 minutes and 5.3 seconds; the results see the UCT team leapfrog into first position overall, 5 minutes and 35.9 seconds up on the Tuks team.

 

When Nigrini and Joubert crossed the finish line it was clear, from his mud-splattered face, that Joubert had experienced a challenging day on the bike. The partner with the dirtier face is usually the rider who spent the majority of the stage on the rear wheel of his, or her, teammate. Doing so in conditions like the ones which prevailed on Stage 2 of the FNB Wines2Whales Pinotage is sure to leave a rider with a face mask of mud.

 

“Ag, we just took it a bit easier” Nigrini stated philosophically. “We are pacing ourselves. We were close to our limit today and the UCT team of Richard and Michael are great competitors and worthy winners today.” “It was a bit cold for me today” Joubert added. “As Andries said, we are taking it a little bit easier. My legs did not feel that good today. But there is still another day of racing coming, so we will see how it goes tomorrow.”

 

The commanding stage win by UCT puts them in the driving seat heading into the final stage of the FNB Wines2Whales Pinotage and Varsity MTB races. Their 5 minutes 35.9 second lead, over Tuks, is significant. Though as Robyn de Groot and Amy McDougall proved during the Chardonnay event, anything can still happen.

 

That is a fact that Courteney Webb and Amy Tait will have to be mindful of. After two stage wins, on the first two days of the Varsity MTB event, the UCT women have a 17 minute and 7.3 second general classification lead. “Today was awesome” Tait began her explanation of how they wrapped-up the Stage 2 victory. “We went a bit hard in the beginning and were chased by the Maties team for quite a while. But eventually, we managed to get a gap and managed to keep it consistent, like we did yesterday, again. The trails were really nice too; not as muddy as I expected” she smiled.

 

The Maties women’s team, of Catherine Pellow-Jarman and Susan Kruger, crossed the line in second, for the second day in a row. Pellow-Jarman and Kruger are thus one position better off than their male counterparts, Michael Sutton and Morné Hollander. The University of Pretoria women, Tanya Kotze and Michelle Benson are third on the Varsity MTB women’s general classification heading into the final day of the FNB Wines2Whales Pinotage event.

 

Results: Varsity MTB within the FNB Wines2Whales Pinotage

Men’s Stage 2 Results:

  1. UCT Men: Richard Simpson & Michael Lambrecht (02:54:54.7)
  2. Tuks Manne: Andries Nigrini & Antonie Joubert (03:01:00.0 | +06:05.3)
  3. Maties Men: Michael Sutton & Morné Hollander (03:24:06.8 | +29:12.1)

 

Women Stage 2 Results:

  1. UCT Women: Courteney Webb & Amy Tait (03:45:35.1)
  2. Maties Ladies: Catherine Pellow-Jarman & Susan Kruger (03:51:11.0 | +05:35.9)
  3. Tuks Ladies: Tanya Kotze & Michelle Benson (04:04:14.5 | +18:39.4)

 

Men’s General Classification after Stage 2:

  1. UCT Men: Richard Simpson & Michael Lambrecht (05:44:33.4)
  2. Tuks Manne: Andries Nigrini & Antonie Joubert (05:50:03.4 | +05:30.0)
  3. Maties Men: Michael Sutton & Morné Hollander (06:36:23.0 | +51:49.6)

 

Women’s General Classification after Stage 2:

  1. UCT Women: Courteney Webb & Amy Tait (07:26:49.9)
  2. Maties Ladies: Catherine Pellow-Jarman & Susan Kruger (07:43:53.2 | +17:07.3)
  3. Tuks Ladies: Tanya Kotze & Michelle Benson (08:07:41.2 | +40:55.3)

 

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

Riders during the 2019 FNB Wine2Whales Pinotage 3 day mountain bike event stage1 from Lourensford to Oak Valley. Image by Xavier Briel

Letshego Zulu is no stranger to extreme adventures. Which is why she and, her FNB Wines2Whales Pinotage partner, Phathokuhle Zondi were undaunted by the Stage 1 weather prediction. Despite the Western Cape cycling through all its weather options during their ride, from Lourensford to Oak Valley, the pair never stopped smiling.

“Phathokuhle is the CEO of Sport Science Institute in Cape Town” so she has an advantage over me, Zulu pointed out good-naturedly. “She’s used to the Cape weather and she had mountains to train on. We don’t have any mountains like these in Joburg.”

As she prepared for a post-stage interview, she continued to joke. “Is my make-up okay?” she said, wiping mud from her face. “There were ten seasons in one day! The thing about riding in the Cape, because I’m a Joburger right, is that when you come here you need to be very open-minded. The Cape will throw all kinds of obstacles at you. We had wind, we had hail, we had rain. But you know what, the riding was still fantastic.”

“The route was fantastic. I know it had to be chopped and changed here and there but I still had fun” she explained. The change was enforced by torrential rain. Lourensford received an incredible 240 millimetres of rain between the early hours of Friday morning and 7 am on Monday when the Pinotage started. Avoiding the rain-damaged singletracks cut nearly 10 kilometres from the route.

Not that Zulu was complaining. She quietly confided that she has hardly ridden her mountain bike in a year. It’s also her first FNB Wines2Whales in a while. “It’s my first one since 2012” she confessed. “FNB Wines2Whales never disappoints!” she concluded with a typically broad smile.

She and Zondi will be heartened to hear that the weather prediction for Tuesday’s Stage 2 is much better. Only 0.3 millimetres are expected to fall on the trails of Oak Valley and Paul Cluver on the out-and-back play day.

The final Elite Women’s podium at the 2019 FNB Wine2Whales Chardonnay 3 day mountain bike event. Image by Xavier Briel

A puncture, just 10 kilometres from the finish line in Onrus, turned the 2019 FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay race on its head; on Sunday, 27 October. Seizing the opportunity provided by the overnight leaders’ misfortune, the dormakaba team, of Robyn de Groot and Amy McDougall, raced to stage and overall victory. Adelheid, who suffered the rear wheel puncture, and Candice Lill, finished 2 minutes and 37.8 seconds down on the stage to slip to second overall.

Team dormakaba had put the pressure on all stage, and forced Faces into an error. De Groot and McDougall accelerated from the Elite Women’s group on the Houw Hoek switchbacks. They established an advantage of 15 seconds, which they held through Water Point 1 in Botrivier; but in the Wildekrans singletracks, after 30 kilometres of racing, Lill and Morath caught them. For the next 30 kilometres the two teams went head-to-head through the trails, jockeying for any advantage.

Towards the end of the stage’s Land Rover Experience Section, the technical descent through The Gorge, Morath punctured. “Adelheid had a puncture in the last singletrack before Water Point 3” Lill explained. “Then we somehow managed to go past the tech-zone without communicating that she had a puncture. So, we had to fix it ourselves. But we didn’t do the greatest job, so she had to ride with a flat to the finish line. It’s unfortunate, but that’s racing. Hats off to Team dormakaba for a great race” she philosophically concluded.

“It’s never nice to win because of someone else’s misfortune” a gracious De Groot began. “But it happens and we had to take the opportunity when it arose. We saw Adelheid stopping and then we knew we had to go flat out for the line.” “It was pretty much a 10-kilometre sprint” McDougall added. “I was counting down every metre.”

The dormakaba women sprinted over the line, unsure of how far behind the Faces team of Lill and Morath were. As the clocked ticked closer to the 1 minute and 34 seconds which separated dormakaba and Faces overnight, Paul Valstar, the finish line announcer, provided a count-down while de Groot and McDougall nervously watched the final corner for a glimpse of their rivals.

When they were confirmed the victors, De Groot and McDougall’s first actions were to commiserate with Lill and Morath. The final margin of victory was 1 minutes and 3.5 seconds, meaning that Morath’s puncture had produced a 2 minute and 37.8 second swing in just 10 kilometres.

Behind the stage winners, Fairtee-Rotwild and Kross Spur sprinted for third as Ariane Lüthi and Samara Sheppard raced to make up places on the general classification. The Swiss/New Zealand combination had lost nearly an hour after Lüthi destroyed her rear derailleur by tangling it in a piece of trail-side wire. They had been holding third position for much of the stage, but Jennie Stenerhag and Nadine Rieder caught them on the Onrus beach.

Racing across the Peri bridges on the beach and up onto the beach-front road into the finish line, the Kross Spur and Fairtree-Rotwild teams jostled for position. Lüthi lead the quartet across the line while Sheppard split Rieder and Stenerhag to secure the final podium position on the stage. Rieder and Stenerhag’s fourth on the day secured third on the final general classification standings.

The SA Trippers team of Katie Lennard and Laura Stark were fifth on the stage and fourth overall. Their consistency over the course of the three days was enough to hold off Lüthi and Sheppard by 3 minutes and 19.1 seconds.

With the women’s Chardonnay race now completed, the attention now turns to the Pinotage event – the most relaxed of FNB Wines2Whales’ three races. The media attention during the event shifts to focus on the Varsity MTB race where a men’s and a women’s team from six of South Africa’s top universities will contest the title over three days, from Monday 28 to Wednesday 30 October. To find out more please visit www.wines2whales.com.

 

Results: FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay

Stage 3:

  1. dormakaba: Robyn de Groot & Amy McDougall (02:51:43.1)
  2. Faces: Candice Lill & Adelheid Morath (02:54:20.9 | +2:37.8)
  3. Kross Spur: Ariane Lüthi & Samara Sheppard (02:56:13.3 | +4:30.2)
  4. Fairtree-Rotwild: Jennie Stenerhag & Nadine Rieder (02:56:14.0 | +4:30.9)
  5. SA Roadtrippers: Katie Lennard & Laura Stark (03:02:02.9 | +10:19.8)

 

General Classification after Stage 3:

  1. dormakaba: Robyn de Groot & Amy McDougall (09:00:18.1)
  2. Faces: Candice Lill & Adelheid Morath (09:01:21.6 | +01:03.5)
  3. Fairtree-Rotwild: Jennie Stenerhag & Nadine Rieder (09:15:16.4 | +14:58.3)
  4. SA Roadtrippers: Katie Lennard & Laura Stark (09:42:25.0 | +42:06.9)
  5. Kross Spur: Ariane Lüthi & Samara Sheppard (09:45:44.1 | +45:26.0)

 

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

Amy Beth McDougall and Robyn de Groot from Team dormakaba after winning the 2019 FNB Wine2Whales Chardonnay 3 day mountain bike event. Image by Xavier Briel

In the world of mountain biking, the FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay is unique. It is the only event which features a women’s specific start group, which starts first every day. In addition to that, all the media attention and all the prize money, which totals over R250 000, is paid to the women’s teams.

For the Elite Women, whose chances of competing entirely without the interference of male riders is limited to cross country races, it is a truly special experience. “It is so nice racing with just women” Amy McDougall, one half of the FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay winning combination, confided. “The next group started 15 minutes behind us, so there was no chance that the men would catch us and inadvertently interfere with the racing.”

“We felt we had to put on a show” Candice Lill, who finished second alongside Adelheid Morath, revealed. “It is important to support the event, the sponsors and fans who support us. And racing hard throughout the three days is the best way to do that.”

Lill and Morath certainly made the racing exciting, but not in the way they would have intended. The pair, riding as Team Faces, established a healthy 1 minute and 32 second lead on the opening stage. Then defended it by adding a further 2 seconds on Stage 2. It looked as if they had the title wrapped up when they reeled Team dormakaba’s early attack on Stage 3. Misfortune, in the form of a puncture, in the final 10 kilometres put pay to their aspirations of defending the title they won in 2018.

Team Faces’ loss was dormakaba’s gain. Though De Groot was magnanimous in victory, showing that the women’s racing is not just captivating but also contested in the spirit of sportsmanship. Having embraced the unluckily Lill and Morath, she commiserated: “It’s never nice to win because of someone else’s misfortune. But that is racing. It just goes to show that you should never give up, in sport or life, we lost ground on Stage 1. Then battled back on Stage 2 and tried to put them under pressure on Stage 3.”

Behind the battle for first, the fight for the remaining places was equally intense, but fair. Despite the focus on racing, in the final mountain bike stage race of most of the Elite Women’s calendars, the fun nature of FNB Wines2Whales ensured that they still had a great time. “South Africa is beautiful; the weather is usually good – or better than it has been this weekend – and the trails are fantastic” Germany’s Nadine Rieder praised. “Despite the rain and the mud, I had a really great time. The race is small enough to have a family feeling. Which is really special.”

Hungary’s Barbara Benko agreed: “I’ve been looking for a stage race to ride with my dad for a long time. After racing the FNB Wines2Whales last year I realised it would be perfect. The stages aren’t too long. The trails are lots of fun. And even if you aren’t that fit you will be able to ride it and enjoy it.”

Having raced alongside Mariske Strauss in the Chardonnay event, Benko will return with her father for the second weekend’s Shiraz race. “It was my parent’s thirtieth wedding anniversary this year. So, I bought them a set of plane tickets to South Africa and organised entries for my dad and myself. It is going to be really special riding with him” Benko concluded.

The FNB Wines2Whales SeriousGEES continues, with the Pinotage, before the Benkos take to the trails on Friday for the Shiraz. Starting on Monday; it is the most relaxed of the three events and for many riders in the Pinotage field, besides those racing the Varstity MTB Race, the only reason to rush is to reach the FNB Rider Lounge or Cape Brewing Co Chill Zone sooner.