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.

The FNB Wines2Whales Switchback is no simple route reverse. It is a dramatic reimagining of the trails which usually take riders from the winelands to the whales each year. The 2020 FNB Wines2Whales will switchback; leading riders from the whales, in Hermanus, to the wines of Lourensford Wine Estate, over three spectacular three-day stage races.

 

Chardonnay: 30 October 1 November | Pinotage: 2 – 4 November | Shiraz: 6 – 8 November

 

“Our route team, under the guidance of Johan Kriegler, has been refining the FNB Wines2Whales route since 2010,” Race Director, Hendrico Burger said. “In the last decade, countless singletracks have been built in mountain biking hotspots, like the Hemel en Aarde Valley and Elgin, but also in less well-ridden areas like Gaf se Bos and the Helderberg basin. The team has added new trails annually but to fully make use of some of the most exciting trails we had to re-look at the route.”

 

“That’s where the concept of the Switchback was born” Burger elaborated. “Not only is it an interesting twist on the well-established FNB Wines2Whales race format, but it also gives us a chance to utilise trails which the traditional direction simply cannot. Going forward, the Switchback will run in alternate years with the historic FNB W2W route, starting in 2020; 2021 then sees a return to the traditional Lourensford, Oak Valley, Onrus course” he explained.

 

Stage 1, of the FNB Wines2Whales Switchback, will start in Hermanus. From there the route will snake up Rotary Drive, spreading the start batches for the Hemel en Aarde singletracks. Climbing through the wine region famous for its Pinot Noir, the race then diverts out of the valley onto the Karwyderskraal road before slipping into the Gaf se Bos singletracks. With the first half of the day’s climbing conquered, the Switchback will twist and turn through Wildekrans, along all-new trails. Then it is onwards and upwards; ascending Kat Pas, after passing through Botrivier, to Houw Hoek. Avoiding the brutal Houw Hoek switchbacks, riders cross under the N2 and enjoy the thrills of Lebanon’s trails. After dipping under the highway again it is homeward bound via Paul Cluver and a final fun section of Oak Valley singletrack.

 

With Oak Valley hosting the race village, the usual FNB Wines2Whales luxuries will be on hand with the now familiar race village lay-out. Frequent FNB W2W riders might be unfamiliar with the route to Oak Valley, but they will feel right at home once they arrive. Staples like the FNB Rider Lounge and the CBC Chill Zone will remain, as will the Spur Steak Ranches burger station and the Squirt Kränzle bike wash.

 

Stage 2 will remain the famous ‘Play Day’. In the spirit of switching it up, there will be investing in trail building specifically for the 2020 edition and the route will feature old favourites in new orders, interspersed with brand-new trails. Riders will be able to explore Paul Cluver and Oak Valley like never before, while also experiencing more of the Lebanon Trails and a reimagined Peri Playpark.

 

The final stage will take riders from Oak Valley to Lourensford Wine Estate. This ensures a glamourous finale to a truly special edition of the race. Starting with a new, and as yet, top-secret route out of Oak Valley towards the Eikenhof Dam; there the revamped A to Z trails await. Then, for the first time in the race’s history, riders will descend, rather than ascend, the Gantouw Pass. It will remain a compulsory portage however, but carrying bikes down a mountain is undoubtedly easier than up it.

 

At the foot of the Gantouw Pass, the trails of Knorhoek and Wedderville will lead riders across the Helderberg Basin onto the extensive Vergelegen farm. From Vergelegen it is fun and games on a combination of virgin trails and new approaches to existing singletracks on Lourensford Wine Estate.

 

In summary, the Switchback will feature three stages that hover around the 70 kilometre mark. The route team has worked hard to ensure that Serious GEES wins the day, and with the new route starting and finishing at sea level, riders can expect similar amounts of climbing to the traditional FNB W2W route. The new direction makes the opening stage arguably more challenging, while Stage 2 will remain similarly difficult to the 2019 edition, and the final stage could well prove easier without the trials of the Art House climb.

 

“The FNB Wines2Whales is steeped in history and changing up a route that has become a firm favourite amongst mountain bikers is never a decision that is made without research and consideration. With the support of the race founders, Johan Kriegler and Hendrico Burger, as well as our various partners, we are extremely excited to offer riders this new route and experience, backed up with the same trusted organisational excellence and world class rider experience. We know that the fresh, unique route is sure to carve its way into South African, and international, mountain bikers’ hearts and yearly calendars” said Michael Flinn, Managing Director of the FNB Wines2Whales.

 

Karen Clements, Event Director for the FNB Wines2Whales shared the sentiment and added, “The FNB Wines2Whales has always been a race that places rider satisfaction at the forefront of every decision made, be it a sponsor partnership, the gear included in the race pack, and of course route changes. The 2020 FNB Wines2Whales Switchback is sure to showcase even more of the spectacular riding that the Overberg has to offer, but in a format many riders have not experienced prior as they make their way from Hermanus, to Oak Valley, and finally to Lourensford.”

 

Entries to the 2020 FNB Wines2Whales Switchback will open to the general public on the 5th of November, 2019.

Evidence of the worn brake pads. Photo by Nick Muzik

New brake pads were the first order of business, for the mechanics, on every bike that rolled out of the Squirt Kränzle Bike Wash and into a bike shop work station. Across the board, the stores reported replacing every set of pads they encountered after Stage 1. They even had to send drivers back to Cape Town in order to purchase more pads for the coming days.

“I bought R9 000 worth of pads with me and I’ve just ordered another R20 000” Francois Esterhuizen of Manic Cycles marvelled. “We must have replaced over 100 sets. Most of them were worn though the resin and down into the metal back plates. One set was even worn deep into the metal.”

“We’re looking after 47 bikes during the FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay” Dewald Oosthuizen of BMT said. “We replaced the brake pads on every bike yesterday. And we replaced more at Water Point 3 today, where we were running the tech-zone. Along with the brake pads we’ve had to replace cables and service drivetrains. Despite the mud today, the bikes are looking a lot better than yesterday, and after a good wash and lube they’re looking and sounding okay. Yesterday was chaos.”

BMT run a relatively lean operation at the FNB Wines2Whales, compared to Recycles. “We had 60 bikes pre-booked and we took another 60 walk-ins yesterday” Nicola Prangley, who was manning the mobile workshop’s front desk, stated. “We were busy until one this morning, and had to send a driver back to Cape Town to fetch extra brake pads.”

The work to get each bike ready for the next stage starts at the Squirt Kränzle Bike Wash. Armed with Squirt’s Bio Bike, biodegradable bike wash, and Kränzle washers, equipped with a diffuser on the nozzle to stop grime being sprayed into the bikes’ bearings, the 26 person bike wash team gave over 1 000 mountain bikes a good wash. Then, for those bikes not booked in for a service, a generous squeeze of Squirt Lube completes the job.

Squirt Lube was also instrumental in the One Earth team of Louise Ferreira and Marleen Lourens winning Stage 2 in the Veterans category. “We were with Fienie [Barnard] and Hanlie [Booyens] up to the first water point, but rather than chase through with them Louise suggested we stop to lube our chains” Lourens recounted. “We stopped at all three waterpoints to reapply Squirt Lube and got to the finish without an issue. We passed Hanlie and Fienie who were fixing Hanlie’s chain of the side of the road. In the mud your drivetrain really takes a beating and you have to do everything you can to take care of it” Lourens concluded.

The final stage of the FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay could be near as wet as the opening stage. Rain is predicted to fall from 08:00 already, but the race will start at 06:00 to help riders finish before the worst of the rain begins to fall at 14:00. With the added incentive of reaching Onrus in time to watch the Springboks play Wales, at 11:00, Stage 3 is sure to be the fastest of the race. Usually riders do not rush to complete the FNB Wines2Whales adventure; but in this instance the #SeriousGEES could well be more evident in the Cape Brewing Co Chill Zone, for the rugby, than out on the trails.

Adelheid Morath, from team Faces, splashes through one of the puddles left on the route after the previous day’s downpour. Image by Xavier Briel

Stage 2 of the FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay saw the general classification leaders of the Elite Women, Candice Lill and Adelheid Morath, outsprint Robyn de Groot and Amy McDougall; on Saturday, 26 October. Racing a circular loop of the famed Elgin trails from Oak Valley, the Faces team secured their second stage victory, and in so doing, extended their overall lead by a further 2.2 seconds.

 

After the relentless rain, which fell throughout the opening stage of the race, the roads and trails were exceptionally muddy, even though the sun was shining. Riders crossed the finish line caked in mud. “You can see from my face how muddy it was out there. I’m covered from head to toe” Lill laughed.

 

“If anything, the sun coming out made it more slippery. The singletracks were tacky, but not in a fun way” Lill explained. “Because we had a minute and a half lead, we could afford to be conservative today. It would have been so easy to make a mistake and crash in the slippery conditions. We could only relax once we crossed the finish line today. It was quite stressful.”

 

The presence of the dormakaba and Fairtree-Rotwild teams alongside them, for much of the stage, ensured a tense day. “I couldn’t quite stay with the group on the climbs” Jennie Stenerhag, who finished third alongside Nadine Rieder, confided. “But on every descent, we would catch back up again. By the third time it happened, I was quite relaxed. On the Lebanon singletracks, we caught the Faces and dormakaba teams again, after having been distanced on the climb to the trails. It was great fun riding that section again in an FNB Wines2Whales. Unfortunately just before the last waterpoint, at the Hickory Shack, a piece of wire got tangled in my cassette. It took quite a while to get it out and I knew then that we would not be able to catch the other two teams” the Fairtree-Rotwild rider clarified.

 

Stenerhag’s misfortune left dormakaba and Faces to sprint it out for stage honours. “I was stuck in a gear because my derailleur had stopped working with all the mud” Morath revealed. “Candice let me lead into the last singletrack and created a bit of space for me to get a head-start for the sprint.”

 

“I was on the limit for most of the day” McDougall said, providing the dormakaba perspective of how the race unfolded. “I didn’t have anything extra for an attack or to really contest the sprint.” “We are 1 minute and 34 seconds behind” McDougall’s partner De Groot pointed out. “If we are to make that up, we will have to make our move early tomorrow.”

 

Team Kross Spur’s Ariane Lüthi & Samara Sheppard also experienced challenges today, but theirs weren’t limited to the mud. Lüthi found herself running for the final kilometres of the race, with her bike at hand, after her rear derailleur snapped off.

 

The fact that more rain is predicted to fall on Sunday will ensure an exciting finale to the 2019 FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay. The 69-kilometre-long route from Oak Valley to Onrus provides opportunities aplenty for aggressive racing. With the record-setting R100 000 prize on the line, Lill and Morath will have another day of high stress as De Groot and McDougall do everything in their power to usurp the current leaders.

 

Results: FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay

Stage 2:

  1. Faces: Candice Lill & Adelheid Morath (03:03:48.8)
  2. dormakaba: Robyn de Groot & Amy McDougall (03:03:51.0 | +2.2)
  3. Fairtree-Rotwild: Jennie Stenerhag & Nadine Rieder (03:05:15.8 | +1:27.0)
  4. SA Roadtrippers: Katie Lennard & Laura Stark (03:11:34.7 | +7:45.9)
  5. Ghost Factory Racing: Barbara Benko & Mariske Strauss (03:13:27.0 | +9:38.2)

 

General Classification after Stage 2:

  1. Faces: Candice Lill & Adelheid Morath (06:07:00.7)
  2. dormakaba: Robyn de Groot & Amy McDougall (06:08:35.0 | +1:34.3)
  3. Fairtree-Rotwild: Jennie Stenerhag & Nadine Rieder (06:19:02.3 | +12:01.6)
  4. SA Roadtrippers: Katie Lennard & Laura Stark (06:40:22.1 | +33:34.3)
  5. dormakaba 2: Alice Pirard & Sabine Spitz (06:45:35.0 | +38:34.3)

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