Hailing from Switzerland, but making her summer home in South Africa, Ariane Lüthi is no stranger to local mountain biking fans. Her three-time New Zealand XCO champion partner, Samara Sheppard, is making her South African racing debut though; having missed the 2018 UCI World Cup’s opening round. Here is what the pair had to say ahead of the 2019 FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay race.
FNB W2W: Samara, you’ve been out to South Africa to race the Epic World Cup in 2018, but ended up missing the race. Tell us a bit about your experience of riding in South Africa and your sense of what FNB Wines2Whales will be like.
Samara Sheppard: Yes, I have been to South Africa once before for the Epic World Cup in 2018, but unfortunately, I got a terrible dose of food poisoning just before the race. What I did see of the trails around Stellenbosch, I absolutely loved! Lovely flowing trails and steep technical rocky climbs. I suspect the FNB W2W will treat us to their great singletracks, open tracks through vineyards and a spot of whale watching by the sea.
FNB W2W: Does this mean that we will be seeing the two of you team up for The Pioneer, in Samara’s native New Zealand, in December?
AL: Unfortunately, not this year; but it would be amazing if we could make things work for The Pioneer 2020. I’d love to ride my bike in beautiful New Zealand one day.
SS: Pioneer 2019 is not possible for us but we are looking at 2020. 2020 will be an exciting new Pioneer edition as it moves from the South to the North Island of New Zealand.
FNB W2W: It looks like the 2019 W2W Chardonnay race could feature the most competitive elite women’s field in the event’s 11-year history. Who do you see as your main rivals?
AL: Defending champions Candice and Adelheid will be the favourites in my eyes. But as you say, it will be a very competitive field this year and I’m sure we will have a hard-fought battle for the podium places over the three days.
SS: It is super exciting to race the Chardonnay amongst such a strong field. Having a separate women’s race means there will be no interference with other competitors so we can expect a fair, exciting and tactical race. With so much talent on the start list I couldn’t pick a favourite. I just look forward to teaming up again with Ariane for the challenge and to share the experience.