It’s the FNB Wines2Whale’s 10th anniversary and the race organisers along with Official Vehicle and Route Partner, Land Rover, have pulled out all the stops to make it a special event. That, of course, also includes the sort of route improvements that have become a staple of the FNB Wines2Whales since it was first staged in 2009. This year there are new trails on each day (and some old ones that have been brought back for Stage 1), each introduced to improve the rider experience. And in the biggest route change this year the last few kilometres have been changed to accommodate the new finish venue at the chic and classy Marine Hotel, slap bang in the middle of Hermanus. It’s the best whale-watching spot on the entire coastline and will mark an appropriate end for a special event and a place where riders can celebrate their achievement with family and friends.
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The elegant Lourensford Wine Estate marks the start of your three-day journey to Hermanus. The climbing starts almost immediately with a long and fairly steep gravel drag taking you up to the saddle, where you can enjoy spectacular views of Stellenbosch and Cape Town. From the saddle there’s a long and steep downhill so please take heed – it’s very fast with tight, blind corners and water humps. While you’re still on the Lourensford estate you’ll get to experience two new trails – Old Pine and JK’s Contour – and veterans of the W2W might notice that some trails from earlier years have been reintroduced, including Schoeman’s, Witboom and Canarie. Water Point 1 arrives at the 18km mark before the notoriously steep Vergelegen climb makes an appearance. It’s the toughest climb in the race but it’s not very long and the reward is a relatively easy passage to Water Point 2 (38km) at Idiom Vineyards, a superb spectator point. The iconic challenge of the day comes in the form of the historic Gantouw Pass – an old ox wagon trail and compulsory portage section where you can still see the grooves worn in the rocks by the Voortrekkers’ wagon wheels. The reward on the other side is some of the best singletrack in the country – the fabled A2Z network of Grabouw, which has been extensively rebuilt for this year’s event. A change from previous years sees Water Point 3 move to Grabouw Country Club,via the new Willie’s trail, which now doubles up as a second spectator point and an excellent place to watch the racing or greet your favourite riders. The last 10km to the finish in Oak Valley offers a mix of singletracks and open vineyard roads. If you listen closely before you get to Oak Valley you’ll hear the race commentators welcoming riders home for a well-earned meal and recovery drink.
Stage icons: Lourensford and Vergelegen climbs, portage over Gantouw Pass, A2Z singletracks
Land Rover Technical Terrain: The Vergelegen climb, though just under 400 meters long features the steepest uphill gradient of the 2018 FNB Wines2Whales route. Riders will be wishing for four wheel drive and traction control when they reach it at the 28km mark.
Hendrico’s stage advice: Don’t get sucked in by the hype, nerves and emotions at the start – cycle at your own pace and find a rhythm, there’s still 60km to go. Stay calm and modulate your brakes on the downhills: they’re fast and somewhat technical at speed.
Terrain: Good quality gravel roads, dual tracks and singletracks. Gantouw Pass is the only portage section in the race – it’s steep, rocky and exposed to the elements.
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Dubbed ‘Play Day’, Stage 2 is one of the FNB Wines2Whales’s many drawcards, with sublime singletrack, manicured berms and mind-blowing descents. From the gun, riders will face a steep but short climb that will sort out positioning before entering the singletracks. The first 25km is fast and flowing with regular ups and downs. Riders will access Oak Valley via the signature contour experience – famous for its waterfall and gravity-defying cliff-face singletrack (JK’s Edge). Don’t look down! The real fun begins when you enter Paul Cluver via the new Rietvlei Roller and then on to the Witklippies contour trail, which culminates at the Amphitheatre with Water Point 2 (35km). From here the fun intensifies as the feature-laden rollercoasters of Raka, Swing, Ark, Cobra, Mamba, Boomslang, Pofadder, Jakkels and Pine Singles send your heart rate into overdrive. The infamous Red Climb towards Lebanon village has been replaced by the new Trunk Trail singletrack along with the new flowing Huppelland will take you to Water Point 3 at Thandi next to the Hickory Shack Restaurant. The Thandi switchbacks which appear just after Water Point 3 at the 52km mark are the proverbial last sting in the tail before the thrilling, purpose-built KROMCO-PERI Play Park – redesigned this year to commemorate the 10th anniversary. From there it’s a 10km dash to the finish.
Stage icons: Singletracks and Paul Cluver Amphitheatre. Mind-blowing trails of Waterfall, Vissie’s favourite, JK’s Edge, Sounds of Silence, Rietvlei, Witklippies 1 & 2, Raka, Swing, Ark, Cobra, Mamba, Boomslang, Pofadder and Jakkels. KROMCO-PERI Play Park.
Land Rover Technical Terrain: The Pofadder Singletrack is without a doubt the most iconic of all the Elgin Valley’s serpentine inspired trails. Though it has matured into a more sculpted and flowing singletrack it is still more than worthy of the title of Land Rover Technical Terrain.
Hendrico’s stage advice: Ride as many singletracks as you can in preparation. Singletrack requires more concentration and work than open roads so work on your skills!
Terrain: Good quality gravel roads. Manicured berms, purpose-built singletrack. Nothing overly technical.
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The third and final day of the FNB Wines2Whales is a challenging affair – especially with nearly 150km of riding and 3000m of climbing in the legs. Don’t be fooled by the route profile and make sure not to get sucked into racing dynamics early on – most of the climbing comes in the last 30km so save something for the end. The trickiest section of this stage is the Kat Pas descent just after the Houw Hoek trails. Caution is advised as this is a particularly fast downhill with a rocky, loose and sometimes quite rutted surface. Water Point 1 (24km) is located at the Botrivier School, a highlight for many owing to the incredible support from the local school children and supporters. The next 20km, which takes in a large portion of the Wildekrans trails before rising to Water Point 2 (43km), is arguably the most important section on Stage 3. It’s important that you pace yourself correctly as a nasty series of ups and downs await – the breath-taking Gaf-se-Bos and Hemel en Aarde trails. Here you’ll confront as many climbs as you will descents before the new route home, which includes a climb towards Rotary Way and a trail through the Hermanus Golf Course. The last few kilometres drop you into Hermanus and the magnificent Marine Hotel, where you’ll hopefully be welcomed home by the very whales that inspired the event.
Stage icons: Kat Pas descent after Houw Hoek, Botrivier town (look out for the crèches), Hemel en Aarde trails, new Marine Hotel finish.
Land Rover Technical Terrain: The Wildekrans Singletracks provide the final Land Rover Technical Terrain of the race as they flow through the koppies and ridgelines of the award winning wine farm. Scuplted by Braam Gericke they require focus and fitness to complete with speed.
Hendrico’s stage advice: Ride within your limits down the Kat Pas and remember 80% of the climbing is after the 40km mark. And save some energy for the new sting in the tail.
Terrain: Rocky climbs and descents. Sand and manicured trails upon entering Hemel en Aarde.