Ten years ago some 150 riders set off from Somerset West on the first ever FNB Wines2Whales, a ride that took them up Sir Lowry’s Pass itself, through the Elgin/Grabouw area and finished in Hermanus three days later.
19 of those pioneering mountain bikers will this year take part in the 10th edition of the FNB Wines2Whales – and many of them joined crew members who have worked at every event to celebrate the landmark on Tuesday night.
Race founder Johan Kriegler welcomed guests to the function at the FNB Portside building, reminiscing about the ‘amount of fun we had’ over the years building an event that has evolved from the humble beginnings in 2009 to three races over a week – with thousands of riders taking part.
10-year riders said the key to the event’s success was innovation, and Kriegler said there were “lots of new surprises waiting this year”.
Oli Munnik, riding with Erik Kleinhans, won the inaugural event and recalled: “The clearest memory of the inaugural Wines2Whales was the ascent up Sir Lowry's Pass, where Erik and I managed to ride away from the lead group and go on to win the stage.”
“When we portage up the Ou Wa Pad these days, I look down to the tar pass and think to myself: ‘how on earth we even thought it was possible to ride a race up there!’ The modern Wines2Whales has certainly developed into a world-class event, and no matter how tough the walk is, it is always better than riding up Sir Lowry's Pass.”
Asked why he thought was the secret to the race’s success, Munnik added: “I think the FNB Wines2Whales route has developed into one that hits the sweet spot of being able to challenge the world’s top riders while at the same time not intimidating those who are finding their feet in mountain biking. Moving the race village to Oak Valley was another superb move as it lends itself to hosting a MTB stage race.”
Announcer Paul Valstar’s voice is a familiar one to all the riders – he has been commentating at the finish at every event and will be back this year.
He remembers the first event well: “It poured with rain and we discovered that the tents weren't waterproof … once the water got in you could never get it out.” Valstar eventually slept in the pub of the guesthouse which hosted the first race village.
He said one of the keys to the race’s success is its relaxed, enjoyable vibe and that everybody is treated as a VIP: “It’s been a pleasure commentating at the Wines2Whales. I think that over the three days the FNB Wines2Whales has got the most outstanding variation and probably the best singletrack of any event … and it has a Chill Zone like no other.”
Hanlie Booyens, one of the 10-year riders, said she was thrilled that the Chardonnay – the first event this weekend – was focussing on the women’s race. She said she kept coming back to the FNB Wines2Whales because it was “my yearly reunion with mountain biking friends and acquaintances”.
Asked what had changed about the event, Booyens – who won the event with Yolande Speedy in 2012 – said: “the scale of everything … from the race village to the route”.
* The riders who will be notching up their 10th event this year are: Alec Rust, Andrew Bradley, Andries Schaap, Ben Paine, Danie Cronje, Detlef Meinert, Dominic Paine, Fred Coleske, Gavin Wood, Gerhard Venter, Graham Meyer, Gustav Hefer, Hanlie Booyens, Jessica Knight, Kevin McPherson, Kevin Goodspeed, Leon Tobias, Philip Lambrecht, Richard Newton