Hanlie Booyens is riding her 10th FNB Wines2Whales and enjoyed her ride today like never before.
The reason? The groundbreaking decision to put the leading women’s teams in the Chardonnay event – the first of three races over the FNB Wines2Whales week –and start their batch first on each day.
The result was a “pure”and “fair”race which was heralded by all the women competitors as a breakthrough for women’s mountain biking.
“It was fantastic,”said Booyens. “We could ride at our own pace –the singletracks were open and so was the portage (up the Gantouw Pass). We could have run up there …if we could run up there,”she laughed.
Stage winner Candice Lill of Team Summit described the innovation as “a dream come true –it makes the racing much fairer”. She said it changed the tactical aspect of the ride because you could get a clear sense of where your rivals were.
Lill and partner Adelheid Morath of Germany, staying ahead of their women rivals and the men’s and mixed teams which started in the batches behind them, made history by crossing the line first in blazing sunshine at the Oak Valley wine estate finish.
Morath said she hoped other races would follow suit: “I think it is important for women to have a separate start because it makes the racing fair and pure.”
Mariske Strauss of Team Silverback CBC added: “Well done to everybody involved in that decision. It made a big difference. And it’s not just the racing –we get more media as a result and it makes our sponsors happy.”Strauss and partner Jennie Stenerhag of Sweden finished second on the stage.
South African marathon champion Robyn de Groot, who finished third with Michelle Vorster (Ascendis Health), agreed and said it was a rare experience to do the portage and go through trails “with no traffic”.
Team Spur’s Ariane Lüthi paid tribute to the FNB Wines2Whales team for introducing the change: “It’s the way to go for all marathon racing,”she said. “It’s the only way to be fair. It rules out luck such as getting on a train (of faster male riders) or bad luck like getting stuck (behind slower men) on the trails. It really is a fair competition.”
The leading women were also upbeat about the decision to start the event an hour earlier to avoid the intense heat anticipated for the day. But while the top teams were finished soon after 9.30am, the backmarkers were still out there much later as the temperature soared past the 30degC mark and upwards.