Eleven years on from the inaugural FNB Wines2Whales many things in mountain biking have changed. One remains constant however, the sport’s iconic stage race's commitment to continual route refinements. Every year has seen new singletracks added and old trails reworked and perfected. 2019 is no different.
Winter in the Western Cape is trail building time. The soil is softer allowing Johan Kriegler and his Cape Trails route team to cut virgin trails, sculpt exquisite berms and seek lines between immovable obstacles. Kriegler, as any FNB Wines2Whales rider will attest, is the Zen master of flow. So any hint of what he and his team are up to will surely be eagerly received.
His Midas touch is currently being put to great use on the Stage 1 route. After the addition of new singletrack in Lourensford in 2018 the focus for 2019 is Vergelegen. Not too much can be revealed at this point, but long-time riders need not fear the infamous climb in that storied wine farm remains – just to test the legs a bit. Later in the stage; the A2Z trails have received some much needed TLC; after safely navigating A2N riders can look forward to racing down Willie's Trail towards WP3 at the Grabouw Country Club. Thereafter, breaking from tradition, a new route to Oak Valley is blazed, making use of gees-inducing trails like Protea Heights, Waterfall, and Hothouse Effect before celebratory high-fives are awarded under the finish arch.
Stage 2 is the real winner when it comes to updates and perfections; many changes were due to the veld fire that ripped through the area earlier this year, others are for the sole purpose of serious gees, including the rebuilding of bridges, improving the flow of old trails, and seeking out trails never ridden by any Wines2Whales rider before.
A significant amount of trail building has been taking place on more familiar soil, in the Paul Cluver Wine Estate with the help of Dr Cluver himself and his team of trail builders, under the guidance of Andries Burger. Pofadder, Witklippies 1 and 2 all needed a healthy dose of trail surgery after the fire; this gave the team the chance to not only rebuild the resident bridges, but give them a complete overhaul. There are all-new trails on the farm too, with the Paul Cluver Amphitheatre getting a much needed revamp. The iconic spot, which is a fan and rider favourite, now features new singletracks which swoop through the trees.
The changes aren't limited to just one side of the N2 and later in the Stage the route dives under the national highway for the first time since the third edition of FNB Wines2Whales. The highlight of this rejuvenated section is without a doubt the return to the lower trails in the Lebanon network. The fun does require some effort and to get there riders will have to climb, but the Cape Trails team will be ensuring that the climb is not too arduous as they are creating an all new singletrack section that winds gradually upwards, ensuring riders are well spread for the descent to follow. From there it’s homeward-bound via the Hickory Shack and of course the KROMCO-PERI Play Park and Oak Valley's breathtaking singletracks.
Stage 3’s route to the seaside town of Onrus has also been rejuvenated. On the run-in towards the Houw Hoek Hotel the Jakkals River singletrack has been rebuilt entirely, taking a higher contour. The climb from the river bed to the Houw Hoek Switchbacks has as a result been halved. The first significant section of trail on the final day will help ensure riders are treated to a ride to the coast as spectacular as the preceding day. Smiles will be working overtime as riders reach the top of the Gorge and pin their ears back for a fast and furious descent through the Land Rover Experience section down the famous Hemel-en-Aarde trails; gone as a result is the torturous Water Works climb. 2019 riders, and those who have experienced an FNB Wines2Whales finale in Onrus before, will be blown away by the entire experience; a festival atmosphere awaits in the seaside village where all things mountain biking and W2W will be celebrated in style.
The Wines2Whales team will continue to work towards perfecting the 2019 route and we guarantee that there will be #SeriousGEES aplenty! For regular updates on the process and hints of what exactly lies in store, be sure to follow us on social media: Wines2Whales on Facebook, @w2wmtb on Twitter and @wines_2_whales on Instagram.
Photo by Craig Kolesky