The opening day of the 2018 FNB Wines2Whales Pinotage event featured another early start – to beat the heat – but the main feature of the mid-week field was the notably more relaxed vibe on the start line. With no prize money or leaders’ jerseys at stake the field were more intent on enjoying the famously fantastic trails.
FNB Wines2Whales may be packed with singletracks, but there are some climbs to conquer too – especially on Stage 1 from Lourensford to Oak Valley. The ride starts with a climb from the gun. The ascent to Lourensford Neck thins out the field to ensure that the new singletracks – like JK’s Contour – can be ridden with speed and flow.
Traversing Lourensford – which is undoubtedly one of South Africa’s most spectacular farms – the route crosses into Vergelegen. The upper reaches of Vergelegen are being encouraged to return to their natural state, with fynbos growing back on slopes which were once terraced for vineyards and plantations. After a brutal but mercifully short climb the duel tracks give way to singletrack through fynbos.
Idiom Wines is the next point of significant interest and is well worth stopping at. With the mist rolling in over False Bay and covering the low-lying sections of the Somerset West basin the view from the winery’s elevated lawns was eerily beautiful. The vibe at the water point made it difficult to leave, Suzie Husselman and Sean Peters were chatting away on the mic while music played and riders indulged in Food Lover’s Market treats. Helping make moving on difficult was the wine tasting Idiom was presenting and of course the knowledge that the Gantouw Pass portage would soon follow.
The Gantouw Pass is the historic link between Elgin and the coastal plains which stretch from Table Mountain to the Hottentots Holland range. It was used by the Khoi herders before European settlers arrived and expanded by intrepid explorers trekking by ox wagon into the interior. The climb to the summit of the pass has to be undertaken on foot as it is a World Heritage Site, not that many mountain bikers would even consider attempting to ride the steepest sections.
Hike-a-biking the Gantouw Pass is one of the iconic features of FNB Wines2Whales and probably contributes to the friendly atmosphere among the riders. Slogging up that pass in single file certainly puts everyone – fit or not, avid mountain bikers or new-comers – in the same boat. It also gets people chatting to their fellow riders and hopefully that spills over into the FNB Rider Lounge and Cape Brewing Co Chill Zone later in the day.
From the top of the pass it’s largely, but not exclusively because it’s still mountain biking after all downhill to Oak Valley. The run in to the finish is worth ever metre of climbing. The final trail flows through the poplar forest which lines the river running through the estate and provides a smooth and flowing end to a great day on the bike.
Stage 2 is even more jam packed with singletrack so stay tuned to find out more about that tomorrow.