Thanks to the Canyon connection between Katusha Alpecin’s Willie Smit and former professional rider, turned Canyon South Africa Market Manager, Erik Kleinhans, the pair will be riding the FNB Wines2Whales together. Racing as Katusha Alpecin Canyon, they will start the Shiraz event, on the 1st of November, among the other elite riders contesting for overall victory.
Smit, who is affectionately known as Smurfy Smit on social media, spends the vast majority of his year living and training in Andorra. His partner, Kleinhans, is the self-styled Lion King of South African cycling; because of his wild mane of hair. Living in nearby Stellenbosch and having notched up numerous FNB W2W finishes, there is arguably nobody better to guide Smit through his first mountain bike stage race than Kleinhans.
“I won the first FNB Wines2Whales in 2009 and it is special to have been there in the beginning and see how the event has grown through the years” Kleinhans reflected. “The event is also not far from my home town, so it is a lot of fun for me to participate as I know quite a lot of people. Other than that; it is super fun, well organised and in a beautiful area!”
Smit, like most professional road racers, does not get to spend much time on any other bike besides his road bikes. “To start off with I don’t actually own a mountain bike” he confessed with a laugh. “Erik is organising me a Canyon Lux especially for the FNB Wines2Whales. I haven’t been on a mountain bike for the last two years, in fact. I’ve focused so much on my road bike and on my rest days; rather than go trail riding I’ve spent them hiking or going for a run with my wife. So, I think this weekend is going to be quite challenging. I’m going to have to follow Erik’s lines and hopefully he takes really safe lines or I might be stuffed. If he hits any jumps, I’m in trouble!”
The pair will be racing on a set of Canyon’s new full suspension cross-country/marathon mountain bikes, which should alleviate some of Smit’s fears. “I’m sure Willie will be almost as fast as Mathieu van der Poel on the climbs, and almost as fast as Pauline Ferrand-Prévot on the downhills” Kleinhans joked. “We will be riding the Canyon Lux, which is a super-fast bike! So, we will definitely not be able to use our bikes as an excuse, if we aren’t up to the pace of the rest of the racing bunch during the FNB W2W.”
Kleinhans’ enthusiasm for the event was instrumental in getting Smit to agree to riding the FNB Wines2Whales. “I’ve always liked the idea of mountain bike races, simply because my mountain biker friends have told me how much fun they are” Smit revealed. “I’ve ridden 3 Towers, joBerg2c and Crater Cruise but I’ve never done a three-day stage race in the Western Cape. So, it should be a great adventure. I’m not sure how well stocked the water points are, but I think that will be the major determining factor for how fast Erik and I will be riding this weekend. The better the water points, the longer we’ll be out there” he said; unaware that Woolworths will probably ensure that he and Kleinhans will be finishing well down the Shiraz field, if that is the case.
Asked how he broke the news that Smit would have to portage his bike up the Gantouw Pass, Kleinhans laughed: “I was keeping it as a surprise for him! But now that he knows, I will just tell him to watch the Video of Froome up Mont Ventoux in 2016. Luckily Willie is tough, so I’m sure he will be all good!”