Thanks to Varsity Sports and FNB the top university mountain bikers from across the country will be contesting for the Varsity MTB title during the FNB Wines2Whales Pinotage event. The midweek race, which takes place from Monday 28 to Wednesday 30 October, will see students from six institutions of higher education do battle. Each university will be represented by two teams of two, with a men’s and women’s team Varsity MTB champion determined after three days of racing.
The universities represented are the University of Cape Town (UCT), the University of Pretoria (UP-Tuks), Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), Nelson Mandela University (Madibaz), North West University (NWU) and Stellenbosch University (Maties). Along with bragging rights for their schools the students will be competing for cash prizes and a men’s and women’s race Ciovita leaders’ jersey. The jerseys will be awarded to the Varsity MTB team with the lowest accumulated time after each stage of the race; while the men’s and women’s stage winners will each receive R1 000, per stage. A total of R39 000 in prize money will be awarded to the teams after three days of racing, with the winning men’s and women’s teams taking home R6 000 each.
In the absence of cycling stars like Tiffany Keep, Tristan de Lange, and Gert Heyns – who is racing FNB W2W Shiraz, which starts on Friday the 1st of November – the full-time students will have a chance to shine. Aside from the University Sports South Africa Cycling Championships, which took place in July, many of the riders do not get the opportunity to race against each other. That makes it exceptionally difficult to pick a favourite.
UCT’s Courteney Webb is, to her fellow Western Cape cyclists at least, one of the most recognisable names in the line-up. “I’ve heard of, or know, most of the women on the roster, but regrettably I have basically never raced against them on a mountain bike” the 2019 Around the Pot 100 Miler champion confessed. “If I had to guess, I would say that the Tuks women’s team is a strong partnership. But it is also so hard to say because the racing will be taking place in teams, so I can’t say confidently how these riders will perform together… I’m excited though, it looks to be a great line-up and I’m sure the whole FNB Wines2Whales Pinotage experience will be great fun!”
Webb’s pick of the women’s team to watch is the combination of Tanya Kotze and Michelle Benson. The pair placed fourth and sixth in the cross-country race at the University Sports South Africa Cycling Championships, in July; either side of Webb’s fifth. None of the podium finishers from that event will start the FNB Wines2Whales Pinotage though, so the Tuks pair are the slight favourites. Webb and her partner, Amy Tait are sure to be competitive for UCT however, as are the Maties pairing of Catherine Pellow-Jarman and Susan Kruger.
Though Brendan van Eeden, from NWU, could well be the strongest individual in the race. The men’s race is also likely to feature a three-way battle between the two Western Cape universities and the famous sporting institution from Pretoria. UP-Tuks’ Andries Nigrini and Antonie Joubert are both strong riders, although Nigrini has shown more pedigree on the road than on a mountain bike. Michael Sutton and Mornè Hollander are racing to defend local honour, as Stellenbosch University is the closest geographically to the race’s start point in Lourensford.
They will have an uphill battle on their hands however. UCT’s Richard Simpson and Michael Lambrecht arguably hold a slight advantage over the rest of the men’s field. This advantage comes in the form of Simpson’s stage race experience. which sets him apart from the rest of the field who will be making their stage race debuts at the FNB Wines2Whales.
Mountain biking fans can follow the action, live from the FNB Wines2Whales Pinotage, on the race’s social media channels or online at www.wines2whales.com. The first stage starts at 07h00, from Lourensford Wine Estate, on Monday 28 October. Coverage from within the Pinotage event can be found on Twitter, @w2wmtb, while Facebook, Wines2Whales, and Instagram, @wines_2_whales, will feature the best photos and videos from the three-days of superb mountain biking.