In the world of mountain biking, the FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay is unique. It is the only event which features a women’s specific start group, which starts first every day. In addition to that, all the media attention and all the prize money, which totals over R250 000, is paid to the women’s teams.
For the Elite Women, whose chances of competing entirely without the interference of male riders is limited to cross country races, it is a truly special experience. “It is so nice racing with just women” Amy McDougall, one half of the FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay winning combination, confided. “The next group started 15 minutes behind us, so there was no chance that the men would catch us and inadvertently interfere with the racing.”
“We felt we had to put on a show” Candice Lill, who finished second alongside Adelheid Morath, revealed. “It is important to support the event, the sponsors and fans who support us. And racing hard throughout the three days is the best way to do that.”
Lill and Morath certainly made the racing exciting, but not in the way they would have intended. The pair, riding as Team Faces, established a healthy 1 minute and 32 second lead on the opening stage. Then defended it by adding a further 2 seconds on Stage 2. It looked as if they had the title wrapped up when they reeled Team dormakaba’s early attack on Stage 3. Misfortune, in the form of a puncture, in the final 10 kilometres put pay to their aspirations of defending the title they won in 2018.
Team Faces’ loss was dormakaba’s gain. Though De Groot was magnanimous in victory, showing that the women’s racing is not just captivating but also contested in the spirit of sportsmanship. Having embraced the unluckily Lill and Morath, she commiserated: “It’s never nice to win because of someone else’s misfortune. But that is racing. It just goes to show that you should never give up, in sport or life, we lost ground on Stage 1. Then battled back on Stage 2 and tried to put them under pressure on Stage 3.”
Behind the battle for first, the fight for the remaining places was equally intense, but fair. Despite the focus on racing, in the final mountain bike stage race of most of the Elite Women’s calendars, the fun nature of FNB Wines2Whales ensured that they still had a great time. “South Africa is beautiful; the weather is usually good – or better than it has been this weekend – and the trails are fantastic” Germany’s Nadine Rieder praised. “Despite the rain and the mud, I had a really great time. The race is small enough to have a family feeling. Which is really special.”
Hungary’s Barbara Benko agreed: “I’ve been looking for a stage race to ride with my dad for a long time. After racing the FNB Wines2Whales last year I realised it would be perfect. The stages aren’t too long. The trails are lots of fun. And even if you aren’t that fit you will be able to ride it and enjoy it.”
Having raced alongside Mariske Strauss in the Chardonnay event, Benko will return with her father for the second weekend’s Shiraz race. “It was my parent’s thirtieth wedding anniversary this year. So, I bought them a set of plane tickets to South Africa and organised entries for my dad and myself. It is going to be really special riding with him” Benko concluded.
The FNB Wines2Whales SeriousGEES continues, with the Pinotage, before the Benkos take to the trails on Friday for the Shiraz. Starting on Monday; it is the most relaxed of the three events and for many riders in the Pinotage field, besides those racing the Varstity MTB Race, the only reason to rush is to reach the FNB Rider Lounge or Cape Brewing Co Chill Zone sooner.