If ever there was a multi-day stage race that everyone needs to check off on their bucket list, Wines2Whales is that event. Full Sus editor FRANS LE ROUX experienced the trails and tribulations of W2W.
When I was told a couple of months ago that I would be lining up at Lourensford to participate in the 2017 edition of the much acclaimed Wines2Whales (W2W) mountain bike race, I was beyond excited. The thought of doing a three-day MTB event left me anxious, thrilled and generally motivated. I was determined that, never mind what happens along the way, I would love to cross that finish line in Hermanus at Onrus beach come 1 November. Rewind to a month earlier when my partner and I completed the two-day Varsity MTB challenge in Paarl. This was our team’s first chance to ride together and it proved to be a great learning curve whilst finishing my preparations for W2W. The Sunday night before our W2W Ride journey started I barely slept. This was a strange and unfamiliar scenario for me as I usually have no problem sleeping and I hardly stress before any event. After checking and repacking my bag for the third time, I got back into bed and tried to nap again. Minutes later my alarm went off at 04:00am. We were starting in the A-batch which meant our race got underway at Lourensford at 07:00.
With more than a thousand riders lining up to participate in the W2W Ride, the morning at Lourensford was a hive of activity. After numerous coffees and Nutella filled rice cakes, myself and partner Erik Knoetze moved into the A-batch start chute. At exactly 07:00am we got underway. The weather forecast for the day was favourable with almost no wind and a fine 30 degrees. The race started off with an 8km long climb towards the top of Lourensford. This climb is not too steep or difficult, but it does wake up the legs pretty quickly. We rolled down on the other side where we encountered the very first singletracks. Some tight and twisty tracks were covered as we rolled up towards waterpoint number one. After a quick bite and sip we made our way into some flat and open singletrack, crossed the first Peri Bridge and rolled steadily on jeeptrack towards the toughest climb of the day – Vergelegen. The climb is not long nor too technical, but once you lose momentum, you sadly have to get off and walk. We flew towards the second waterpoint at the beautiful Idiom Wines and made our way towards the dreaded Gantouw Pass portage section. The trail leading up to the compulsory portage is narrow, technical and littered with huge rocks. Roughly one kilometre from the portage I ran out of talent and had a spectacular OTB tumble. Friendly participants picked me and my bike up and checked if all was okay. Frankly, I just wanted to get the day over with. With some bruises and a cracked helmet, I walked over the pass. The fast and flowy A-Z singletrack was surely my highlight of the day. We revelled in this section despite a 39-degree temperature. We made our way past the third waterpoint and around the Eikenhof Dam towards the finish at Oak Valley in Grabouw. With a time of 5h30m we grabbed a milkshake and our Spur burger as we set off to find our bag and tent.
After surviving day one, we had the ‘luxury’ of starting day two in the E-batch. This gave us forty
minutes of extra time to relax and prepare ourselves for the stage
aptly named ‘Play Day’. The theme of the stage is singletrack and despite the 71km distance, there was very little free miles or open roads to contend with. The day started off with another short climb before we headed towards Groenlandberg. My partner was doing his fifth W2W and he told me that the fun was about to start. Past the first waterpoint I looked to my left and realized we will be heading into the woods. With names such as Waterfall, Vissie’s favourite, JK’s Edge, Sounds of Silence, Rietvlei, Witklippies One and Two, Raka, Swing and Ark to name but a few, we were loving every passing kilometre. Some of my favourite and most difficult sections included Mamba, Boomslang and Pofadder. At the Hickory Shack we stopped for some much-needed refreshments before we made our way towards the famous KROMCO-PERI Bike Park. Here riders got to experience a different type of thrill with a three-storey high bike park constructed out of fruit crates. We followed a fast and flowy cow trail towards the finish at Oak Valley. After 5h20m we managed to come through the stage unscathed.
After spending more than ten hours in the saddle, I knew that the final day would be very tough. We got underway in G-batch at 08:00 and all I could think about was that Onrus is nearby and I should keep the rubber side down. The first couple of kilos were easy with the odd climb here and there. As we made our way towards the famous Houw Hoek Hotel, I could see cars zipping past on the N2. The singletracks near Houw Hoek Hotel proved to be very tricky and I saw a couple of riders go down hard on the tight switchbacks. With all these cyclists going over the handlebars, my confidence was rapidly slipping at this particular section. Nonetheless I used my dropper, slowed right down and managed to get onto Katpass in one piece. This old gravel pass runs alongside the N2 and when Erik told me it’s ‘free miles’ for about 6km, I was a very happy man. If only I knew that despite the route pointing downwards, I needed to be extra careful here. Loose powdery sand and massive rocks made the going tough at times, but I was relieved to roll into waterpoint one at Botrivier. We continued towards the Steel Bridge after rolling through some beautiful singletrack at Wildekrans Estate. According to the race organizers, the actual race only starts once you’ve turned left after the bridge. A gradual climb towards the second waterpoint at the Arthouse made for some tough going. A stiff sea breeze made sure we cooled down, but offered some further resistance. A much-needed stop at this waterpoint insured that we were ready for the last 30 kilos of the race. The following 10km’s featured some of the best single-tracks of the day as we flew past Gaf-Se-Bos towards the rolling hills of Karwyderskraal. A couple of kilos before the final waterpoint at Plaaskombuis, we entered a section of technical trails in the Hemel en Aarde valley. One specific drop-off will stay with me for some time. It’s roughly 30 meters with jagged rocks and warning signs all over. I was planning on riding it until I saw a rider walk it and still fall pretty hard. Needless to say, I ran down there and made my way towards Plaaskombuis. The next and final 10-kilometre stretch was so much fun. Flying through the Hermanus Trails while smelling the ocean, was enough to keep us going. When I saw the final Peri Bridge at the Onrus beach, I knew that we’d made it. At 5h25m we crossed the finish line at the Onrus Caravan Park.
WHAT I’VE LEARNT
W2W is not your easy-peasy mountain bike party.
It’s a race that you should not underestimate. Make sure you train and practice riding singletracks – you can thank me later. Choose
the right partner! I have to thank Erik for all his wisdom
and most importantly patience. My first W2W could have been a lot worse with the wrong partner. If you own a mountain bike, make sure you put this event on your bucket list. The people, the trails, the race village and the vibe is something that every mountain biker should experience once in their life.