Words by: Tim Brink | Images by: Nick Muzik / Luke Lockhart- Ross
The FNBWines2Whales is on the horizon, and as we have come to expect, for 2019 there is a whole lot of same-same, but equal amounts of change in store for returning riders and newcomers alike.
The format of the event remains unchanged with three cultivars spread over eight days, catering to three discerning markets. The Chardonnay (28-30 October) kicks it all off, and celebrates women in mountain biking with a women’s racing batch (the already big-prize purse has been increased again for 2019) starting
first each day. There is no official racing for the other categories for these first three days, although the pace is fierce further back too, as passionate mountain bikers consisting of professionals and weekend warriors alike set out each morning on some of South Africa’s favourite trails..
The Shiraz (1-3 November) is where the body-fat count hits single digits, as the Men’s, Mixed and Exxaro titles are decided. The pace is hard, throughout the field, and the finding a spot is even harder in the most
popular of the three variants. It is the mid-week (28-30 October) Pinotage event that captures the true essence of the Wines2Whales experience, and 2019’s Race with Gees drive. This is where the spirit of camaraderie really shows through, as experienced riders and newcomers enjoy a more relaxed ride around the same trails as the racers, but without the need for speed.
If you want to experience Wines2Whales #SeriousGEES for the first time, Pinotage it is – there are still a number of spots open, and will be for both the Pinotage and Chardonnay events (we are sure) closer to the event. Don’t forget the event’s Whale category, which celebrates the bigger-boned among us with a
dedicated results sheet for teams where both riders weigh in at 99+kg… there will be scales registration, and they will be checking your pockets for lead-doping…
Making it easy
Ever-evolving, the organisers have worked hard at tweaking the rider experience for the 2019 events. Logistics is always a challenge, especially for upcountry riders, and with this in mind, a number of travel packages will be proposed on the website by the time you read this. The goal is to take the schlep out of getting you and your bike to and from home, with a quiver of turnkey options including travel, for you
and your bike, accommodation, shuttles and more – challenges you haven’t even thought of yet!
Part of the making-it-easy theme revolves around the Rugby World Cup, the semi-finals of which fall on the Chardonnay weekend. A disaster, potentially, for the South African rugger fan (presuming of course we make it that far). Fear not, The organisational team is just as keen on not missing a moment, so there will be
big screens showing it live (for spectators, mostly, and the speediest of finishers, as the mid-morning games
probably won’t move for us) and delayed-live later in the afternoon, for ‘normal’ finishers. Like the FNB Rider Lounge needed any more gees.
Routes and Rhythm
To celebrate the tenth anniversary of FNB Wines2Whales the race finished in Hermanus in 2018. The Marine Hotel added more than a touch of glamour to the final day’s proceedings; an undeniably beautiful finishing venue, with a cliff-top setting providing the opportunity for riders to indulge themselves, postrace, in one of Hermanus town centre’s many fantastic restaurants. But the relaxed atmosphere of Onrus has called the race home again in 2109, wholly in keeping with the FNB Wines2Whales gees. Food trucks, chill zones, ample shade and direct access to the tidal pool will ensure riders and their families can relax at the finish line and soak up every last second of the event’s famous vibe.
Returning to Onrus also means a great riding experience in the final 10 kilometres of the third stage. Riders will swoop down the lowest sections of the Hemel en Aarde mountain bike trails with a seaside view run-in to Onrus. This jaunt is a real treat along the Onrus beach on the PERI boardwalks, which provide an easy path across the white sand and take riders to the very edge of the Indian Ocean to ensure a truly “to whales” feeling. For the finale, not much else changes. The same cannot be said for the first two stages,
though, where the distances and gains remain similar, but the execution is next-level. Stage One still starts at Lourensford, where the trails are familiar to many, but riders will experience a few tweaks and adjustments to what they’ve ridden before. The new fun starts after the portage over Gantouw Pass, with the route heading down the A2N trails instead of A2Z. An all-new trail from N has been created down towards the country club (WP3). Here the riders will also encounter the first Land Rover Experience section, which is Willie’s Trail – a tight, sandy, switch-back trail that is going to be equally fun to ride and to watch. From the country club riders, will make their way through what used to be a Stage 2 section, over the Eikenhof dam wall, under the upper Eikenhof culvert, Mara trail, Waterfall, and then the entrance to Oak Valley up to WP1 old location of Stage 2, Protea Heights and then down to the finish via a new section called Hot House Effect (which has been used in the Absa Cape Epic).
For Stage Two, the start (which has been nicked by Stage One), is replaced with more zig-zag open roads in Oak Valley, and then an overload of Oak Valley singletrack before WP1, over to Paul Cluver (with some minor new sections and cutting out minor existing sections), under the Jackson N2 culvert and on to new trails on Houwhoek Farm (that Cape Trails have built) which link to the bottom of Lebanon trails, back under the Thandi N2 culvert, Hickory Shack for WP3 and from WP3 the well-trodden trail back to finish (including the super-fun PERI KROMCO Playpark).
Just do it…
Improving year-on-year is no easy feat. Even if you have ridden all 10 previous editions of the race, the fickle gods of mountain biking will always ensure a new adventure. Even if you are riding familiar trails,
there is always a new adventure to be had. Don’t be put off by the sold-outness of the event – try a little,
and you will find a way to ride the stage race that set the standards for the rest. Nag the good folk at
www.wines2whales.com until they find you a spot.