WINES2WHALES: THE BEST 3 DAY STAGE RACE IN SA? PART 1

Words by: Shayne Dowling

I can’t really explain it. The anticipation, the training, the nervousness in the chute, the knowing of what lies ahead or the angst over what may have changed. And yet there I was lined up for my 6th time – so why do I (we) keep coming back?

Most of the top stage races have good singletracks, most have challenging routes that are constantly being upgraded and subtly changed, most have an iconic challenge or spectacular must do section: Gantouws portage, Umkomaas Descent and climb, Great Wall My China and Spioenkop, Merino Monster or Prince Alfred’s pass…. Pretty much all have incredible water tables, the top ones attract good elite fields, all boast routes that have sections that can only be accessed on the event and accommodation options have pretty much become a pay for what you get selection.

The top stage rides aren’t cheap and it takes a commitment to train so that the ride isn’t a complete horror show. Weather is a factor no matter which event you take part in and most offer a really nice goody bag with branded kit. So why do we keep going back to these rides, and specifically, why do we keep going back to Wines2Whales?

Each event has its own character but also its own characters. People who are synonymous with the event, think JK and Hendrico, the Green Family, Farmer Glen, Wappo and Sandile (Did you spot the events?). All great characters that add to the essence of the experience, that not only shaped or conceived the event but helped form the soul, the ethos and the ultimately the personality of the event. This certainly is a reason why a particular race would resonate with one – the personality of the event that is.

But things change and despite supporting a large number of staff, services and communities at the end of the day the events are still a business that try to generate a profit. This becomes much more apparent when corporate buyouts happen or ownership changes and new leadership bring along concepts, expectations and ideas that can go either way. This is relevant to Wines2Whales as it is now part of a global basket of mountain bike events falling under the Epic Series. This certainly has put the event onto a global landscape and it could be expected that the character of the race may change. If this is the case then being part a global corporate and team has certainly not harmed the event in anyway and has if anything improved it.

Image by Sam Clark FNB W2W

So what makes the race so impressive? Frankly the organization. I have mentioned all the similarities that events have and undoubtedly South Africa leads the way in MTB stage race events with organisers and participants from around the world simply in awe with how our well our events are run. We should also note that some of our events have been going for a long time now and lots of mistakes, learning, and improving has happened. This makes the “big boys” on the calendar work extremely hard to ensure their event is right up there with the others. Of course another big factor are sponsors and it certainly doesn’t harm an event when it has a long standing partnership and they see good value in the event. The fact that FNB has been with W2W’s as title sponsor since 2013 underlines this and it brings stability to the organizers the brand has also become synonymous with it.

Let’s talk a little about the organization of the event though – which of course is driven by the event organisers – and how it is my differentiator. From the time you sign up for the event, no matter if it is your first stage race or if you are an elite rider, you are treated professionally. Communication is constant and if anything is unclear the support is on point. There is and app, a website, sms’, emails and a constant flow of social media. You certainly have all the information you need to get to the beautiful cellar at Lourensford for registration and your first taste of their “gees” (spirit) mantra. After the seamless collection of your goody bag, buying some merch from the gees store it’s not difficult to grab a cold one and kill a few butterflies on the lawns outside the cellar. The tone is set right from the outset.

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