An uneasy calmness befell Lourensford Wine Estate today (Friday, 11 November 2016) when SA’s elite mountain bikers gathered amongst a strong continent of International elite riders at the start of the 8th edition of the FNB Wines2Whales (W2W) Three-Day Stage Mountain Bike (MTB) Race.
No stranger to W2W, Team Investec-Songo-Specialized’s Christoph Sauser (Switzerland) together with event newcomer Sam Gaze (New Zealand) threw down the gauntlet in the early stages and claimed the stage victory in an impressive 02 hours 49 minutes 04 seconds. “I need some money for my wedding,” laughs Sauser. “I’m getting married next Saturday. It’s always good to ride your lungs out for three days before your wedding. We rode upfront with Konny Looser and Fabian Giger (Team BiXS Pro) and Hendrik Kruger and Johann Rabie (Team Telkom).
Konny and Fabian had some technical issues after the first climb. We went flat out afterwards riding into a headwind, and managed to drop Team Telkom at the second Water Point. It’s great riding with Sam. He’s my best friend and is incredibly talented.”
“The route is unreal,” says a delighted Gaze. “It feels weird enjoying the trails. It was a hard day out. Hanging onto Sauser for over two hours is tough.”
Team Telkom’s Hendrik Kruger and Johann Rabie secured the second spot on the podium. According to Kruger they are happy with their second place position. “We knew it would be a hard task to podium. There are two hard days remaining. We’ll make up where we can.”
Team Kross Bikes BiXS Pro’s Konny Looser and Fabian Giger were the third team home on the day. “Fabian’s bike punctured on the first uphill. After the portage section he punctured again. After that we just kept a good pace. Fabian motivated me all the way and we managed to catch up with the other riders.”
The women’s race was dominated by Team Ascendis Health’s Robyn De Groot and Jennie Stenerhag who crossed the finish line first in 03 hours 16 minutes 03 seconds. According to Stenerhag they had a good day. “The beginning was tight with three teams in front. Candice Neethling’s (Team Dormakaba Time Freight) bike suffered a puncture. We then rode with Ariane and Cherie (Team Spur). After the portage section we broke away. Going into Stage Two we’ll just do what we normally do and hope that it’s enough.” Team Spur’s Ariane Kleinhans and Cherie Redecker came in second, while Team Galileo Risk Valencia’s Theresa Ralph and Samantha Sanders finished third.
For Redecker taking part in W2W was long overdue. “I’ve wanted to race W2W since the event’s inception, but have always worked as a photographer as part of the media team. I still have to decide what’s tougher though, riding or photographing the event. I loved the stage. Ariane motivated me nicely and kept things going. Now we’ll rest up and get ready for Stage Two.”
The mixed team race was dominated by husband and wife duo, Team Merchant’s Martin and Jeannie Dreyer. “It’s always a hard day out,” says Jeannie. “It’s the same for everybody though. The portage section benefits us. I loved it. We savored today’s routes. The Spur burgers started calling us the closer we got to the finish line.” Team Merchant secured gold in a time of 03 hours 24 minutes 54 seconds. Team Movepretty’s Corrie Muller and Mari Rabie came in second, while Team Gear Change Mixed’s James Lennard and Katie Lennard finished third.
The first of two destination stages, Stage One saw riders having to complete a 68km MTB route (with 1420m ascent) from Lourensford Wine Estate (Somerset West) to the festival village at the majestic Oak Valley Wine Estate (Elgin-Grabouw), home for the next two days.