What riders talk about during a gusty, dusty three-day MTB stage race. – By Jonathan Ancer
Wines2Whales? More like Winds2Gales, I thought, as a hurricane-force south-easter threatened to send riders cartwheeling like tumbleweeds to Gordon’s Bay. Friday was the first stage of the three-day W2W Adventure, which took about 1200 mountain bikers from Lourensford Wine Estate to Oak Valley.
It was a lot of things, but it wasn’t a breeze.
It wasn’t just lighter riders who were at risk. Even a few people in the Whale category (that’s 100kg-plus) were shunted about, as insane winds blew riders off the trail and turned bridge crossings into an extreme sport.
Dave – my W2W partner – and I were deciding if it was worse riding in howling wind, sweltering heat, or through thick porridge-mud, which we did during the Wines2Whales Adventure of 2013. The Mudventure – as it became known – saw a number of tough-as-nails mountain bikers sobbing into their pillows that night (four years on, and quite a few are still in therapy).
That year we slipped and slid our way to Oak Valley through 50 shades of mud. While wind isn’t as slippery, it toys with you: for 30 minutes it’s hammering in your face, destroying your soul bit by bit as you crawl along, painful pedal stroke after painful pedal stroke – then, just when you think you can’t go on, the wind suddenly vanishes. The air becomes still. All is calm. There isn’t a whistle of wind. You throw your fist in the air to celebrate… and that’s when you’re pummelled by another spiteful gust.
Heading into its 10-year anniversary in 2018, W2W is still the gold standard for MTB stage races: spectacular singletrack, and tough climbs, which bring the dual reward of breathtaking vistas and swooping descents – and, of course, the feel-good factor. Part of the success of W2W must be its feel-good factor.
There’s always a talking point at the W2W: wind, mud, heat, sometimes all of them at the same time. Here are some of the talking points from this year’s W2W Windventure:
- Mountain biking is healthy. Mountain bikers seem to be fitter and stronger than in previous years, and have sharpened their technical skills. W2W isn’t super-technical; but it’s technical enough (some drop-offs, a few rocky sections, and a couple of sharp switchbacks) to keep you honest.
- W2W is a proper MTB ride. You need to train for it. If you rock up on the start line without having put in time in the saddle, you will spend the next three days in the suffer zone.
- The impact of the dry ‘rainy’ season is noticeable. Low dam levels, and formerly swampy forest sections that have dried out completely. The Western Cape drought is real, and the situation is desperate.
- There were long stretches where we felt like we were cycling on Clifton 4th, causing several sand wobbles. Gonna take a month of 90-second showers before I manage to get rid of the dust that’s settled in places I didn’t know I had.
- While the sublime ‘singles’ show much attention to detail, it seems someone forgot to pay attention to the refreshment tables. Three water points each day offered the same boring and unappetising fare – watermelon, a plate of Marmite (yuk!) sarmies, a plate of boiled potatoes next to a bowl of salt, a plate of wine gums, and Coke (which is odd, as one of the sponsors is Rehidrat). I can’t bring myself to take a sandwich or potato when I think of all the dirty, sweaty, snotty gloves that have dug into the plate to fish one out before I’ve arrived. By the final day, I just stopped at the water points for water and chain lube.
- One talking point was, in fact, the lack of a talking point. A few days before the start, the Absa Cape Epic announced it had bought the FNB Wines2Whales, and I thought riders would be chatting about what changes this would bring: will W2W be renamed the Cape Epic Lite? And how does FNB feel about being ‘owned’ by Absa? But it seems riders weren’t too bothered by the news. After that windy Stage 1, no-one mentioned the Epic; all conversations were about the horror (the horror!) of being shunted about by the raging, rattling, gusting (and disgusting) south-easter.
Wines2Whales starts at the Lourensford Wine Estate, and ends – ±200km and 4200m of elevation later – at Onrus Caravan Park, near Hermanus. The laid-back Adventure finished on Sunday, the super-chilled Ride finishes on Wednesday 1 Nov, and the fast-and-furious Race starts on Friday 3 Nov and finishes on Sunday.