Candice Lill and Mariske Strauss got the inaugural FNB Wines2Whales Switchback Chardonnay Race off to a winning start on Friday, 05 November 2021. As a result, the Faces Rola pair take a 4 minute and 10 second lead, over Fairtree and Galileo Infiniti SPOT, into Saturday’s play day.

The FNB Wines2Whales Switchback event, which takes riders from Onrus to Lourensford, got underway with the Chardonnay women’s race on Friday. Though the event is open for all riders, the prize money is paid out exclusively to the Elite and age group women. On Stage 1, Candice Lill and Mariske Strauss took the first step towards the R100 000 winners’ purse by racing to stage victory.

The Faces Rola team overcame an early hiccup, when Lill had to stop to remove grass from her drivetrain on the La Vierge stairs singletrack, to power to a 4 minute and 10 second advantage on the opening stage. “It’s really, really, cool to be back at the FNB Wines2Whales” Lill smiled, from the Oak Valley race village after the 66 kilometre long opening stage. “It’s been quite a while, two years actually. It was a good day today, but also harder riding the route as a Switchback, than the last day of FNB W2W usually is. You needed a lot of power to get over the open climbs today.”

“I felt like I needed some time to get my body going this morning” Jennie Stenerhag, of Fairtree, confessed. “After about an hour I got into the race and then Amy [McDougall] and I were able to gradually reel Kim le Court and Mari Rabie in. We had them in our sights for a while but caught them with about 10km to race. I’m really happy we were then able to take second place in the sprint.”

Having lost out in the sprint for second, the Galileo Infiniti SPOT women will be looking to utilise their fast start on Stage 2 to move up on the stage and general classification standings on Saturday. “I loved it, we went hard in the beginning and just gave it our all” Le Court retold. “Mari [Rabie] and I really suited each other as teammates. It’s my first-time taking part in the FNB Wines2Whales and I loved the opening stage, even though I was starting to get a bit tired towards the end. But hopefully tomorrow we can do a better sprint or maintain our speed throughout the stage for a better position.”

In the women’s age group categories, the opening stage was won by the Woolworths Pretty Pedal and Tiletoria Ladies in the Sub-Veterans and Veterans categories. Fienie Barnard and Hanlie Booyens were particularly impressive, clocking a time 17 minutes faster than the younger women’s category winner’s time.

The Switchback route of FNB Wines2Whales Stage 2 features 63 kilometres of racing, with 1 500 metres of elevation gain. Starting and finishing at Oak Valley, the course takes in some of Elgin’s most famous trails, including JK’s Edge, Sounds of Silence, Rietvlei Magic and the Kromco Playpark. The racing starts at 07:00 and can be followed on www.wines2whales.com; or on the event’s social media handles @wines_2_whales, on Instagram, and @w2wmtb, on Twitter.

FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay:

Stage 1 | Elite Women:

  1. Faces Rola: Candice Lill & Mariske Strauss (3:05:56)
  2. Fairtree: Jennie Stenerhag & Amy McDougall (3:10:06 | + 4:10)
  3. Galileo Infiniti SPOT: Kim le Court & Mari Rabie (3:10:07 | + 4:11)

Stage 1 | Sub-Veteran Women

  1. Woolworths Pretty Pedal: Nicola Walker & Kate Slegrova (3:48:23)
  2. Computer Mania Ladies: Almari de Milander & Su-Mari Visser (4:07:03.3 | +18:40)
  3. Rehidrat Sport: Claudia Schonitz & Diane Obree (4:37:32.3 | +49:09)

Stage 1 | Veteran Women

  1. Titletoria Ladies: Fienie Barnard & Hanlie Booyens (3:31:57.8)
  2. J&M Masters Ladies: Jane Seggie & Michelle Lombardi (3:43:35.6 | +11:38)
  3. Carlissa: Lisa Czepek & Carli Cooke (3:51:17.5 | +19:20)

The Chardonnay race in the trio of FNB Wines2Whales events gets the Switchback series underway on Friday, 5 November. It sees South Africa’s best mountain bikers take part in the women’s race, with the Cape-based teams headlining the field.

The end of the year and the FNB Wines2Whales is nearly upon South African mountain bikers and mountain biking fans. After its Covid-enforced hiatus in 2020, the three-event series returns with the Chardonnay, Pinotage and Shiraz races in November 2021. In a switchback of the usual route, the races will start in Onrus, near Hermanus, and trace the path from whales to wines, through the Elgin valley to Lourensford.

As is now customary the Elite women’s event is first on the schedule, with R252 000 being paid out to the women in the UCI category. A whopping R100 000 is up for grabs for the winning general classification team; this makes FNB Wines2Whales the most highly awarded stage race in South Africa, per day of racing.

The women’s field who will be contesting the 2021 Chardonnay Switchback includes the all-South African team of Mariske Strauss and Candice Lill (Faces Rola), 2019 champion Amy McDougall partnering Jennie Stenerhag (Fairtree), while Sarah Hill is joined by Barbara Benko’s fresh legs (Maloja-Liv Cycling).

Galileo Infiniti SPOT’s flag will be flown by Kim le Court and Mari Rabie. The future of South African cycling is represented by the youthful combination of Tiffany Keep and Courtney Webb (Valley Electrical Titan Racing), with #MBMladies’s Janice Venter and Courtney Liebenberg along with Wintergreen Barrier Breakers’ Elrika Harmzen-Pretorius and Leone Verster adding depth to the field.

The likely main protagonists should be the Faces Rola and Fairtree teams, however. With both combinations having raced together, and against each other just a few weeks ago, they are in sync, but how well they recovered between the 24th of October and the 5th of November could the key differentiator.

Jennie Stenerhag is, arguably, the most experienced rider in the FNB W2W Chardonnay event as she won three editions in succession from 2015 to 2017, and knows the FNB W2W route exceptionally well. She is enthusiastic about the change of direction in 2021. “I am really looking forward to the Switchback” Stenerhag enthused. “I’ve lost count of how many FNB W2W I’ve done; I think it’s at least 10. So, the Switchback will be something new and fresh. I don’t think it will impact the racing that much though; we kind of race the same way no matter the course. But to run down Gantouw pass on tired legs, on Stage 3, is something very different to running up it on fresh legs, on the traditional Stage 1!”

Mountain biking fans can tune in to the FNB Wines2Whales action from Friday, 5 November, on www.wines2whales.com. There they will find daily news features from the race, highlights videos and photo galleries from the trails of whales to wines.

The FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz event will see South Africa’s best male mountain bikers contesting for a R250 000 prize purse. With R100 000 up for grabs for the winning men’s team fortune is sure to favour the bold.

Being able to watch the Chardonnay and Pinotage events unfold on the new Switchback route, from Onrus to Lourensford, will give the Elite men a taste of what to expect when the starter’s gun fires on Friday, 12 November. With no portage, up Gantouw Pass, to disrupt their rhythm, the opening stage could play out very differently from those of recent years. Yet the main protagonists are likely to be the same, as the double defending champions return to do battle against the biggest names in South African mountain biking.

The 191-kilometre route – from the Curro School, in Onrus, to Lourensford Wine Estate, in Somerset West – takes in 4 450 metres of climbing. At 66 kilometres long with 1 600 metres of elevation gain the opening stage is likely to be the toughest of the race. Though the punchy Stage 2 and the Gantouw Pass on Stage 3 are not without their potential pitfalls.

Matt Beers and Wessel Botha know just what it takes to win a traditional FNB Wines2Whales. If that translates to Switchback success, for the type{DEV} NanoTime team, remains to be seen however. Especially as Botha is currently nursing his wounds after a dramatic race-ending crash just a few weeks ago.

In order to seal a historic three-peat of victories the pair will have to best their perennial rivals PYGA Euro Steel, as well as Imbuko Giant, Insect Science and Valley Electrical Titan Racing. They will however have the support of Nico Bell and Stuart Marais (type{DEV}NanoTime 2) to call upon. Uniquely four of the squads in the 2021 FNB W2W Shiraz race will be represented by two teams.

Given Matthys Beukes’ lingering back issues it is understandable that the stage race specialists are only sending the PYGA Euro Steel combination of Philip Buys and Gert Heyns. Imbuko Giant, however, are less reticent to pin their colours to the mast and have named teams of Marco Joubert and Tristan Nortje, as well as Tristan de Lange and Rudi Koen.

The team which usually races as Valley Electrical Titan Racing will line up with four riders. Team principle Rossouw Bekker will tackle the FNB W2W alongside Matthew Miller, while Marc Fourie and and Zack Swart will don their usual Valley Electrical Titan Racing colours. It is relatively safe to assume that Robert Hobson will feature in the mix too.

Arno du Toit was a member of the runner up team, the last time FNB W2W was held. In 2021 he partners Keagan Bontekoning for Insect Science Pro Cycling. The pair have superb technical skills and the singletrack packed Stage 2 should suit them in particular.

Mountain biking fans can tune in to the FNB Wines2Whales action from Friday, 5 November, when the elite women get the racing underway in the Chardonnay event. The women’s race is followed by the more relaxed mid-week Pinotage event, which also hosts the Exxaro category, and the elite men’s Shiraz race. Daily news features, highlights videos and photo galleries can be found at www.wines2whales.com throughout the three-event series of races.

The original start venue for the FNB Wines2Whales Lourensford is one of the most iconic destinations for mountain biking in South Africa. With the Switchback the estate has the opportunity to wow riders like never before.

Lourensford is one of South Africa’s oldest estates. That said it has only been an active wine farm, in recent times at least, for about as long as it has hosted mountain biking trails. Though it has always been a world-renowned fruit farm wine making was only revived when Dr Christo Wiese purchased Lourensford in 1998.

There may well in fact be MTB trails which pre-date the winery then. Though none so old are used in FNB Wines2Whales. For 2021 the Switchback riders are to be rewarded with a brand-new trail. Dubbed the Lourensford Ultimate it provides a 6-kilomtre long sweeping singletrack finale to the three days of racing.

Wine lovers will already be familiar with the estate’s spectacular wines. To that end, Lourensford was awarded Top Wine Estate in 2020 at the SA Terroir Wine Awards. Cellarmaster Hannes Nel, who has completed 3 FNB W2W races himself, does all of his riding on the estate.

“I am fortunate to work and live on Lourensford,” Nel explained, of how mountain biking influences his wine making philosophy. “The best way for me to monitor the vineyards is by bicycle. I am able to cover much more ground than I can in a vehicle, and I can cycle in between the rows to inspect the development of the grapes. Cycling brings me closer to the vines, and connects me to the soil from where our grapes are harvested.”

The best way to experience Lourensford’s wines is by booking a “Blind Tasting”. For the gurus among the challenge is to correctly guess at least 4 of the wines in the flight. If they manage to do so the tasting is free. Beyond the cellar and the mountain bike trails Lourensford is also home to clay pigeon shooting, fly fishing, a yoga studio and spa. Beer, vodka, coffee and chocolate connoisseurs are also provided with the opportunities to indulge on the farm, while meals are served at the Millhouse Kitchen, Coffee Roasting Company and in the famous weekend market.

 

Lourensford Wine Estate
Location: Lourensford Wine Estate, Somerset West
Website: https://lourensford.co.za
Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday 10:00 to 17:00

 

Nestled in the Helderberg Basin, surrounded by an imposing range of peaks on three sides with False Bay across the plains to the south, Journey’s End is undoubtedly a fitting name for this fine estate.

Journey’s End is by no means the end for FNB Wines2Whales however. Located within the opening kilometers of the standard route and within the final 30 of the Switchback it is one of the farms which the event races through. Their wines are however a fitting way to celebrate any milestone.

The estate’s ethos is one driven by principles of conservation and corporate social responsibility. Not only did they start a food programme, under the Journey’s End Foundation banner, in 2020 but the farm also received WWF Conservation Champion status the following year. The same decomposed granite soils and the micro climate which provide Journey’s End with its unique terroir are also responsible for the evolution of endemic fynbos species. These, in turn, are visited by specialised insects and birds which can only exist in harmony with particular fynbos plants.

In honour of Journey’s End’s continued commitment to sustainable farming and conservation of their native fauna and flora the WWF recognised the estate with their Conservation Champion grade in early 2021. The commitment to sustainability does not end with organic matter, the estate has been run solely off solar energy, since 2014. Journey’s End is also WEITA (Wine and Agricultural Ethical Trade Association) and IPW (Integrated Production of Wine) accredited, and the farm became fully Fairtrade certified from April 2017.

Their wines are made with progressive techniques, both in the vineyards and the cellar, by winemakers Leon Esterhuizen and Mike Dawson. One of Joureny’s End’s signature features is their use of amphorae and concrete eggs for fermentation. This results in a range of complex, classically elegant wines, which remain approachable and easy drinking.

Along with the estate’s Journey’s End range they also produce wines under the Mount Rozier, Identity and Gabb Family Vineyards labels. The farm is currently closed for wine tastings, but wines can be purchase online at www.journeysend.co.za/buy-now.

 

Journey’s End
Location: Journey’s End, Somerset West
Website: https://vergelegen.co.za
Opening Hours: Weekdays 08:30 to 16:00 and Weekends

 

When Vergelegen was established, in 1700, it was truly far from the Cape Colony. Now, 321 years later, it borders on the bustling heart of Somerset West but remains an oasis of wilderness in the Helderberg Basin.

Not only is Vergelegen at the heart of Somerset West, but it also at the heart of FNB Wines2Whales. It is one of the race’s ever-present hosts, having graciously given route access to mountain bikers since the first edition in 2009. In 2021 riders will be excited to note that the Switchback route does not include the imposing Vergelegen climb, but rather the trails undulate in a downhill trend from the farm’s eastern border towards its western marches.

On the race through Vergelegen mountain bikers should be on the look out for the estate’s celebrated wildlife, including bontebok and eland, as well as their free ranging Nguni cattle. While visitors to the heart of the estate can view one of the oldest and best kept examples of historic Cape Dutch architecture. The three-century old homestead with its white washed walls, thatched roof and ornate gables is an icon of the form.

For those looking for a less physical way, than mountain biking, of indulging in the beauty of Vergelegen the estate boasts historic gardens, the opportunity to book a picnic in the forests, meals at the Camphors at Vergelegen or Stables at Vergelegen resultants, and wine tastings. On the wines front, Vergelegen is renowned for their Brut MMV, a 100% Chardonnay dry sparkling wine.

Vergelegen’s wine tasting and restaurants are open seven days a week, from 08:30 to 16:00.
 

Vergelegen
Location: Vergelegen, Somerset West
Website: https://vergelegen.co.za
Opening Hours: Weekdays 08:30 to 16:00 and Weekends

 

Situated high on the slopes of the Helderberg Mountains Idiom Wines boasts an absolutely spectacular view. From its restaurant and tasting room visitors look out across the Helderberg Basin, over False Bay and back at the sweeping curve of the Hottentots Holland Mountain Range.

A traditional final stop before taking on the Gantouw Pass portage Idiom Wines is without a doubt the estate with the most breath-taking view on the FNB Wines2Whales route.

Outside of FNB Wines2Whales the trails on the property are off limits to mountain bikers, but outdoors enthusiasts can visit for an immersive sensory walk in Idiom’s Varietal Sensory and Fynbos Gardens. The real reason for visiting though is clearly their spectacular wines and gourmet restaurant.

Though there is an a la carté and pizza menu available the best way to experience Idiom in all its glory is to book a 3-course dinning experience. Each dish is paired with a wine from the Idiom Collection. Thanks to the pandemic you can even order take-aways from the restaurant too.

Wine wise, Idiom specialises in Italian varietals. The estate’s first vineyards were planted in 1999 and features 19 varietals. Winemaker, Reino Thiart favours lesser seen single varietals and iconic classic blends. Along with the Idiom Collection range they also produce a limited edition 900 Series, the Heritage collection which reflects the owners’ Italian roots, and the Imperium range. Idiom wines are open for tastings, breakfast and lunches, Monday to Sunday, 10:00 to 16:30.

 

Idiom
Location: Idiom, Somerset West
Website: https://idiom.co.za
Opening Hours: Weekdays 10:00 to 16:30 and Weekends/Public Holidays from 10:00 to 16:00

 

There is no farm, which the FNB Wines2Whales route passes through that has as big an impact on the race as Oak Valley. Not only does the estate host the race village, with both nights of the stage race spent on its sports grounds, but it also provides some of the event’s most iconic singletracks. Trails like Waterfall, Sounds of Silence, Cow Trail and JK’s Edge, attract mountain bikers all year round; but there is more to do on the farm too.

With 35 hectares of the vast estate cultivated with vineyards wine is secondary to fruit on the farm, in terms of area cultivated. Oak Valley’s wines do however ensure the most publicity, outside of mountain biking. What makes this remarkable is that the estate’s first bottle of wine, a Sauvignon Blanc, was only produced in 2003. In 18 years, they have won a range of awards; including Top 100 White Wine of the Year, for their Tabula Rasa CY95 Chardonnay in 2018 and receiving 92 points from Tim Atkin for their 2019 Groenlandberg Chardonnay.

Along with their Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs, Oak Valley also produces Riesling and Pinot Noir. These can be tasted in their Pool Room venue 7 days a week. The farm also boasts two restaurants, the first is the Melting Pot. Headed up by Chef John van Zyl, it specialises in serving contemporary small plates inspired by global cuisine. The menu changes monthly with the seasons, but the West coast mussels served with a raw fennel salad on toasted sourdough is always a hit. Lighter meals and the all-important pre-ride coffee can be purchased from the Discovery Café. Open from 07:00, on weekends, it boasts a wooded picnic area and is also family friendly.

Oak Valley is open for mountain bikers 365 days of the year, except after heavy rains. The trails are open during daylight hours and there are showers at the trail head, should riders wish to freshen up before visiting the Pool Room for a wine tasting or heading to the Melting Pot for a special meal.

 

Oak Valley
Location: Oak Valley Estate, Grabouw
Website: https://oakvalley.co.za
Opening Hours: Weekdays 09:00 to 17:00 and Weekends/Public Holidays from 10:00 to 16:00

 

For 120 years Paul Cluver has been a mainstay of the Elgin farming community. While its impact on mountain biking and the FNB Wines2Whales is a little more recent, the farm has hosted every edition of the race. Including the upcoming 12th edition, in 2021.

A family-owned farm, Paul Cluver wine estate is synonymous with the FNB Wines2Whales. It is home to many of the race’s most famous trails, like the Pofadder, Mamba, Cobra and Rietvlei Magic. For 2021 the FNB W2W Switchback riders are in for a treat on Paul Cluver too, as Rietvlei Magic has been extended to include a dramatic final feature.

Its wines are truly spectacular though, and the real reason for any visit to the estate. Especially now that the trails are closed outside of events and special group bookings. Paul Cluver’s cool climate ensures late ripening fruit, while the soils dictate the varietals. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grow on Bokkeveld Shale, while Paul Cluver Riesling vines grow in Fericrete soils.

These soils and the low impact approach to winemaking produce a variety of wines across the Estate, Village and Seven Flags ranges. A favourite is the Noble Late Harvest, which is the perfect accompaniment for a cheese platter or with dessert. While the Paul Cluver Seven Flags Pinot Noir and Seven Flags Chardonnay are the estate’s flagship wines; best reserved for a special occasion, perhaps.

The estate is open from 08:00 to 17:00 on weekdays as well as 08:00 to 16:00 on weekends, but all tastings must be pre-booked through the website, www.cluver.com. Paul Cluver also boasts an exceptional restaurant on the farm, which is open 7-days a week from 08:00 to 16:30. Dinner is served on Friday evenings, only, between 18:00 and 21:00.

 

Paul Cluver
Location: Paul Cluver Wine Estate, Elgin
Website: www.cluver.com
Opening Hours: Weekdays 08:00 to 17:00 and Weekends from 08:00 to 16:00

 

Famed in mountain biking circles for its exceptional singletrack, Wildekrans is more than a trail destination. The estate produces award winning wines and boasts luxurious accommodation too.

Riders returning to FNB Wines2Whales will be familiar with Wildekrans. The farm has long hosted a spectator point and in 2021 it will also feature water point 2 of Stage 1’s Switchback route. For those wishing to pre-ride the open sections of the FNB W2W Switchback course Wildekrans is an excellent base. Not only does the farm boast 24 kilometres of sign posted trails, it is also the ideal spot from which to explore the greater Bot River riding options.

The real reason to visit Wildekrans, however, is the estate’s award-winning wines. Situated between hillocks of grey renosterveld the green vineyards of the farm are particularly eye catching in early summer. The estate itself is 1 000-hectares in size and has 70-hectares under vineyard cultivation. Thanks to the Bot River Valley, which stretches towards the coast between Kleinmond and Hermanus, the farm has a cool climate, facilitated by fresh south easterly breezes.

Head Viticulturist, Braam Gericke practices a low intervention winemaking philosophy and the estate focuses on producing low yield but fruit with a pronounced structure and intensity. This has seen Wildekrans’ Barrel Select Reserve range, in particular, win international acclaim. The Wildekrans MCC range meanwhile is the ideal accompaniment for a podium celebration, or any celebration for that matter. While the estate range offers exceptional value for money.

Wildekrans is open for wine tastings from Tuesday to Sunday, 10:00 to 16:00. Their restaurant, meanwhile, is open Wednesday to Sunday, 08:00 to 15:30; and for a dinner service, by booking only, on Friday evenings.

 

Wildekrans
Location: Wildekrans Wine Estate, Bot River
Website: www.wildekrans.com
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10:00 to 16:00