First Stage Sprint Sets-Up Thrilling FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz

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Elite men crossing the finish line at the 2019 FNB Wine2Whales Shiraz 3 day mountain bike event stage1 from Lourensford to Oak Valley. Image by Xavier Briel

The Elite Men’s race went right down to the line as NAD Pro MTB claimed the honours. Image by Xavier Briel

The Shiraz race is the final event in the FNB Wines2Whales series. Following on the heals, or wheels rather, of the Chardonnay and Pinotage races, the Shiraz allows the elite men to revel in the media attention. It was not just the Elite Men who departed, from Lourensford on Friday 1 November, for Oak Valley, however. The Shiraz also features the Exxaro Jersey and Mixed Category races.

At the very front of the field, the Elite Men ensured the race got off to a firecracker start. NAD Pro MTB outsprinted PYGA Euro Steel and DSV Pro Cycling to take the finest of advantages into Stage 2. Nobody would have guessed that Stage 1 would end in a sprint the way it started.

“Our plan was to get rid of as many teams as possible” Matt Beers of NAD Pro MTB revealed. “And we managed to get rid of all the teams, but we knew it was a long way to go to Oak Valley; so, while we made it hard for PYGA Euro Steel to get back, we were glad that they caught us.”

The catch happened at Water Point 1, after 20 kilometres of the 65-kilometre-long stage. “We didn’t panic when NAD got away on the Lourensford Neck climb” Philip Buys pointed out. “We could still see them and we knew we could close the gap. We struggled a little with the fast start but we knew we would get stronger as the stage progressed.”

It did not quite turn out as PYGA Euro Steel would have liked, however. With Matthys Beukes nursing a cough, it appeared that he and Buys would be in trouble going up the Gantouw Pass portage. Their canny racing experience negated any physical disadvantage though. “We went to the front in the singletrack before the portage and were able to slow it down to our pace” Beukes confessed. “I’m glad we didn’t go up there any faster, I hate running!” Wessel Botha, of NAD Pro MTB, laughed at Beukes’ revelation.

PYGA Euro Steel’s slowing of the pace allowed DSV Pro Cycling’s Gert Heyns and Arno du Toit to join the front group. The pair had been a minute behind at the Idiom Wine Estate waterpoint, just 7 kilometres before the start of the portage. The trio of teams summited the Gantouw Pass portage together, setting up a thrilling finale to the stage.

“From the top of the pass to Oak Valley there aren’t many places to get away” Buys explained. “Descending at over 50 kilometres per hour on the gravel road towards the finish made overtaking dangerous, so the order was pretty much set 2 kilometres out,” he said. Picking up the story of the sprint Beers concluded: “I’ve lost enough sprints to Alan Hatherly to know exactly what to do.”

Beers crossed the finish line first, but with the second rider from each team determining the order, the result came down to Botha. The young NAD Pro MTB rider did not disappoint his senior colleague, holding off Beukes by 0.2 seconds and DSV Pro Cycling’s Du Toit by 0.9 seconds.

The top five places were rounded out by the surprise package of Jaguar Power Products and the SPOT Africa DEVMCO Umhlanga Arch teams. Keagan Bontekoning and Jean-Pierre Lloyd inherited fourth after the Devonbosch Stellenbosch team of Frans Claes and HB Kruger punctured on the Vergelegen Climb, 28 kilometres into the stage. The Jaguar Power Products then held the position throughout the rest of the stage. Timothy Hammond and Julian Jessop finished the stage in fifth, 7 minutes and 30.4 seconds behind the sprint for first.

In the Exxaro Jersey competition, the BMT Fairtree team finished an impressive fifteenth overall, on their way to stage victory. Luyanda Thobigunya is a formidably strong rider and won the Exxaro Jersey at the FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz event last year; alongside Baphelele Mbobo. In 2018 he ended up eighteenth overall, so he and Lorenzo le Roux are on course to improve that result.

“Today was easy” Thobigunya smiled. “I knew the trails from last year and that really helped. The portage is always hard though, and I was cramping a bit after that. It makes it difficult to get going again.” Get going again he and Le Roux did, and they finished 3 minutes and 3.8 seconds ahead of the Exxaro/PwC1 team of Lucky Mlangeni and Anrique Davids. FNB Change a Life 1’s Bongumusa Zikhali and Sipho Kupiso claimed third.

In the Mixed category, Jennie Stenerhag returned to the FNB Wines2Whales, just a week after securing third overall in the Chardonnay race. She and her partner, Craig Gerber, won the stage by 58.8 seconds over Marco Schaer and Yvonne Waltert. Conway Brett Oliver and Catherine Williamson were third on the opening stage of the Shiraz race.

On Saturday, 2 November, the FNB Wines2Whales action continues with the Shiraz race’s Play Day. The 64-kilometre-long out-and-back stage starts and finishes at Oak Valley; taking in 1 400 metres of climbing. Filled with singletrack as it is, it will reward the riders with the best technical skills; but on past evidence, that means it is nearly impossible to pick a favourite for the stage from Stage 1’s main contenders.

Another fiercely contested day could well be on the cards. So, mountain biking fans would be wise to tune in from 06:00 when the racing kicks off. The earlier start is to ensure more time is provided for the slower riders to get back to Oak Valley in time for the IRB Rugby World Cup final, which takes place at 11:00. The game will be broadcast live from the FNB Rider Lounge and in the Cape Brewing Co Chill Zone.

Results: FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz
Elite Men Stage 1:
1. NAD Pro MTB: Matthew Beers & Wessel Botha (02:40:47.8)
2. PYGA Euro Steel: Matthys Beukes & Philip Buys (02:40:48.0 | +0.2)
3. DSV Pro Cycling: Arno du Toit & Gert Heyns (02:40:48.7 | +0.9)
4. Jaguar Power Products: Keagan Bontekoning & Jean-Pierre Lloyd (02:45:44.5 | +4:56.7)
5. SPOT Africa DEVMCO Umhlanga Arch: Timothy Hammond & Julian Jessop (02:48:18.2 | +7:30.4)

Exxaro Jersey Stage 1:
1. BMT Fairtree: Luyanda Thobigunya & Lorenzo le Roux (03:01:32.7)
2. Exxaro / PwC1: Lucky Mlangeni & Anrique Davids (03:04:36.5 | +03:03.8)
3. FNB Change a Life 1: Bongumusa Zikhali & Sipho Kupiso (03:08:48.1 | +07:15.4)

Mixed Category Stage 1:
1. Fairtree: Jennie Stenerhag & Craig Gerber (03:13:58.4)
2. Giordana: Marco Schaer & Yvonne Waltert (03:14:57.2 | +58.8)
3. PITSTOP SPORT 2: Conway Brett Oliver & Catherine Williamson (03:19:09.6 | +05:11.2)

For the full results from the FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz race please visit www.wines2whales.com.

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