With less than 5 days to go Mariske Strauss, the former South African cross-country champion, has been announced as a last-minute replacement for Catherine Colyn alongside Barbara Benko.
Catherine Colyn’s unfortunate withdrawal from the 2019 Wines2Whales, just a few days before the Chardonnay race starts at Lourensford Wine Estate left her partner Barbara Benko solo. Fortunately, an unexpectedly speedy recovery from finger surgery meant that Mariske Strauss was able to step into the gap in the Ghost Factory Racing team. Off the back of Strauss’ injury, the pair are eager to point out that they are not focusing on challenging for victory this year.
Strauss’ road to FNB W2W was anything but smooth. She nearly lost her the little finger, on her right hand, in a crash during the cross-country relay at the 2019 Mountain Biking World Championships. Since that crash at the end of August, Strauss has had surgery and had thought her 2019 season was over, however the, last minute, chance to ride the FNB Wines2Whales was too good to turn up for the effervescent Stellenbosch resident.
“Barbara is an amazing soul; one I will always have time for” Strauss explained as to why she came to Benko’s aid. “She has the most amazing dry sense of humour. I’m not sure if it’s a Hungarian thing, but I like it and I find her really funny. She is also determined and can be serious when she needs to be though. Barbara will tell it like it is, which is refreshing and great for communication in a team; so, I’m looking forward to racing FNB Wines2Whales alongside her. On top of that she is also an incredible athlete. I think we are going to have a blast. Hold on to your hats, the fun train is coming!”
“Well my finger is still attached which is a great plus; although I have contemplated if it wouldn’t have been easier to chop it off” Strauss wryly laughed. “The surgery went super well. Our docs here are amazing and I’m very thankful to them. I suspect it is going to be a while before I am without pain though. Although I am making speedy progress, I will unfortunately not be ready to race just yet. I have had to obviously take some unplanned rest but the injury was a little more than just my pinkie. I have had to really rest to give my body time to find itself again. I have been on the MTB and getting better by the week, and hey, why not do a three-day mountain bike stage race to see just how ready to go I am again?”
Few riders know the Oak Valley and Paul Cluver mountain bike trails as well as Strauss does, which will provide her with some advantage to off-set her lack of racing fitness. Her brother was the manager of Oak Valley’s flower farming operation until recently. “He has actually moved to a farm in the Hemel en Aarde Valley, so he’s working his way along the FNB Wines2Whales route” Strauss smiled. “He was the man behind those beautiful Oak Valley flowers and I used to spend a fair amount of time training from his cottage on the farm. This will be the first FNB W2W in a while where I can’t just pop down to my brother’s house, so it will be a little different; but none-the-less I am so excited to once again head over to Onrus, via the Hemel en Aarde Valley. I’m just not sure how fast I will be this time around. But hey, I am up for the fun journey and actually I can’t think of a better event to kick off my training with.”