Now in its ninth year, the FNB Wines2Whales is firmly established as one of the premier three-day stage races on the South African calendar. However, for the pros it always comes at a tricky time of year, essentially being the last race of the season.
Team Spur will be fielding a full complement and will be looking to carry the successful momentum from The Cape Pioneer Trek all the way from Lourensford, via Oak Valley, to Onrus this weekend.
In the men’s race the Team Spur/Red-E pairing of Alan Hatherly and Matt Beers – who won six out of seven stages to take out the Cape Pioneer Trek – will once again be lining up together.
Having made his true stage-racing debut at the Pioneer, W2W will be another first for Hatherly. “I’ve obviously heard really good things about it,” he said, explaining how he’s not 100% sure what to expect but has some idea. “I followed the race properly last year through the great coverage and the route definitely makes for some exciting racing, especially with the portage on day one.”
Hatherly will again be relying heavily on the experience of marathon machine (and house-mate), Matt Beers with regards to the course and tactics. “Matt and I have managed to get in some really good recovery after Pioneer,” he commented. “He’s obviously raced it before so he’s going to be my guide through each day – making sure we don’t get caught up in bad positions on important sections,” he said.
The compulsory portage at Gantouw Pass on Stage One is bound to be one of those ‘important sections’. “It seems to be one of the biggest deciders of the race,” Hatherly said. “From what I’ve heard, if you lose time there it’s very difficult to make it back, but if you get it right, then you can make the break and get into the leader’s jersey from there.”
In the women’s race Ariane Lüthi is equally mindful of the infamous portage, which comes 38-kilometres into the 68km stage.
Ariane has raced the event many times before and is well versed in what to expect. “Every year there are a few small changes here-and-there, but generally the first day is a crucial decider for the main GC – the first climb and singletrack sections are often the key, and then of course there is the portage.”
Ariane will be teaming up with Podium Sports stable mate Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio who is taking some time ‘off’ after another highly successful season on the roads for Team Cervélo Bigla.
“What a great honour it is for me to ride with Ashleigh,” Ariane commented. “I have such huge respect for her. I’ve followed her career closely and she is an amazing role model for all cyclists in this country.”
While not her natural racing forte, Moolman-Pasio is no stranger to fat tyres and dirt tracks having recently tackled the Cape Pioneer Trek with husband Carl Pasio. Although Ashleigh was forced to retire on the final day due to illness, they completed the six days with a two podium finishes in the Mixed Category.
The women’s field is stacked this year with at least a handful of teams in title contention, this includes the Ascendis Health outfit of Sabine Spitz and Robyn de Groot, Jennie Stenerhag and Adelheid Morath of CBC/Åbro, Candice Lill and Vera Adrian of DormaKaba and Ariane’s Pioneer-winning team mate, Amy McDougall and Samantha Saunders for Valencia.
“Ashleigh and I are a completely new combination and she has not raced a lot of mountain bike in the women’s division, so it’s going to be quite a interesting thing for us to race together. She also has a hectic schedule ahead next year so we’re fairly relaxed about our goals,” Ariane said.
“Having said that we have the racing spirit so when the gun goes we will not hold anything back,” she quickly added. “Hopefully I have good legs on the day to go with Ashleigh up that first climb.”
“We can also count on our great back-up team of JP (Jacobs) and Tim (Bassingthwaighte) who have just ridden the course and can give us some tips and tricks!” She concluded.
Follow the blow-by-blow racing on Twitter and stay tuned to Team Spur’s social channels for more updates.
The FNB Wines 2 Whales starts on Friday 3 November at Lourensford and finishes, three stages and some 210km later, on Sunday 5 November at Onrus Caravan Park.