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The Journey From Wines 2 Whales: And 10 reasons why you have to make it! #W2W2018

The FNB W2W has become part of the Grandstand Management stable that organizes the Cape Epic and has undergone some changes. The three races have been renamed after wines in the area. The first race (26 – 28 October 2018) is the FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay, the second (29 – 31 October 2018) the FNB Wines2Whales Pinotage, while the third race (2 – 4 November 2018) the FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz.

The Wines2Whales MTB runs over three days. It starts at Lourensford wine estate in Somerset West, and travels through Sir Lowry’s Pass, Elgin, Houw Hoek, Bot River, the Hemel & Aarde valley, finishing in Hermanus, from which you can see the whales.

Photo Credit: Nick Muzik

The end of the three events that make up one of the most popular stage races in South Africa has been moved to the Marine Hotel in Hermanus in 2018, where the whales that were part of the inspiration for the event will welcome them after their three days of endeavor. The hotel is regarded as the best place to spot whales in a town that has become synonymous with these magnificent mammals. It will complete a poignant and perfect circle for a race that has grown and evolved over the past 10 years, joining the journey from the Winelands of the Western Cape to the magnificence of the whales of Hermanus. And boy did we see whales, but more about that later.

The rebranding of the three events within the FNB Wines2Whales stable was predicted to have the greatest impact on the elite women’s race. In 2018 the elite women competed in the Chardonnay event, which took place from the 26th to the 28th of October, without any elite men or competitive Mixed category athletes on the start line. This means they had the sole attention of the media and race entirely without interference. This is a great step for female racing at a major stage race. The women had open trails and were able to compete solely within their category and it was incredible to see how close the women’s racing really is. With mere seconds separating the top teams on some stages, it seems that more races will need to follow and encourage this wonderful focus on the elite women’s race. The chardonnay event embraces all female riders and you truly feel like the organizers have created a safe and enjoyable event for the ladies to just soak it all up.

Photo Credit: Greg Beadle

DirtyheartMTB were lucky enough to ride the Chardonnay event. Friday was the first stage of the three-day W2W events, and it took about 600 mountain bikers from Lourensford Wine Estate to Oak Valley on Day 1. Followed by a “Play Day” on Day 2, the theme of the stage being single track and despite the 66km distance, there was very little free miles or open roads to contend with. Lastly a more “downhill” route takes riders down towards the cape coastline and to the whale capital of Hermanus to end off a wonderful three days of riding.

I love this event. I really enjoy everything about it. Being a “Joburger” we don’t get to ride such trails and see such things often within the big smoke, so it is a treat to ride these races and experience the beautiful country we live in from two wheels. I could tell you about the riding, the hills, the downhills, the sand, the rocks, the A-frames and the heat, but instead I have put together a list of my top 10 reasons (there are plenty more) why I love this race so much.

10 reasons you should make the journey

The route is king!

As the race director finishes off every speech with this sentiment, you don’t realise the truth to it until you have ridden the Wines 2 Whales. Not only do you ride such amazing trails which have been hand cut and divinely thought out, but you know that not a single road, a single trail nor a single section of the entire route was just slapped together to form a day’s riding. You don’t feel like they are linking trails haphazardly or that they have just cut a trail to get you from point A to point B. The route builders and route team have done an incredible job to show off the region's finest trails and get you to enjoy every second, even when climbing. There are far too many highlights to mention all by name but let’s give brief highlights from each day .

Photo Credit: Nick Muzik

Day 1.

The route thrills you right from the gun. A long steady climb spits you onto the shoulder within Lourensford and from here, you cannot begin to describe the views of False Bay. Single-track sections carry you to the infamous Gantouw Pass which is a historical landmark and although tough for a mountain biker to portage up a mountain side with their bike (we don’t walk… or do we?) it is incredible to see the wagon wheel tracks cut into the rock as you climb up the unridable pass and think about the arduous journey these people made just to get to the other side… the A - Z trails of Grabouw will thrill and spill you as you make your way to the race village. It is an epic tough day of riding.

Photo Credit: Nick Muzik

Day 2

Play day. Lots of play. But don’t let that fool you. No free miles. It’s either up or down on single-track paradise. We believe day 2 includes some of the best trails and single-track South Africa has to offer. It’s not the run of the mill everyday stuff. Again, these are trails built by the best trail masters and you won’t know what flow is until you ride them. We are even so cocky as to say that while climbing up a switchback single track you even manage to find some flow… that’s how well these trails are built. Included on this day is the PERI-KROMCO Playpark. A fun feature on the Kromco fruit farm which lets riders weave amongst the cooling rooms and amongst the fruit crates which have been set up to create a sort of formula one track for the riders. Now how can you not call this play day!

Photo Credit: Nick Muzik


The route provides another fantastic day as the terrain changes from fruit and vineyards to more coastal and sandy trails as we make our way to the sea. We traverse the Houwhoek singles and pass the famous Houwhoek Inn, which is the oldest hotel in South Africa, and even the gravel Katpas provides some thrills as it flies down towards Wildekrans. The route enters the Hemel and Arde valley and makes use of some of the fast and flowing single tracks from the MTB Park here. The day ends with a final climb up to the waterworks in Hermanus which provides a beautiful view of the ocean and then you drop down into town and finish your three days on the lawns of the Marine Hotel which is situated right on the ocean front.

The organization is steller

This year’s Wines 2 whales had some dramatic events occur over the three races. The first race had unbelievably hot temperatures around 35 degrees on all three days and the organizers chose to start everyday an hour earlier to accommodate the heat and ensure everyone managed to ride in the cooler parts of the day. The second event had radical weather with the same heat experienced on Day 1. On the evening of Day 1 a huge storm with gale force winds caused damage at the race village. Along with a fire nearby, the organizers came together and decided to evacuate the entire village to the nearby school in order to stay safe and also delay the following day’s start to 11am to allow everyone to get back on their feet, so to speak. They managed to arrange for over 600 riders and their luggage to be transported and for breakfast to be served at various places and riders transported back to the race village in time to start their second day, all of that done at 10:30pm!

It has to be said that the race organizers and all the people working behind the scenes are truly working their butts off to make sure you, as a rider, are well taken care of and that your race experience is of the highest quality. You know that you are in good hands and that they are truly looking out for each and every rider. The third event, the Shiraz also had its fair share of drama. With protests in the town of Hermanus, the race could not end there on the final day and again the organizers rallied to change their race finish to Oak Valley and ensure all riders had the same finish experience despite the logistics change. It takes a strong team to pull off such drastic changes to a race schedule and we salute the team.

Photo Credit: Greg Beadle

You become a part of history whether you like it or not

The race has such history woven into its fibre. From the Gantouw Pass portage, to the historical Houwhoek Inn and the pieces of single-track which all have their own unique stories. As you ride along the trail and listen to the Piet-My-Vrou calling in the distance. Or as you pull your bike over the large rocks with wagon wheel tracks from the 1800’s carved deeply into them, you cannot help but think about the heritage and history of the region and of the land you are traversing. It’s a special moment every rider will experience at some point, perhaps many along the way.

Photo Credit: Dwayne Senior

There is wine

The route passes through some incredible wine estates and private farms in the region. Some of the unique farms and areas through which the cyclists travel on the route include Lourensford, the Houwhoek Inn, Lebanon, Paul Cluver Estate, Oak Valley, Wildekrans, and ending at the Marine Hotel. As you head to registration in the beautiful Lourensford estate and enter the tasting room, the wine makes its presence known. And trust us there is no shortage of spectacular wines on offer. The race village also features a wine pop up store and it is common place to see groups enjoying a good bottle of Shiraz during dinner.

Photo Credit: Greg Beadle

There are whales

Wedged between the mountain and the sea, the quaint hamlet of Hermanus has been rated by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as one of the twelve best whale watching locations in the world, and it is often regarded as the heart of the whale route.

This story-book fishing village along the southern coast is, arguably, one of the Western Cape’s most breathtaking destinations and is complemented by a range of fine restaurants, art galleries, boutiques and more. It’s no wonder that pods of whales pack their sunscreen and beach towels, bound for the sheltered bays and coves of Walker Bay.

“While sunbathing at a local beach, I can sometimes spot up to five or six whales, just behind the last set of waves,” says a Hermanus Tourism representative. As Mzansi’s capital of whale spotting, Hermanus offers residents and visitors alike a number of vantage points to spot these deep sea divers. Whether you’re sunbathing along the beach, perched atop the 12-km cliff with its panoramic view or simply waking to an unobscured view of the ocean, chances are high of spotting a giant tail or a breaching whale.

With that said, it is truly a heart-warming moment to finish this race and simply look to your left and spot one or two whales frolicking off shore. What a privilege and great reward after three days of cycling.

Photo Credit: Nick Muzik

The race village feels like home

Race villages can be a funny space. You have just spent a large part of the day perhaps having a rough time on the bike and every rider expects an oasis when arriving at the race village to see out the afternoons lazily recovering for another day on the bike. I do believe that in South Africa we have to a degree mastered the art of making riders comfortable and providing great facilities during a stage race. The Wines 2 Whales village is a well designed engine which runs like clockwork and riders are fully catered for. From the dining marquee to the chill zone, a rider can and will find a space that suits him/her. The facilities are well organized and there was always a free shower or toilet (we know how important that is). The space is flowing and services such as medical assistance, water tankers and bike parks are all close by and run like clockwork. All you want at the finish line is to not have to hassle with any logistics but get comfortable and recover for the following day. Some riders tend to complain about certain aspects of village life but just remember you are essentially camping. The race village is set up in a remote location and yet you still have access to every need and want within it. So HTFU and enjoy the cathartic experience of being outdoors for two nights. It’s all a part of the epic adventure that is stage racing!

Photo Credit: Greg Beadle

You put your skills to the test

W2W is not your easy-peasy mountain bike party. It’s a race that you should not underestimate. Make sure you train and practice riding single tracks. The trails are all ridable, once you have mastered certain skills, like switchbacks, sand and rocky trails. That’s the beauty of it. It can still challenge even the seasoned racers and the newbies will just love the challenges it presents. I rode the race a few years back as my first stage race and my eyes were wide open after Day 1. After the race I told many people it was a technical race and challenging if you are not a great technical rider. Having returned years later, my views have changed and I have fallen in love with this race and its challenges. I have better skills this time round, but I still held my breath on a few occasions and also enjoyed overcoming obstacles I would never have thought I could do. A beautiful thing us mountain bikers have is resilience and a passion to overcome. The nature of this race allows just that.

Photo Credit: Nick Muzik

The views around every corner don’t get any better (or worse)

From the minute you begin the race and climb up Lourensford neck and look out towards False Bay, you know you will be enjoying and savoring views all day long. The ride moves from spectacular mountainside sweeping views into forests of ferns and sweeping single tracks amongst fynbos and wildflowers. Every twist and turn features new sights and sounds, contours filled with flowers and fields of wheat. Forests of pines, and fern gardens and bridges throwing you up over ravines and rivers. Riding along dam walls with the early morning sunlight glistening off the still water. Herds of cows grazing next to the trail and rolling hills of green in the distance. It’s a sensory overload and you will just love every second of being totally immersed in it.

Photo Credit: Greg Beadle

Money well spent

The great debate in South Africa at the moment is the explosion of mountain biking and the stage racing calendar which is filled to the brim. A rider can literally choose anything from short stage races to longer routes around the country, at a variety of prices. Some may say the market is saturated and that race organizers are now at a cross roads as to what they offer and at what price. For me, a stage race is all about the overall energy that I experience and what I take away after 3 days of riding my bike in places I would never have been otherwise. What did I take away from it all? And if I could get those feelings at a certain price point then I am willing to pay for it. A fully supported stage race is a special experience. It’s not just slapped together with makeshift facilities. It is about enjoying every aspect of the experience. From the moment you sign your indemnity form to the minute you get your last chocolate milk after crossing the finish line. If you can walk away from it and say “S*#@! That was an epic adventure! Where to next?” then I believe you can’t put a price on that and it justifies the sacrifice to do what you love. And that is ride your bike.

Photo Credit: Greg Beadle

If you don’t know what “gees” means, you will by the final day

The tag line for Wines 2 whales is #whyiride. There are many reasons why you ride your bike. Why do you enter races and make plans to ride these events? Why do you train your body to take you on a three day journey across our beautiful country? The Wines 2 Whales can answer many of those questions and more. This year being the 10 year anniversary of the race, saw the race talking about 10 years of ‘gees’. If you take a literal translation from Afrikaans to English, the word translates to spirit. And boy does the Wines 2 Whales have spirit. If you stopped at any of the water points on any day and had a listen to one of the commentators, you will have heard their passion and gees shining through. Not just for the riders, but for the area, the local people and for the race itself. These men and women ensured us cyclists made it through with some epic enthusiastic encouragement. If you listen to the race director talk about his trail building team and the local support of landowners etc, you will immediately be filled with gees for our beautiful country and the passion these ordinary folk have to create a race for you and I. When you are half asleep and the head chef comes up to you at breakfast and asks you how it’s going and is genuinely interested in your stories and shares some of his own, you are filled with the 'gees' of Wines 2 Whales. It’s everywhere. The energy and spirit of the race is still in me as I type this and I cannot think of a better way to spend my hard earned money and do what I love. Ride my bike in beautiful places with like-minded people.

Photo Credit: Greg Beadle

If you own a mountain bike, make sure you put this event on your bucket list. The people, the trails, the race village and the “gees” is something that every mountain biker should experience once in their life.

Visit their website for more on next years events:

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