I’m not a sports person, not by a long shot. So this isn’t an article about my personal experience doing the FNB Wine2Whales Mountain Biking Stage Race. But every year for the last three years I’ve been at the finish to welcome friends as they complete the race. So I chatted with them and got them to share their knowledge and experience of the race.

Andrew Cherrington from Port Elizabeth and Devrin Muir from Graaff-Reinet (Team Spur Karoo Warriors) are cycle fanatics who include this race on their cycling calendar every year.

“It’s an opportunity to ride some of the country’s most spectacular trails — three days of pure exhilaration. Love the quality stage racing and the Wine2Whales is not only well organised but has a great vibe. The single track is amazing!” says Andrew.
What to Expect When Participating in the Wine2Whales Mountain Biking Race - The Jax blogThe Wine2Whales has been going since 2009 and since that first event it has attracted thousands of keen cyclists across the country. If you’re thinking of travelling to the Western Cape for the sole purpose of taking part in this race, here’s all you need to know.

Why is it Called the Wine2Whales?

Because it starts in the wine region of Somerset West and ends in the whale-watching town of Hermanus.

Do I Need to be Super Fit?

It’s a mountain biking race which is different to a road race, so in a nutshell, yes, being fit and a strong rider will help. Not that it isn’t doable for those tackling it for the first time — newbie riders will just need to up their training in the lead-up to the race. Of course, having a good quality mountain bike also helps.

What to Expect When Participating in the Wine2Whales Mountain Biking Race - The Jax Blog What to Expect When Participating in the Wine2Whales Mountain Biking Race - The Jax blog

Is it a Cool Route?

Starting at the Lourensford Wine Estate in Somerset West the route makes the most of the surrounding Hottentots Holland Mountain range. It winds its way along Gantouw Pass, Grabouw Forest, the Elgin Valley, Houw Hoek, Botriver and ends at the Onrus Caravan Park near Hermanus.

You’ll pass sprawling vineyards, glimpse the brilliant blue sea waters of Gordon’s Bay, pedal through Grabouw’s apple country, and finish in the picturesque town of Hermanus. It’s a pretty route set in a beautiful part of the world. Yes, you’re going to be focused on making good time and not toppling off your bike, but lift your head from time to time to enjoy the scenery.

Will I Get Through it Unscathed?

The terrain is smooth-sailing in certain parts and challenging in others — tumbles, scrapes, and injuries are not uncommon. But rest assured medics are on call throughout the race.

As Andrew succinctly puts it, there are two types of mountain bikers: those who have fallen and those who are still going to fall. “Concentration is key. The lack of concentration tends to result in a crash. Poor nutrition is also a play in injuries.”

Devrin agrees that falls are sometimes unavoidable. “I generally try not to fall off my bike but sometimes the ground does just jump up in front of me, in which case, I duck and roll to ensure minimal injuries. All my time spent on my bike is a good experience even when I fall — I take the downs with the ups!”

If you’re just a bit sore and stiff at the end of each day, squeeze in a massage. Massage stations tend to be busy and it’s best to book your session ahead of time which can be done online.

What Type of Accommodation is Available?

What to Expect When Participating in the Wine2Whales Mountain Biking Race - The Jax blog

Riders will overnight at the race village in Oak Valley Wine Estate in Elgin on both nights. You have a choice of basic tents (just crawl in and crash) or luxury tents which are carpeted and include camping beds with bedding, bedside table, camping cupboard, two camping chairs, an outdoor covered sitting area, and access to private hot showers.

For friends and family travelling along for support, you have a choice of various hotels, guest houses, and B&Bs to stay in Somerset West, Grabouw, and Hermanus. Book early because accommodation fills up quickly.

What’s the Grub Like?

No, I’m not talking about insect larva (which is also called grub for those who don’t know). We’re talking about one my favourite things in life – food. A three-day mountain bike race takes a lot out of you. You need sustenance.

So what can you expect at the race? For the 2016 event, Food Lovers Market was the partner keeping riders fueled up with a full breakfast, light lunch, and filling dinner. Plus the Spur mobile trailer was also serving up burgers and chips. So, there’s no chance of you going hungry. And of course, don’t forget to keep up your fluids. We don’t want you dehydrating out there.

What to Expect When Participating in the Wine2Whales Mountain Biking Race - The Jax blog

What are the Prizes?

Unless you do this professionally, most who enter races like these are in it more for the challenge and the satisfaction of completing it, and also for the fun of it. If, however, you do happen to pedal your way into a winning position, here’s an idea of what’s up for grabs based on 2016 prizes.

Prizes Overall for both Men and Women (2016):
1st – R100 000
2nd – R40 000
3rd – R20 000
4th – R10 000
5th – R5 000

Prizes across the various age categories (2016):
1st – R4 500
2nd – R2 000
3rd – R1 000

First time doing the W2W? Some tips from Andrew and Devrin:

How much training do you need?

Depending on how well you want to do and how competitive you are, at least 10 hours a week.  This means 3-5 times a week at an average of 1½ – 3 hours at a time.  You need to be able to comfortably ride 70-80km as you have to do this three days in a row.

How difficult is the terrain (on a scale of 1 to 10) and what’s the worst part of it?

Depending on what level of rider you are, about a 7.  There’s no real worst part to this race but anything you can’t ride is the hardest.  For example, when climbing over the pass carrying your bicycle you use different muscle groups which result in cramping.  However, this is a feature of this race and it wouldn’t be the same without it.

What bicycle do you recommend for this type of race and why?

For stage races you need a full suspension/softail bike because it’s kinder on the body allowing you to recover better between stages. Hardtail bikes are impactful on the body and not advisable.  Both Andrew and Devrin ride Specialized Epic bikes and are very happy with them.

What’s the most useful item you take along on trips like this?

Garmin:  In terms of racing, especially when you have goals.

And to add my five cents …

Extend your stay after the race and explore the Overberg region. Why not turn your cycling trip into a short getaway?

What to Expect When Participating in the Wine2Whales Mountain Biking Race - The Jax blog
Caption: Riders Andrew Cherrington (back left) and Devrin Muir (back right)

And this is where I finally come in – at the finish at the Onrus Caravan Park chilling with drinks and shoving Spur chips into my mouth. Tough life.

Quick Facts

  • The Wine2Whales is an annual mountain biking stage race that takes place in November over ten days.
  • This is a three-stage race: choose to enter the Adventure, Ride, or Race stage. The route for all three stages is the same and all take place over three days. Lots of threes, I know.
  • You will cover between 70 – 80 km per day.
  • Entries will open on 14 February 2017 for previous entrants and in March for open entries and cost between R12 000 and R16 000 per team (2 riders per team).
  • Every rider receives a complimentary W2W garment or bag (even years is a garment; uneven years is a bag).

And if you’re wondering who the winners were last year.

Team Kross Bikes BiXS Pro’s Konny Looser and Fabian Giger were crowned Overall W2W Men’s Champions.

Team Ascendis Health Robyn De Groot and Jennie Stenerhag took the Overall Women’s Champion title.

Photos: Caryn Cherrington and Deevra Norling