The W2W is one of South Africa’s most iconic MTB events and this year it celebrated its tenth anniversary. It is a three-day stage race contested by teams consisting of two riders each. Due to its ever-growing popularity there are three races to choose from. The Chardonnay took place from 26-28 October, the Pinotage from 29-31 October and the Shiraz from 2-4 November.
Entries are notoriously difficult to obtain. I was lucky to be invited to participate in the Chardonnay by Werner de Wet, a friend with whom I completed the Solo Desert Dash during December 2017.
All three races follow the exact same route, starting at the Lourensford Wine Estate en ending on the coast in the picturesque town of Hermanus.
Stage 1: 69km and 1650m of climbing
The climbing starts straight out of the start-shoot up the Lourensford Neck. The temptation is there to get sucked in by the hype, nerves and excitement of the start and race up the hill but that would be something you’d pay for dearly later on in the race. The ideal is to get into a rhythm early and to race you own race.
Once up the the hill you are rewarded with spectacular views of Stellenbosch and Cape Town before descending down a long and steep downhill. The first water point sits at 18km. It’s then another 20km to the second water point at Idiom Vineyards but between these two refreshment stops is the notorious Vergelegen climb – the toughest of the entire race. We encountered temperatures in the high 30’s, low 40’s making the ascend a brutal affair. Shortly after the climb the track winds down through some vineyards which was also the scene of my first crash. At nearly 40km/h I missed a route marker and my attempt to turn only served to send me flying over the handlebars and into a vineyard. Apart from minor damage to my front brakes and ego I managed to limp into the second refreshment station unscathed.
Shortly after the second water point, the Gantouw Pass – a compulsory portage section – provided the iconic challenge of the day. Carrying your bicycle up the steep incline in soaring temperatures was tough to say the least. The reward on the other side was some of the best single track in the country.
Day 1 was made all the more difficult by the extreme temperatures and a word of advice would be to take it easy on day one. The best is still to come.
Stage 2: 66km and 1350m of climbing
Dubbed “Play Day”, Stage 2 is one of the race’s many drawcards, with sublime single track, manicured berms and mind-blowing descends. The first 25km flies by with the real fun starting as soon as you enter Paul Cluver via the new Rietvlei Roller. The thrills continue on the feature-laden rollercoasters of Raka, Swing, Ark, Cobra, Mamba, Boomslang, Pofadder, Jakkals and Pine Singles. Despite the heat and the exhaustion it is nearly impossible to wipe the smile of your face.
The Thandi switchbacks, which appear just after water point 3 at the 52km marker, are a sting in the tail before the thrilling, purpose-built KROMCO-PERI Bike Park.
On Day 2 I managed to stay on two wheels and it was definitely the most fun I had on a bike in a long time.
Day 3: Distance 72km and 1250m of climbing
The third day is a challenging affair. Most of the climbing comes in the last 30km of the race so it would be wise to not empty the tank right from the start. The trickiest section of the stage is the Kat Pas descend just after the Houw Hoek trails. Caution is advised as this is a particularly fast descend on a rocky, loose and rutted surface.
The first water point (24km) is located at the Botrivier School where hundreds of school children line the streets, cheering on the riders. The next 20km takes in a large portion of the Wildekrans trails before rising to water point 2 at 43km. Its wise to pace yourself through this section as a nasty series of ups and downs await – the breathtaking Gaf-se-Bos and Hemel and Aarde trails will take your breath away (literally). The last few kilometres drop you into Hermanus and the magnificent Marine Hotel where we were welcomed by the very whales that inspired the event.
The FNB W2W is an event not to be missed and if you haven’t experienced it before it should be right up there on your bucket list.