Whines and wails
By Tim Brink
There is a small tree about a third of the way up the Gantouw Pass, a compulsory portage section on day one of the Contego Wines2Whales (W2W). There is a comfortable rock in the square meter of shade it offers at midday and this is where I found myself defending my last piece of sanity. I christened it the sense of humour tree, but failed to regain mine until much, much later.
The day had started well, with an open eight-kilometre climb that begged to be ridden hard. I resisted, knowing that it was a long day and that the heat was on its way. Heading into the second kilometre of it, that resistance was gone and on we hammered, enjoying the ever-increasing views over False Bay that would dominate the day. The climb after the first water point was, in retrospect, the day’s most brutal, but once it closed up into the Hans se Kop singletrack, we were treated to our first bout of classic W2W singletrack. Rough and rocky, these trails are rideable year-round as part of the Schapenberg set-up, promoted and supported by the Pedal Power Association. This is how W2W operates, creating sustainable trails for the event that are then added to the Western Cape’s available collection.
By the time we reached the foot of the Gantouw Pass, and the forced portage (apparently MTB shoes will do less damage than tyres), the heat had begun to take it toll and I was relieved not to be the only grumpy face. I lingered under my tree for longer than necessary and then swore my way to the top of the pass. The reward was a mostly descending run across to the Oak Valley estate, where we would sleep that night and the next. 69 kilometres and a shade under 2 000 metres of climbing: done and dusted.
The second day of this event is the stuff of daydreams. It takes in much of the Oak Valley, Lebanon and Thandi trails, all linked together in a tough 65-kilometre loop, with only 1 200 metres of climbing, but not a flat section in sight. The start was fast, through potting sheds and other farmy things, before hitting the open roads past the Grabouw Country Club. Once we had gained the bulk of the day’s altitude, it was playtime, as we dropped over the top stile at Oak Valley and nailed my favourite descent in the area, a sweeping, swooping one that culminates in a mad sprint along the river, dodging trees and cows.
And the fun doesn’t stop there. There are two feared obstacles on the route, the Boomslang and the Puff Adder, about which there had been much angst at the start. The former was made easy for us, to be honest, because heading into it second in line meant the guy ahead was the one to run out of talent and force us all to tip-toe around his sprawled, now-cramping body. With the image of his rear end overtaking his head imprinted on my brain, we hit the Puff Adder with unusual common sense and managed not to be bitten. Momentum, commitment and a sense of self-preservation are all you need for this scary-looking wooden contraption, just in case you head there yourself. Hesitate, and there are photographers lurking, waiting.
Adrenaline accounted for, it was time to leave the slopes of the Groenlandberg and head across to the Lebanon and its sublime singletracks before tackling the grind back to Oak Valley. One of the things the W2W folk do well is water points. There is always plenty of food, drink and encouragement on offer. They also put the final one far closer to the finish of each stage than I am used to, which I thought strange at first but came to appreciate. To only have 10 kilometres left, while swigging an ice-cold Coke, is actually quite nice. When that number is 20, it’s easy to get depressed and hate the rest of the day.
You don’t often hear mountain bikers whining about the wind, but day three brought out the inner roadie in all of us. The start was great, with it behind us as we scooted through the farms on the way to the Houw Hoek Inn. The descent down to this landmark was insanely fun and the heap of spectators gave the tight switchbacks a world-cup feeling. We disappointed them all by riding everything without even a hint of a lie-down. And then we popped out of the forest onto a long, open stretch that took us through Bot River, and on towards the Wildekrans Estate. The wind was strong and gusty by then, but mostly from the side – irritating, but not debilitating. Unfortunately, from Wildekrans, we spent the majority of our time out in the open, on jeep tracks and exposed singletracks, heading into the teeth of the gale. I began to remember the Gantouw Pass portage just two days prior fondly.
There was some respite after water point two, with a muddy, entertaining singletrack through a forested section, before we climbed out into the wind and battled across to water point three at the foot of the final climb of the Wines2Whales and up to the lookout point over Hermanus.
One final widow-maker descent, a handful of unnecessary bumps and we were on the beach, riding a seemingly endless succession of wooden pallets towards the final finish line in Onrus. The wind was forgotten, as were the heat, portage, crashes and cramps. I will be back for more. This is the benchmark for stage races – long enough to test, but not so long that you hate it, and it requires just one Friday out of the office, which you would have spent daydreaming anyway.
The Contego Wines2Whales events will take up the first two weekends of November 2013. Enter and get more information on www.wines2whales.co.za. Visit www.cyclistsguide.co.za for a full listing of South African mountain bike events.
Source: Ride Magazine