Thursday 17 November 2011

Posted by Velouria Posted on 13:31 | 2 comments

Wines2Whales 2011

The third edition of Wines2Whales promised to be bigger and better, with more single track, tastier food, and cosier tents. Right after entries opened, the 3 antagonists in the Highly Competitive Married Couples Racing Division from the 2010 event met at a neutral venue to lay down some ground rules. After some tooth and nail negotiations, several bottles of wine (someone mentioned something about focusing on the "Wines" part of Wines2Whales), and some subtle psychological mind games we settled on the following rules:
  1. Pushing is allowed
  2. We all had to start in the same group 

Pre race excitement
There might have been more rules and stipulations, but between the lack of minutes at the meeting and the wine no one could recall much the next day. All that was left was for the secret training and intelligence gathering to begin.

While I'd like to think that my team was well on track to reaching new levels of fitness and technical skill as the cold winter months wore on, I'd be telling a lie. As it turned out, my sources revealed that things weren't going much better in the other teams. Intra team politics, bad weather and sheer laziness all culminated in a phone call I received with a little under two months to race day. The faster half of Team Heading for a Divorce (Red John - as I'm pretty sure he tried to kill me several times) was quite worried that they would have to change their team name to Team We're Already Divorced, and so in the interest of saving his marriage had come up with a proposal. Would I be willing to do a partner swap - not the keys in a fish bowl type - and ride with him? And to sweeten the deal he'd throw in some free massages for my wife and I. Team Starsky and Hutch (I was Starsky) and Team Pinky and the Brain (still not sure who is Pinky and who is the Brain) were born.

The problem - too much stuff, not enough space!
Having successfully beaten Red John in 5 out of 6 stages in 2011, I was up for the challenge, but still had two conditions:
  1. Since Red John and his bike weigh less than me alone, he would have to wait at the top of the hills
  2. No swearing at me (people still think Red John's wife is known as "For F*cks sake Nadine")
While I'd been having fun in the hills of Swaziland, Red John had been hard at work on the road bike, earning a podium at the Msunduzi Road Challenge - part of the UCI World Cycling Tour. To say I was nervous was an understatement, and when there was talk of finishing in the top 3 I suddenly wished I hadn't been so cheap and accepted the free massages.

Red John on the podium (in red)
Stage One

Team Starsky and Hutch were initially seeded in B, but this wasn't good enough for Red John. After analysing the seeding of all the riders ahead of us in A, he sent a threatening letter to the organisers promising to pour pool acid all over their plants if we weren't immediately reseeded. Valuing their plants, and not wanting to incur the wrath of Red John, we were promptly reseeded into A, which meant a 7am start from the beautiful Lourensford Wine Estate.

A blurry Yolanda and Coach Louise in the start chute
As we stood in the start chute with hills all around us, I felt a little bit out of place with all the race snakes sussing us out. Thankfully, our podium aspirations had been downgraded to a top 10 in our category, and a top 20 overall (which still made me nervous - I went to the toilet 4 times before the start).

Preparing the "bedroom" tent
The bedroom tent
As soon as the gun went and the trail started going up, Red John assumed the position that I would get well acquainted with over the next couple of days - a couple of bike lengths ahead of me, looking like he was out on a social ride with mates as I laboured on the pedals to try and close the gap. The ultimate indignity came when he offered me his pocket for a tow on the first 7km climb of the day. While I might be prepared to swap my wife for a free massage, I do have some principals, and getting towed on the first climb of the day is against one of them!

A gloomy looking race village and meal tent
With the climb over we got onto some terrain that I'm more at home on when I realised my bike was handling like a minibus taxi. My suspension had popped, squirting oil all over my front brake, and so like your average minibus taxi I had no front brakes and no suspension. Little John's mid morning mechanical gremlin had found a new victim! Downhills suddenly became bone rattling death traps, sweet flowing single track became a hiking trail that I could push my bike along. They say that when you are about to die your life flashes before your eyes, but all I can recall as I headed towards a collision with a barbed wire fence at break neck speed is that I hoped Red John would eventually realise I wasn't behind him any more. No epiphanies, insights or restful bliss - just fear that I'd die and my partner wouldn't even know!

Pinky and the Brain (or is it The Brain and Pinky?)
Amazingly, despite my lack of legs and mechanical well-being  we found ourselves slowly moving up through the field (I did swallow my pride and accepted a pocket), and by the time we got to the Gantouw Pass portage section we had several teams lurking just ahead of us. Some determined hiking saw as crest the top of the pass ahead of several roadie teams, with about 15kms to the finish. A slight sense of humour failure and some annoyingly twisty turny single track later we crossed the line at the Grabouw Country club, completing the 70 odd kilometers in 3h48, in 15th overall, and 6th in our category.

The race village
Several hours later, after a shower, a tasty nutella sandwich, and an excruciating massage, Team Pinky and the Brain crossed the line. I wasn't quite sure if that was the time to ask FFS Nadine if she wanted to swap back again and ride with her husband the following day, but judging by the smiles all around I think I knew what the answer would be. Yolanda had only fallen once, which by her standards is a good day out, and they came awfully close to beating Mike and Adrian of Team Finding Vino 2 (a wholly inappropriate name - something like Team We've Got All The Snacks, and We'll Eat Them would have been more suitable).

Malan of Cycle Addiction (my LBS) promised to have my bike in tip top shape the next morning, although part of me wished he couldn't fix it and I would get to ride the rest of the event with my wife.

Stage Two

The A bunch contenders
If there is a better day of cycling to be had in a bike race in South Africa, I would like know about it. With 60% of the course on single track, stage two promised to give those of us with a smidgen of technical skill an advantage over the bunch of roadies we found ourselves racing against.

Is there a better place to ride than this?
Once again, the pace from the gun was frenetic, and I struggled to keep the back of Red John in sight. My legs felt better than the squishy noodles I'd had for legs the previous day, but between the traffic and the occasional hill I wasn't making good progress. A cunning bit of forward thinking by Red John had him dragging me up the steepest hill of the day into some single track ahead of a mixed team, and we slowly caught all the teams we were racing against. Some track cycling like slingshots later and we were on the back of the bunch as we slowly started to climb again.

Just as we were getting a gap over the bunch, a water point appeared, and in a move that I'll be mocked about for a long time, I stopped for something to drink. Apparently it isn't cool to stop at water points when you're racing, and that is only something the guys further down the field do. Sensing Red John's scorn, and the lack of any future offers of a tow I dug deep and managed to rejoin the bunch that we'd been with. To make amends for my amateur water point behaviour I kept the pace going, and before we got to the top of the hill, we had opened up a nice gap on the bunch going into the best single track of the day at Lebanon.

Perfect conditions for bike racing
My shock and front brake working flawlessly, we were able to increase the gap as we exited Lebanon and headed towards Thandi, and the next water point. Before we could even see the water point I was told that under no circumstances were we stopping. As we whizzed through the water point, I didn't even dare to look at the cups of coke, and kept my eyes firmly glued to Red John's bum when I suddenly realised that for the first time all day he was showing signs of taking strain (he probably should have stopped for a cup of coke at the water point, but I didn't dare voice that opinion). Red John started to struggle in the final 10kms, so I was able to repay the earlier pushes and slingshots as we raced towards the finish, desperate to keep the gap over a bunch of riders that were steadily gaining on us. With the exception of Tennis Playing Pete, we were able to hold on, and eventually crossed the line in 3h01. It was nice to know that Red John felt pain too. We'd lost 2 places overall, and one place in our category, but had a nice buffer over the teams behind us. It was also nice to know that we'd ridden 11 minutes faster than Little John - perhaps now the persistent mutterings of my lack of technical skill could finally be put to bed.

Yolanda's penance for riding her bike
Several hours later the ladies arrived in a sprint finish for 382nd place, and much like her husband, FFS Nadine's sprinting skills let Team Pinky and the Brain down. This didn't dampen their spirits at all, the grinning from ear to ear continued well up until dinner time. Team Finding Vino 2 had miscalculated their nutritional requirements versus the distance remaining, and with one kilometer to go had to stop for an energy gel. It was only several hours later that Mike stopped bouncing off the walls.

Post stage torture massage
Stage Three

For those of us staying in the tents, stage 3 began at 2am with a howling wind signalling the arrival of the cold front that we all knew was coming but were too scared to talk about. For once, those carrying a few extra kilos were at an advantage as several stick like racing snakes awoke to find themselves half way across the Western Cape. At around 4:30am I was finally able to fall asleep as the wind died down, only to be awoken by the sound of torrential rain, followed shortly thereafter by a phone call from Red John somewhere in the vicinity of BotRivier, letting me know that today Starsky would be going solo. Hutch's sub 5% body fat would not be enough to keep him alive on a bike in freezing conditions.

Pinky putting up a pyjama protest
I wasn't too phased by the conditions - my trusty pair of arm warmers were at hand, and I'd seen worse in the form of the still spoken about in hushed tones 100 Miler of 2009. It looked like Pinky (or perhaps in this case - The Brain) was also going to withdraw, citing a well crafted list of excuses, ranging from the fear of pneumonia to the cost of replacing bike components, depending on who she was speaking to.

The food tent looked like a refugee camp
Just before the start time at 7am, the organisers decided to delay the start for another hour while they frantically put plan B, C and D into action. This was like a stay of execution for many - we'd made the decision to ride, had mentally prepared for a wet, soggy day out on the bike, only to be forced to huddle in the warm, dry food tent as we awaited their decision.

Nervously awaiting the final decision
At 8am, a rather nervous looking congress of commissars stepped on stage and announced that after much deliberation and head scratching, stage three of Wines2Whales was being cancelled, and that this year's edition of the race would be known as Wines2Waters forevermore (it was that, or cut off the second W on the medal). Judging by the cheers in the tent, they had made the right decision, even if we all were a little sad not to be riding into Onrus. Overall results would consist of the first two days of racing, which meant that Team Starsky and Hutch had met the goals set out before stage one - a top 20 overall (17th) and a top 10 in our category (7th). I was glad the stage was cancelled, not because of the weather and the conditions, but because it gave us an official finish, rather than a DNF. The real Starsky and Hutch would never have gone their separate ways!

Snow in the background
A wet and cold looking race village
As for Team Pinky and the Brain, they managed a credible 12th place in the ladies, and 6th place in their category (out of 13 and 6 respectively). Mike and Adrian were quite disappointed too, although I'm not sure what they were more disappointed about, not riding the final stage, or missing the opportunity to stop at 3 water points for potatoes, oranges, bananas and coke. Perhaps next year Red John will let me ride with Team Finding Vino 2 - I think I missed out on a whole other side of Wines2Waters.

Who brings an umbrella to a bike race?
And now you know why we call him Little John

Our thoughts go out to the families of the 3 workers who lost their lives building part of the course.


  1. Brilliant race report as per usual. Had me chuckling out loud.

  2. A good time was obviously had by all, despite the weather!!