Wednesday 14 November 2012

Posted by Velouria Posted on 13:10 | 2 comments

Wines2Whales 2012

Team Starsky and Hutch once again reformed for 2012's Wines2Whales in an attempt to actually get from the Wines in Somerset West to the Whales in Hermanus after the now infamous Wines 2 A-Soggy-Cricket-Pitch-in-the-Middle-of-Nowhere 2011 edition. A more juxtaposed team would be hard to find - Red John being a tiny, light weight, short distance, road racing, hill loving cyclist, and me - a gigantic, "big boned", long distance, mountain biking, flat road oaf. Much like Asterix and Obelix, C3PO and R2D2, or Jay and Silent Bob, we made for an unlikely combination.

All ready to roll!
(Jacky McClean / Newsport Media)
The other aspect that makes this race stand out from the various stage races we do is that our wives also team up and take part in the aptly named Team Pinky and The Brain. And unlike the members of Team Starsky and Hutch, no one really knows who Pinky is, and who the Brain is. I suspect they take turns, depending on exhaustion levels, sun exposure, and general well being.

My preparation for the race included rereading my blog entry from last year's race to mentally prepare myself for what riding with Red John entailed. If anything, all I achieved was to relive some memories I'd safely managed to bury deep inside my subconscious - the pain and suffering that such a small guy can dish out on a bicycle is the stuff nightmares are made of.

Stage 1

Like a prisoner on death row, my date with destiny eventually arrived - and on race day morning Red John was looking lean, mean and determined. To make matters worse, we had the likes of Robbie Hunter, Burry Stander, Christoph Sauser and several other serious looking race snakes hanging out in our start chute. The Pain Cave awaited, and I was going spelunking on a solo adventure into uncharted territory.

The dam crossing
The first 30 seconds went well, and then the road started going up. Unlike last year where I gallantly (stupidly?) refused to hang onto Red John's pocket, I quickly swallowed my pride, set aside my principles, and took up what would soon become a regular position of hanging onto Red John's left rear pocket. Just when I thought I couldn't sink any lower, a photographer appeared out of nowhere to capture the moment. My humiliation was complete, but at the same time, this was certainly one of the better ways to ride up a hill.

Post race snacks
We made steady progress while I secretly hoped a Cycling Faerie would deliver a fresh set of legs, and before long we were approaching Water Point 2. After the serious tongue lashing I got last year for stopping at a water point for some coke, Red John had me promise that I would not stop this year - unless it was over 30C. You can imagine how glad I was that not only was it over 30C, but Red John had also dropped a bottle and needed to stop to refill his remaining one. There is something about drinking coke when your vision is blurred, your lungs are on fire, the snot is flowing freely from your face, and your legs feel like bowls of week old custard that makes it taste so good. I could have stayed there all day, but by some miracle Red John was able to coax me away from the happy place I was in and back into my Cave of Pain.

Riding like a pro
With Hans se Kop and Magic Mountain behind us, the portage of Gantouw Pass had me plumbing new depths of patheticness and self pity as I stumbled along, bent over double, pushing, carrying and heaving my bike up and over the endless slope of ankle breaking boulders. And just when I was about to give up - Red John was there to carry my bike (perhaps he is the Cycling Faerie). I didn't mind the photographer now, gamely snapping away at the scene in front of him - my need to survive overriding any feelings of shame.

Smiles all the way
Once back on the bike, there were signs that I was leaving my cave as my legs recovered somewhat. We made good progress up the remaining climbs, over the monstrosity in the Eikenhof dam and onto Oak Valley to finish in just over 4 hours in a rather disappointing 29th place overall and 11th in our category. It had been the toughest day on a bike in a while for me, but as Red John said - a bad day on the bike still beats a good day in the office.

While Team Starsky and Hutch were up front "racing", Pinky and The Brain were pulling some seriously hardcore moves of their own, ripping up the single track, bombing down the descents, and in the process impressing none other than Farmer Glen with their bike skills. The newly renamed Team finished in just over 7 hours, and more importantly 10th in their category.

Stage 2

This promised to be the fun stage, with gentle climbs, loads of single track, some innovative scaffolding constructions and fantastic riding. The only thing I hadn't counted on was the pace from the gun - once again we were nearing warp speed in the neutral zone and my poor old diesel engine just couldn't keep up. Thankfully I was not alone - there were several partners in the same boat, and I considered reviving the Suffering Epic Partner Union - whereby if there are enough of us weaker partners sticking together, the stronger partners will have no choice but to slow down. Thankfully it wasn't needed, as I eventually found a reasonable set of legs and was barely able to hang onto Red John's wheel.

Another early morning start
Just as we were starting to make good progress disaster struck as Red John collided with a solid branch, flew into the air, did a somersault with a 180 degree twist and came crashing down to earth. On the gymnastics floor it would have been impressive, but throw in a bike, some rocks and branches and it is a dangerous move. He ended up damaging some ribs, and although he didn't say a word at the time, every bump, root, rock and rut had him wincing and groaning. But it didn't slow him down.

Racey Red John
After the disaster of Stage One where everyone passed us, Stage Two was the opposite. We gradually moved up through the field, rather surprisingly doing most of our overtaking on the climbs (and without me hanging onto my favourite left pocket). Red John still did the lion's share of the work on the front as I perfected my aero tuck making myself small enough to get into his slipstream. As a cycling coach, Red John was trying some interesting motivational techniques on me, but I soon had him figured out. He would yell out that we had to get past so-and-so before the next single track, and I would dig deep, donate a kidney and make a move on Red John's designated team. We passed some ladies teams like this, some mixed teams, some vets, some sub-vets, but when Red John told me to hurry for the upcoming piece of single track and I couldn't see anyone either in front of or behind us I was onto him. He'd need some new tricks from then on!

And we're off
We finally hooked up with another team and shared the work well. I even got a chance to contribute for the second time that day, but mostly Red John represented Team Starsky and Hutch on the front. We flew down the single track at Lebanon, through the culvert under the N2 that was designed for dwarves as I had to put my head flat on my handlebars to avoid scraping my head on the roof, and on towards the final Water Point of the day. As is customary, I was told to ride through, but as I saw Red John stopping I couldn't help myself and had to delight in the pleasures of ice cold Coca Cola. We were heading for home, and slowly opening up a gap on the guys behind us. I could hear Red John grunting and groaning over every slight obstacle, but he hung in there and we finished in 2h52, in a much improved 22nd place overall and 9th in our category.

Team Pinky and the Brain - aka
Meanwhile, Farmer Glen's new favourite team, the recently renamed Team were having a tough time. Not because of the hills, or technical single track, but because of the testosterone hanging thickly in the air. It seems that chivalry is dead at the back of the field (and from an altercation on day 3, possibly at the front too) as slower, less skilled men on bikes would refuse to let the faster, more technically adept ladies through. After several frustrating hours behind unskilled overweight middle aged men, the ladies eventually finished, and despite the hardships of the day were in good spirits. It's not every day that you get personally welcomed home by Farmer  Glen at a bike race.

Our home away from home
Stage 3

I awoke on Sunday morning to a raging chest infection - my post nasal drip had finally capitulated into something vicious. But I couldn't really complain - Red John was sporting the latest in designer corsets, having spent a rather restless night doped up on Myprodol for his aching, strapped up ribs. Standing on the start line, I was quietly confident that we'd have a decent day out. Two minutes after the start that confidence was shattered. There'd been a robbery in my tent, with the perpetrators making off with my legs, one of my lungs, and most of my prefrontal cortex. I was pedalling with spaghetti legs, gasping for air like a stranded sardine and making some really bad bike handling decisions.

Prawns and mousse - the good life
I knew we were in trouble when first the regular crowd we'd been riding with vanished off ahead, and then slowly I was passed by the guys with hairy legs, then the guys with saddle bags, then Camelbaks, and finally the baggy shorts brigade. I'd gone from race snake wannabee to weekend warrior in the space of a few kilometers. And my source of motivation had his own demons to deal with - the Myprodols were wearing off and his ribs were taking a beating. I was truly useless - I rode into obstacles, hooked my handlebars on branches, bashed my head on trees, was always in the wrong gear at the wrong time particularly on the tight uphill hairpin switchbacks, and picking lines through technical sections that didn't exist. On any other day the riding would have been fantastic, but I just wanted it all to end. Suddenly a good day at the office seemed way more appealing.

The quiet before the storm
With the first half of the stage behind us, the hilly second half awaited. We persevered on, Red John once again doing all the work as for the first time that day we started passing people. The baggy shorts brigade, the CamelBacker corp, the saddle bag squadron and finally the hairy legged legion. We were back to racing the ladies and the mixed teams, and Tennis Playing Pete. Red John was offering up his back left pocket with free abandon, ignoring his ribs completely, and I was making full use of the offer each time. I was well aware that I was that guy that everybody hates - the guy getting the free ride while others suffered - and I didn't care.

Red John, in his natural habitat - going up a hill.
(Jacky McClean / Newsport Media)
For the first time this race I announced to Red John that I'd be stopping at the water point for coke, and despite his mild protestations managed to gulp down several cups of the life giving liquid before we hit the trail again. Some fiddly twisty windy single track and a few climbs later and we were at the base of the dreaded Hamailton Russell climb. One last time Red John offered me his pocket and we motored up the climb. From the top of Rotary we could almost smell the finish as I willed an attack of white line fever - I wanted to get this stage over and done with.

Some speedy descents, some flowing single track and a trip across the Onrus beach and lagoon and we were finally finished. After waiting a year we'd gotten to ride the last stage of Wines2Whales, although the sooner I could forget about it the better. Team Starsky and Hutch finished in 26th place after 3 days of racing - a little disappointed but glad to have ridden some of the best mountain biking trails in the Western Cape. Red John was the epitome of Rule 5, and I don't think I've seen a more courageous 75kms on a bike than I witnessed that day. I'd still lying under a bush somewhere in the Overberg if it wasn't for him.
Almost on cue - a whale waited for us at the finish
Team Pinky and the Brain had had another frustrating, testosterone fuelled battle with the riders around them and when I eventually caught sight of them approaching the bridge over the Onrus lagoon I saw a side of my wife that I hope to never see again. She was riding like a woman possessed, driving the pedals hard, with a look of sheer determination in her eyes to get to the finish line before the teams behind her. If I ever see that look from her again and she is not on a bike I'm heading for the hills. Things are about to get nasty. In contrast, Nadine was on the receiving end of the suffer stick, but was hanging on, gritting her teeth and giving it her all to keep up with her partner. And I'm told that at least she still had pride and was able to stick to her principles - she refused the offer of a pocket, determined to ride the whole Wines2Whales unassisted. Another Wakefield honouring Rule 5.

Pinky and The Brain racing for home
All in all, another good weekend was had by all, and Wines2Whales is slowly maturing into another top class South African mountain biking event.

Dirt, blood, and a big smile


  1. Another well written race account! Might even try it myself one day -- ha ha!!!!!!

  2. Nice report dude. Bummed that I missed out this year but not all that sad after the tough time you guys had!!