Thursday 14 November 2013

Posted by Velouria Posted on 15:42 | 4 comments

Wines2Whales 2013

After the mutual dissolution of Team Starsky and Hutch - Red John was looking for a real race snake that could match his climbing prowess and I was looking for a partner that would let me stop at the water points - I was left wondering who I could ride Wines2Whales with. Enter Halfway Warren. Our new team, The French Toast Mafia, promised to be a halfway house for those a little low on form, slightly overweight, and in desperate need of some last minute training before the upcoming Double Century.

Where is the wine?
The Wines2Whales Race was going to be our adventure - enjoy the beautiful Western Cape scenery, stop at the water points, and drink beer afterwards. We had no expectations of grandeur - my lungs, legs and technical skill were still somewhere in Australia, and Halfway Warren had been spending far too much time on a road bike. Our only goal was to finish.

Come race day we were seeded in A, and as we lined up in our start chute we both noticed an odd vibe. We're both quite used to hanging out with the race snakes on the road that take themselves far too seriously, and it felt like were lining up for The Funride World Champs. You could almost taste the haze of testosterone and leg rub that hung over the start chute. Halfway Warren and I managed to find a relatively safe spot at the back of the pack, away from the once over glances and pretty posers. Without too much fanfare, the gun went off and we were racing. For about 5 minutes. That was how long The French Toast Mafia could hang onto the A bunch. To be fair, it really only one member of The French Mafia that was dragging his lungs up the climb, sweating like a drug mule at Australian Border Control, and cursing his Christmas pie addiction. Me.

Before long, we found ourselves riding completely on our own, caught between two bunches. It felt like we had the whole course to ourselves. No congestion, no testosterone, just open trails and scenic views. The reason I started mountain biking in the first place nearly 20 years ago. With Lourensford less than 5 minutes from my front door, we often take the spectacular beauty and the quality of the riding for granted. Much like a person seeing his life flash before his eyes before dying, I was appreciating any and everything that could take my mind off the suffering. And we weren't even halfway.

Check out The French Toast Mafia at 1:21

And then it came into view. Like an oasis in the desert. A life saver. A morale booster. A safe haven. I'd heard the rumours about the wealth of treasures to be found at Wines2Whales water points, but much like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster I'd never seen them with my own eyes. I was like a kid in a candy store - jelly babies, mini doughnuts, baby potatoes, sandwiches, coke, bananas. And if you thought I was bad, you should have seen Halfway Warren - I was convinced he was going for the "How many baby potatoes can you fit in your mouth at once" award. He got so carried away with those baby potatoes that he offered me one caked in thick layer salt. I could feel the moisture being drawn out of my system as I choked and gagged on the toxic carb bomb, but unlike previous years with Red John, I could just have another coke.

Completely staged for the camera. I was never in front of Halfway Warren at any time on Stage 1
We continued on our way, losing a tit for tat battle with a couple of guys on singlespeeds on the climbs. My shame was now complete. And the downhills weren't much better. I was suffering from a severe case of brain inertia - the inability to make decisions about where to point the bike when faced with upcoming obstacles, often with the results that I simply rode over or into things in front of me. This is in stark contrast to Halfway Warren's obstacle avoiding style. He is so paranoid of puncturing on rocks that he tries to avoid them all. The result is that he swerves all over the place, and I'm convinced he probably rode an extra 10kms because of his rock avoidance paranoia. I eventually gave up trying to follow his line.

We limped over the compulsory portage up the Gantouw Pass, cursing the early pioneers and their choice of escape route from British persecution as our legs started cramping. Cyclists are not built to carry bikes on their shoulders while walking up a mountain. A lot more single track, a bit of climbing, and a swarm of bees later we crossed the line. We'd made our goal - we'd finished in one piece. Time for beer.

Our home away from home
Stage two dawned on us with the fact that The French Toast Mafia had been demoted a group. Which was great. More time to get ready, less argy-bargy, and a more relaxed starting pace. In complete contrast to the previous day, things felt so much better. The legs felt good, the heart and lungs were behaving, and I felt like I was once again riding my bike, not wrestling it. Before long we'd ridden off the front of our group, Halfway Warren on the receiving end of my overnight form. At one point I asked an innocent question and in return I just got the silent treatment. I thought I'd really pissed him off. It turns out that he did reply to me, but only in his head. He lacked the energy and ability to verbalise his thoughts. He swears that the hay fever pill he heard me take before bed was to blame! From there it was into the single track, once again all on our own - just two guys riding bikes and having fun.

The French Toast Mafia, in our HotChillee kit, enjoying the gentle start of Stage 2
As we settled into our rhythm I started noticing things that I'd been oblivious to the day before. Like Halfway Warren's riding quirks. Apart from his rock paranoia, he has an uncanny habit of unclipping his inside foot around corners. He claims it acts as a mix between an air brake and a counter balance, but from behind it looks like he is using it as an indicator. Very considerate of him. And his love of camera men. I don't think there was a camera man that didn't get some sort of crazy pose out him.

My brain inertia of the previous day was gone and my legs just continued to get better. And then it hit me - white line fever. For the second time that day Halfway Warren went quiet as we sped towards the finish line, my body and bike working together in unison for the first time in a month. Throw in parts of the 24hr course and I was on autopilot. The short stage meant that we had plenty of time for beer drinking, navel gazing, and spotting up country folk. The compression pants were the easy tell tales, but with a bit of practice we spotted a few other signs. Exotic race Tshirts, ghastly looking recovery drinks, and of course obsession with position, time and seeding. Sometimes I think the race for 63rd position is fiercer than the race for the podium.

A super slow mo of The French Toast Mafia at 2:49
The final stage dawned on us - I'd once again taken my hay fever tablet and hoped that the legs would stick around for another day. Another gentle start with some rolling hills, and before long The French Toast Mafia were back at the front, opening up the gaps on the climbs and losing some time on the technical descents. The first half of the race whizzed by in a blur, Halfway Warren sticking out his leg all over the place, as we approached the midway water point of the day. In a reversal of Red John's role, I was now having to drag my partner out of the water points as it turns out he is his own worst enemy. Too much time spent at the water point means that Halfway Warren consumes too much, and that means that 10kms later he'll be leaving little surprises all over the place as he purges his overflow valve. Not so nice if you don't know it's coming.

Ironically posing 3 months prior with a protea bush that would send me tumbling on Stage 3
With the scent of the sea filling our nostrils we could almost sense the finish line, and I could feel the onset of white line fever starting when disaster struck. Several teams took a wrong turn up a hill, and realising our mistake turned around to race back down to the missed intersection. In the flash of a second the team in front of me locked up brakes, blocking the whole trail, leaving me nowhere to go but into them, at 31km/h. I flew through the air like a rag doll at a dance a marathon, the contents of my pockets flying in the opposite direction, and came to rest quite heavily on a quartzitic sandstone outcrop, neatly disguised by a fynbos bush. Before I'd even come to a complete stop, the protagonist and his partner were ready to head off down the hill. While I don't mind crashing - it is a consequence of bike riding - I was quite annoyed that Team 431 showed zero empathy and saw this as an opportunity to move up one place in the standings. With barely a concern for my well being or an apology for riding like total beginners, they sped off.

And just like that, a red mist descended. I flew down that mountain, adrenaline pumping, my belly filled with rage. Halfway Warren later told me that he was concerned about what I'd do if we caught the offending team. We did eventually catch them, and luckily for them I'd calmed down sufficiently that instead of there being a cyclist fight, I just mumbled something obscene under my breath.

Nothing says manly like cyclists fighting

With the adrenaline wearing off, I was suddenly quite aware of just how sore my wrist was. Holding on to the bars was difficult, and braking was near impossible, which explains why I washed out on one corner, and rode into Halfway Warren on another. To add insult to injury, Team 431 repassed us, racing as hard as they could for 56th place, eager to drink their recovery drinks and don their compression pants as soon as possible. The irony was we had 10 minutes on Team 431 as they had started in A and we were in B.

With the sea in sight, the enthusiastic support of my wife filling our ears, The French Toast Mafia crossed the line, glad to put the day's adventures behind us. Halfway Warren had been a great partner, dishing it out as well as receiving his fair share of suffering. And despite some near misses, we achieved our goal - we finished.

I learnt a few things at this year's Wines2Whales:
  1. We live in a very beautiful part of the country
  2. There's more to mountain biking events than positions and times
  3. Beer is the only recovery drink anyone should ever need to drink
  4. Halfway Warren has a porta loo phobia
If mountain biking is the new golf, what's the new mountain biking? Is it time to invest in a cyclocross bike?



  1. Nice to hear you eased off enough to enjoy the views and all that good stuff dude.

    Sorry to hear about the tumbles though!

    I think the portage section is fine so long as you have someone else to carry your bike like Kerri did!

  2. Well done! Cycling for fun is fun!

  3. Great ride! Nice to see all the different types of fynbos on route and Jack to assist with the names of the plants!