Gravel and Grape stage 3: PRO TOUR wannabes

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Fist pumps all round.

Image credit: Ash Smit

After surviving ‘The Beach’, Collin and I were ready for the final stage of the Gravel & Grape. A meandering start along a tar road soon turned into a full on sprint as we turned onto the dirt and realised that we would immediately be entering a single track, positioning was crucial. The white flag had dropped and it was war! Think of something similar to the PRO TOUR gents jostling for position before a section of cobbles at Paris Roubaix. The only difference, we were going a tad slower and were on mountain bikes. I like to convince myself of the similarities, but the differences are probably more glaringly obvious.

Colin was caught behind some traffic and we only re-joined a few kilometres later at the top of the first major climb of the day. With some dirt roads coming up we got the through and off rolling in anticipation of chasing the front group down.

Support at the water points had elevated us to local hero status, we had spent time getting to know the locals in the evenings and as a result we had them shouting for us by name as we raced past. Meeting people in these local communities is always interesting and their passion in hosting a mountain bike event where we ride across many of their farms has been fantastic.

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There was more rough rocky single track, some faster dirt roads and the odd tour of an orchard which ticked off the final kilometres of the stage and thus the race. We again finished 4th on the day and also 4th overall. It was a great 3 days of racing alongside Colin and there were many grand moments on and off the bike.

Contego sealed the overall honours with a final stage win, with Uys and Groustra in 2nd on the day and in the same position on the GC. The youngsters Esterhuyse and Best had finished strongly again to land both feet on the final podium in 3rd.

All in all the Gravel & Grape was a great event and one which I would love to return to next year. The concept of the race village being hosted at Goudini Spa was more than convenient, we didn’t have to camp (although you could have if you wanted to). The food hall was within walking distance and the bike wash and mechanics a quick ride away.

The routes were quite tough, we probably enjoyed the first day the most. After chatting to the race organisers we realised how little rain that the region has had in the past few months, this explains ‘The Beach’ and it was evident by the exceptionally low level of dams in the area.

Course marking was really first class with a marker prior to each turn, through the turn and a confirmation marker past it, it takes a lot of time to set something like that up and we appreciated it.

The region is one which many Capetonians have driven through many times on the N1. It really is a beautiful area, probably largely unexplored and one which I would urge you to spend some more time in next time you are going through, in fact even make it your destination.

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Lot’s of hard work into these crafted bridges.

Image credit: Casian Johnson Wright

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Gravel & Grape Stage 2: The beach and relearning an old lesson

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Ok it wasn’t really the beach, but at times it did feel like it today. To be honest there were a few sense of humour testing moments out there today. A 68km day with 1000m of ascent, on paper and according to a route profile doesn’t sound too drastic.

 

This brings me onto the first part of my title, relearning an old lesson. What the route profile and distance of the stage doesn’t tell you about is, what the terrain will be like. Never underestimate a race which looks ‘easy’ on paper, an age old mountain biking law. Today it was a tough lesson to learn again. There were a number of kilometres of rough rocky raw single track in the mountains, interconnected with sections of deep sand as we tried to up the pace amongst the vineyards and orchards.

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It was a long chase back to the front group for Colin and I today, unfortunately we weren’t able to reel them back in so had to settle for 4th on the stage.

 

Contego and RSA Web/PSG were the main protagonists on the stage with RSA Web/PSG taking the lead after Contego cut a side wall. Contego were able to re-join the leaders, but it was RSA Web/PSG who won the stage with Contego in second and the youngsters Esterhuyse and Best in 3rd.

 

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Gravel & Grape 2015 Stage 1: Opening Encounters

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The Grape and Gravel is a 3 day stage race hosted from Goudini Spa nestled in the Breedekloof Valley, a valley I had visited just a few weeks ago. Being in its first year the event seems to have started off on the right foot and looks to only improve.

 

The race attracted some of the stronger riders from the Cape, with some new combinations on the gird namely the Contego boys of Adriaan Louw and Waylon Woolcock. After riding the Cape Epic together Jurgens Uys and Renay Groustra are also back in tandem. Colin Noel from George is my new partner this weekend and we would also see some competition from the youngsters Edward Best and Charl Pierre Esterhuyse.

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Flatter open roads, intersected with tougher jeep track sections were the characteristic of the first 30km of the 77km stage. The tougher sections allowed the bunch to be whittled down before it was just Contego and RSA Web/PSG left at the front. Colin had fallen hard in a section of single track and after dusting himself off; we set off on a long chase of the youngsters Best and Esterhuyse.

 

With the event literally being just down the road from the Breede River Valley Classic a few weeks ago, tougher sections of that event were incorporated as well as some great sections of single track that were also actually used in the recent Cape Epic. Dusty rocky conditions were the order of the day and ultimately showed off typical Karoo riding.

 

On the road back to the line we eventually caught Best and Esterhuyse and with some roadie guttering we managed to get away from them and get a foot on the last step of the podium for the stage.

 

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Liberty Cape Winelands Encounter – Press Release

Chris Wolhuter and Jarryd Haley claimed all three stage WINS en route to overall victory at the inaugural Liberty Cape Winelands MTB Encounter in Wellington on Sunday.

The Altech Autopage duo took the debut honours in the 175km Western Cape race in a combined time of 8:13:41.

Flandria grand masters Eben Espach and Linus van Onselen finished second in the general classification in 8:58:29, with the SDK Legends pairing of Rikus Visser and Divan Koch rounding out the podium in 9:16:29.

Pretoria Box U23 riders Mitchell Eliot and Neil Robinson, who grabbed the runner-up spot on days two and three, had to be content with fourth place overall after technical problems created an insurmountable time gap on day one.

Wynberg-based Wolhuter, who usually rides alongside regular teammate Hanco Kachelhoffer, said his ad hoc partnership with Rocky Mountain’s Haley had worked out well.

“We came in wanting to WIN and managed to do that, so that’s fantastic,” said the 26-year-old.

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“Coming into this event, we heard that it was more of an experience than a race, but the moment the guys put on the number boards, it quickly became one.”

Wolhuter said Eliot and Robinson had shown their intent early on the 67km opening stage from the Lanzerac Wine Estate in Stellenbosch to the Le Franschhoek HOTEL IN Franschhoek.

“We kept the racing together until the base of the first climb and then we broke away and went up there with the Pretoria Box guys.”

Wolhuter said he and Haley had managed to get a gap over the top of the climb and extended it on the Skyfall singletrack that followed on the Bartinney lands.

“There was a headwind all the way to the finish, so we just rode a good tempo that opened up our lead.

“Unfortunately, Mitchell and Neil had a lot of technical problems which ultimately took them out of the running.”

Seeing what could happen, Wolhuter and Haley decided not to take any unnecessary risks and consolidated their lead on the 53km second stage from Franschhoek to Doolhof Wine Estate in Wellington.

The two took advantage of a strong tailwind to cover the first 30km in an hour and give themselves more time on the rockier, tougher mountain trails after the Drakenstein Prison.

“We had quite a nice lead coming into the third stage, which took place on the Welvanpas trails around Doolhof.”

Wolhuter said he and Mowbray resident Haley were both familiar with the 55km circuit near Wellington and knew how to approach it.

“It’s quite technical here, especially in the last 10 kilometres where there are a lot of sharp rocks.

“We rode quite a decent tempo off the start and got away easier than I had anticipated.”

Former downhill racer Haley took the lead into the technical singletrack sections and showed his technical abilities over the climbs, while Wolhuter drove the pace on the flatter stretches to secure an unassailable lead.

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Wolhuter, who raced for the Stan’s NoTubes road team in the United States of America during the 2013/14 season, said he was HAPPY to have found mountain biking success again on home soil.

“We’ve had a slow start to the year, been close to the podium for some of the bigger races but just missed them, so it’s fantastic to WIN again.”

He said the Cape Winelands race had been the right combination of a challenging ride and a five-star experience.

“I think the first edition went off really well, there were some fantastic trails and it’s got the potential to grow very nicely.”

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All images credit: Ewald Sadie

I wrote a couple of blog posts for the event, they can be found on MarathonMTB.com over here

Wine & winning

Some 8 years ago as a first year student at Stellenbosch University I rode the Fine Breede River mountain bike classic for the first time. It was great to be back at well organised event hosted by passionate organisers who were proud to show off their area to us, the Breede Kloof valley is a beautiful one indeed.

 

It was however always a race I wanted to win, the reason? The winner takes home worth your weight in wine! I remember on that cold rainy day a few years ago, I helped a good friend and pro at the time Johnny Kritzinger load his Audi with the boxes and thought: “Man I need to win this race one day!”

 

I managed to make it happen on Saturday, after a couple of early surges from my fellow competitors, I rode off the front early on in the 46km race, it was no walk in the park so to speak. With trails used in the recent Cape Epic and much of the climbing in the first 20km of the race, I pushed hard without really knowing the gap to my competitors racing behind. A recent addition thanks to the Epic is numerous sections of single track which were well crafted and a pleasure to race on.

 

It was great to win again; it has been a few months! Andy Davies managed to take second. This time I got to be that guy, loading the wine into my car to take home. The 66 bottles will keep me busy for a month or two, a bottle a day keeps the doctor away right? 😉

 

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