Weathering the Years 

overcoming conditions

Prepare for the worst and hope for the best

Anyone who has ridden FNB Wines2Whales will tell you: the weather in Elgin is fickle. How many editions were impacted by rain, high winds, or even protests? Over the event’s 15-year history many unforeseen things have happened, but the craziest editions have always proved most memorable… 

In the early years no walkways were set-up around the race village. The main arteries between the FNB Rider Lounge and Chill Zone and the dining marquee for example were simply indicated with signs. Then came a year of spring rains and wet weather illustrated that a plan to combat the mud was an essential feature of FNB W2W preparation.

Two of the most memorable editions, in recent times, were two with the worst weather. 2019 saw it rain throughout Stage 1 of the Chardonnay, from midnight on Thursday night until well into Friday evening. It never rained hard, but it was relentless. With the ground sodden and the trails muddy the mid-week Pinotage was an experience. Shower caps over helmets were a common sight in the start chute at Lourensford as the heavens opened once more. Unlike three days before the rain was intermittent, but when it came down, it bucketed.

The hike-a-bike up the Gantouw Pass was against a swift flowing, ankle-deep stream. On the Elgin plateau, the wet trails took their toll on drivetrains and brake pads. That afternoon – and late into the night – Manic Cycles, Hellsend Bike Shop and Recycles replaced brake pads on every bike they serviced. Together, the three stores saw nearly 250 bikes, while other bike shops each worked on close to 50 bikes each too. “I bought R9 000 worth of pads with me, and I ordered another R20 000,” Francois Esterhuizen of Manic Cycles marvelled the next day. “We were busy until 1am the next morning and had to send a driver back to Cape Town to fetch extra brake pads,” Nicola Prangley, who managed the Recycles mobile workshop’s font desk, recalled. “We replaced the brake pads on every one of the 47 bikes we had pre-booked after Stage 1 and we replaced more at Water Point 3 on Stage 2, where we had a tech zone set up,” Dewald Oosthuizen of Hellsend recounted.

FNB W2W Essentials

Don’t let the weather catch you unprepared. Pack the following if there is any hint of wet weather:

  • Gumboots
  • A rain poncho for the race village
  • A set of brake pads
  • A yoga mat/ground sheet, to place in front of your tent to help you keep the inside dry
  • Your sense of humour

The brake pad changing frenzy of 2019 had nothing on the drama of 2018 however. After Stage 1 of the Chardonnay was started an hour early, because of high temperatures, rain set in for the mid-week event. High winds and a fire, downwind of the Oak Valley race village, contributed further unnecessary excitement during the Pinotage event, and even led to the race village being evacuated at 23:00 on the Monday night. Riders were bussed to schools throughout the area and put up for the night in dry assembly halls, which though crowded, were at least not soaked like the tents. The following day, Stage 2, was postponed and shortened. Even then, there were more issues to come, service delivery protests in Hermanus meant that the final stage of the Shiraz event also had to be rerouted, with the race finishing in Oak Valley rather than in Onrus.

Every obstacle presents an opportunity. Together with the land owners and event partners, FNB Wines2Whales has always managed to pivot. Changing route markers on the day. Organising busses to take riders to safety. Or simply laying down pallets to help limit the churning up of fields by hundreds of muddy feet in the rain. One has to be flexible to stage a mountain bike event. There are plans, and there are contingency plans, and then there are creative solutions to problems nobody could have anticipated. It is all part of the fun…

Ideally these details would never be shared with the riders taking part. The organising team, lead by race founder Johan Krigler and race director Hendrico Burger, should be like ducks – serene above the surface, all chaos hidden from sight. By-in-large this has been achieved, though winter 2023 has tested the limits of that trick.

“A month out from the event everything was pretty much ready,” Krigler laughed. “I was patting myself on the back thinking ‘I’ve never had everything organised so early’. Then the rains came…”

“We lost over fifteen bridges. Five of them over 80 metres long. Trails were destroyed and whole valleys were torn to pieces. But the trail building teams and the farmers are doing incredible work. We will be putting on three amazing events from the 20th to the 29th of October. Stage 2 in particular will be a dramatic illustration of the power of water, but the riding will still be world-class,” Krigler promised. See the before and after images of the bridges here

The gees of FNB Wines2Whales remains. Drenched but not defeated. Basking in the sunshine after the storm. Ready to rise once more.