The racing women get the FNB Wines2Whales racing action underway on Friday, 20 October. The story of the event there is that the Queens of the Epic Series in 2023, Vera Looser and Kim le Court, will not be racing together and will as such not be lining up to defend their 2022 title. This throws the race wide open and will almost certainly see at least one first time winner, from a team of two riders, crowned as champion.
The big news ahead of the Chardonnay race is that Le Court will miss out with injury. The Mauritian has won the Absa Cape Epic, and SPAR Swiss Epic alongside Looser since her 2022 FNB Wines2Whales triumph. “I’ve been nursing my knee since the crash at the SPAR Swiss Epic,” she explained. “Eventually I couldn’t complete training sessions properly and last week had to be picked-up mid ride. An MRI then revealed damage and my doctor recommended that I end my season now and start with rehab.”
“It’s obviously very emotional,” Le Court continued. “I feel like I’m letting Vera [Looser] down, letting my sponsors, and the race down.” Looser, who is in South Africa for her usual end of season southern hemisphere racing block will now be racing alongside Mariske Strauss.
The South African has been out of racing since the 2022 FNB Wines2Whales with myocarditis. Stauss was cleared by her cardiologist to resume racing in August, but has been using the time to build-up effectively. “I told Vera [Looser] I don’t know where my form is and to have no expectations going into the race,” Strauss confessed. “She was still eager to ride with me, despite that. We’ll be taking it day by day and seeing how it goes.”
Without the Efficient Infiniti Insure team headlining the women’s field the race could well be a more open and unpredictable affair. Candice Lill lines up with 19-year-old, Tyler Jacobs. “Racing with Tyler [Jacobs] the aim is for us to have a good time and for her to learn from the experience,” Lill noted. “Hopefully through my experience and knowledge of how to race a stage race I can mentor her in some way. I think she’s an exciting talent for the future. Young athletes need to be nurtured and I feel it’s up to us, older more experienced athletes, to step up and provide support and guidance.”
“I’m putting zero pressure on Tyler for FNB Wines2Whales though,” the Computer Mania Seattle Coffee Co rider said. “It will be her first stage race. I think she may have done one for fun with her dad, so this will be the first time she’s really racing. Obviously, we’re not going to overdo it and put pressure on results. But she could still really surprise herself.”
Also set to capitalise on Le Court’s absence are Sarah Hill and Claudia Krenn, as well as Hayley Preen and Frances Janse van Rensburg. Hill pairs up with the Austrian BMC Sales Manager as Hilly & Edgy, while the two riders who have dominated the South African road nationals since 2021 team up for Freewheel Cycology. Sandton City-Efficient Infiniti’s Cherise Willeit and Samantha Sanders are also a combination to watch, as are K2’s Karla Stumpf and Kelsey van Schoor, as well as Safari Essence Imbuko Giant Racing’s Tiffany Keep and Danielle Strydom.
Barbara Benko and Lora Oravecz are the darkest of the dark horse outsiders. Benko officially retired from elite racing at FNB Wines2Whales in 2021 but the Hungarian has remained committed to cycling and one can never discount the rider with 20 senior national titles – across road, mountain biking and cyclocross – to her name. Oravecz, much like Jacobs, is a promising 19-year-old and will undoubtedly learn a tremendous amount racing alongside her countrywoman.
Seven competitive teams, made up by women who hold down full-time jobs, make up the rest of the field. Of those Ila Stow and Andrea Schoefmann are the most likely pairing to trouble the more favoured combinations. Tarryn Povey and Sarita Louw, Robyn Williams and Nicola Freitas, Hayley Smith and Sanchia Malan, Lehane Oosthuizen and Tyla Setzkorn, as well as Kate Slegrova and Nicola Walker will be mixing fun with a fierce battle amongst each other. New comers to the group, Jessica Wilkinson and Rebecca van Huyssteen, will not only be representing FNB Wines2Whales’s official apparel partners, CIOVITA, but they will also be keen to prove that they belong in the racing women start group too.
To watch the 2023 FNB Wines2Whales racing action unfold follow @wines_2_whales on Instagram or like the Wines2Whales Facebook page. Regular updates will be posted on the Instagram and Facebook stories. Fans can also catch the daily highlights on the Epic Series YouTube channel and read all about how the racing unfolded on www.epic-series.com/wines2whales.