The opening stage of the 2023 FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay race not only kicked off the women’s racing but also signalled the start of the three-event series of three-day races. Pre-race drama, in the form of route changes, which necessitated Stage 1 being moved to Lourensford Wine Estate, spilled into drama on the trails too. There were crashes and punctures, but Candice Lill and Tyler Jacobs enjoyed a smooth and issue free ride through the 55 kilometre long course. The Computer Mania Seattle Coffee Co team were thus able to take home the stage victory. They were followed across the line by Sandton City Efficient Infiniti and Safari Essence Imbuko Racing.
With a brand-new stage having been devised while the route team was making Stage 1, the initial distances drawn on mapping software transpired to be a little bit long and steep. The figures on the day were in fact 55 kilometres rather than 59, with 1 300 or so metres of climbing rather than the imposing 1 800 which were initially advertised. A reduction in the distance and, on paper, difficulty was perhaps a good thing, as the surface was exceptionally tricky in places. September’s floods had scoured the roads, leaving them rocky and eroded in places.
This did not bother Lill and Jacobs however. The cross-country riders were at ease on the testing terrain and were able to manage both their efforts and their equipment regardless of what the course threw at them. Having strung out and distanced the rest of the racing women’s field the Computer Mania Seattle Coffee Co team were joined up front by Tiffany Keep and Danielle Strydom of Safari Essence Imbuko Racing.
Sadly, for Keep a puncture cost her 6 minutes on the trail. “I’ve been racing on the road this year, so when I punctured, I wanted to just put my hand up for a spare wheel form the team car,” Keep joked. “It took us a bit longer than we’d have liked to get it fixed. By the time we were going we were 2 minutes behind second and in fourth on the trails.”
While Keep and Strydom fought back Lill and Jacobs forged ahead. Without the pressure of riders on their wheels the pair were able to ride their own race. “We could manage our efforts nicely,” Lill allowed. “It’s great to take the stage win, but it doesn’t change our approach to the race. We’ll still be taking it day by day.”
The victory is unquestionably exciting for Jacobs. The good excitement she experienced was different to the excitement some of the other teams endured. “I bought a bit of ground high up in Lourensford and Cherise [Willeit] bought a bridge,” Samantha Sanders laughed. “It was rough out there in places. But very beautiful too.”
The Sandton City Efficient Infiniti team had capitalised on Safari Essence Imbuko Racing’s puncture and spent the latter half of the stage in second position on the trail. In the final 10 kilometres Keep and Strydom managed to reel Sanders and Willeit in, but were unable to best the experienced pair in a sprint finish.
“Coming into the finish here I thought we were where we needed to be,” Strydom explained. “But actually coming from behind was nearly impossible, you had to lead into the penultimate bend. We all went into the final corner a bit hot, because nobody wanted to break. Cherise [Willeit] and I touched wheels, but it was nobody’s fault. It was just a racing incident. And then Tiff [Keep] crashed behind us.”
“Fortunately, it was on grass,” Keep noted. “It’s my first fall in a while. Luckily, I didn’t hurt myself. You still have to get up and finish though, because the clock doesn’t stop!”
Sanders and Willeit conceded 4 minutes and 49.9 seconds to the stage winners, Lill and Jacobs. With Keep and Strydom ceding another 20 seconds. The result sees Computer Mania Seattle Coffee Co take the first CIOVITA orange leaders’ jerseys of the race; which they will wear into Saturday’s Stage 2, in Oak Valley.
Behind the podium finishers Robyn de Groot and Sabine Spitz finished fourth. Mariske Strauss, making her come-back to racing, rounded out the top five alongside Vera Looser. The Elysator-Rola combination edged out Stephanie Wohlters and Kelsey van Schoor of Bester Performance Titan Racing in another closely contested sprint finish.
Play day, as Stage 2 is dubbed, features a 68 kilometres course, with 1 450 metres of climbing. Looping out and back from Oak Valley Wine Estate it takes in spectacular singletracks and tours some of Elgin’s most flood damaged areas. Those racing might not be able to see the erosion inflicted on the valleys, but the more social riders will be amazed to see the aftermath of the raging waters.
To watch the women’s racing unfold during the Chardonnay event, at the 2023 FNB Wines2Whales, 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.
Results: FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay
- Computer Mania Seattle Coffee Co: Candice Lill & Tyler Jacobs (02:46:15.9)
- Sandton City Efficient Infiniti: Cherise Willeit & Samantha Sanders (02:51:05.8 | +4:49.9)
- Safari Essence Imbuko Racing: Tiffany Keep & Danielle Strydom (02:51:25.9 | +5:10.0)
- THRIVE: Sabine Spitz & Robyn de Groot (02:56:07.9 | +9:52.0)
- Elysator-Rola: Vera Looser & Mariske Strauss (02:58:24.0 | +12:08.0)