That last lap proved to be an interesting one. A jeep track descent plus speed bumps equals bunny hops, naturally. Only on this round my riding partner Dane got one a touch wrong and landed up head first in the gravel. A trip to Constantiaberg Hospital and a few hours later confirms the worst fear. Broken Collarbone. Seven weeks until Wines2Whales 2013.

[blockquote]Your stage-race partner becomes an extension of you. Riding with a last-minute replacement can be a bit like an awkward first date.[/blockquote]

What now? Finding a riding partner is not difficult, but one you can spend hours on a saddle with for a good few days can be a challenge. Your stage-race partner becomes an extension of you. Riding with a last-minute replacement can be a bit like an awkward first date.

27 October 2013, two weeks to go, I get the Whatsapp message. The surgeon has given Dane the all clear to ride. Great news! Or is it? What if it’s too sore on the trails? What if he falls and breaks it again?

Stage 1

On the morning of Day 1 of the Wines2Whales Race we found ourselves quietly confident. Not out to win any medals, but with Dane having had a proper test ride on some single track the weekend prior, all looked good to go.

Starting all the way back in H group we gradually worked our way through the traffic on the long first climb out of Lourensford. One water point down and it was plain sailing so far. The infamous Han-se-Kop climb had to be excluded from the 2013 edition due to the heavy winter rains. A welcome relief to some, but my climbing legs had been looking forward to it.

Leading up to the second water point before the compulsory Gantouw Pass portage we hit some bumpy, sandy single track. Wham! Dane is on the ground in front of me. Flashbacks of Tokai seven weeks earlier and I realise he’s fallen on the same shoulder.

Phew, all intact and we’re on our way. Water point 2 down and just like that we’re already at the portage section. A solid string of riders make their way up the old wagon trail ahead. There’s no running at this end of the pack, not that we really want to, though.

With a quick pose for the camera over the top we’re soon back on our bikes and wind our way down towards Grabouw. Awesome, some singletrack. No, wait… traffic. Argh. Thankfully a few guys soon pull off and it’s all windy, rooty, needle laden singletrack ahead. Pure bliss as my inner ten year old ignites and every root becomes a 6-foot drop. More single track and some tired shoulders later, we arrive at Oak Valley. Day 1 done and dusted.

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Photo Credit ~ Jetline Action Photo

Stage 2

Before Day 2 begins I make some crucial adjustments. Day 1 left me with some slightly hammered shoulders. Note to self: Do not fiddle with shock pressure the night before the event.

Five km’s in and my one-time pogo stick is now back to it’s former plushness. Coupled with a tire pressure drop I was now shredding the trails the day had on offer. And man, did Day 2 have trails by the bucket load.

The much-hyped Amphi Bike Park at Paul Cluver was said to be the highlight of the day. It was all berms and bridges and great fun. A second run with real speed would have put a serious smile on my face. Said to be opening to the public on 14 December 2013 this is definitely worth a visit. And unless you have an uncontainable fear of moderate heights don’t even bother with the chicken run.

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Photo Credit ~ Jetline Action Photo

Singletrack and more singletrack. There really seemed to be no end to the flowy goodness. Some new and old snake trails courtesy of the PPA with a good sprinkling of switchbacks for good measure. This took us from the spoils of Paul Cluver though Lebanon village and some gravel roads for a short while.

Hitting Thandi, and there's a speedy descent into more singletrack, some fun jumps and fast, banked turns. What more could we ask for. Just when we thought it was all over the return to Oak Valley included a final cherry on top. More, yes more, singletrack, high banked berms and forest trails.

It’s the final forest section approaching the finish. No more than 2 km’s to go and CRASH. Dane reveals some well-hidden hippie tendencies and embraces an obliging tree. Shoulder check. This time the other shoulder takes the hit, but all still intact.

We roll over the finish line to close a spectacular day on a bike. Singletrack heaven.

Stage 3

Just like that it’s all but over. It’s Day 3, the final day and we’ve moved ourselves up to the reasonable E batch. The start is fast heading out of Oak Valley through the vineyards and farm roads.

The swift start and a likely case of white line fever sees a few riders jostling for positions. Not even 5km’s in on a shady farm-road descent up ahead we’re confronted with an awkwardly placed rut. Two bikes ahead of us a bunny hop attempt goes south and he hits the deck, hard.

[blockquote]“Nice Riding guys, I thought we were all going down for sure"[/blockquote]
With little time to react that split second tension runs down the back of my neck. Ahead of me Dane nips past the grounded rider and I head right and just managed to hop over his flailing legs. Past the tumbling bike and we’re clear. Relief. “Nice Riding guys, I thought we were all going down for sure", comments an equally relieved rider behind.

Before long the nerves had settled and we got stuck into some singletrack with some tight, technical switchbacks. I’ll admit, just like Zoolander, I’m not much of an 'ambi-turner': I struggle on the left hairpins. This time though I went for it and conquered the typically square left corners with relative ease.

After the first waterpoint in Botrivier we hit some bumpy, grassy sections. It was at this point I made the firm decision that a hard tail is not on my packing list for W2W 2014. While the lack of suspension was perfectly suited to the smooth tracks at sani2c earlier in the year, the bumpy and rocky Cape terrain was not always pleasant.

Although day 2 had utterly spoiled us with singletrack, day 3 still had its fair share to show. The gentle woody, windy climb over towards the Hemel & Aarde valley is over before you know it. A brief downhill, some gentle rolling hills and one final climb remains, taking you to the spectacular lookout point over Hermanus.

From there it was all downhill – the good kind. A final smattering of singletrack with some fun new additions and we hit the beach.

Wines2Whales 2013 in the bag. What a great 3 days. Day 2 in particular will feature in my mountain biking dreams for sure.

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Photo Credit ~ Jetline Action Photo