The first of two destination stages, Stage One saw riders having to complete a 64km route that featured a 1650m ascent before crossing the finish line at Oak Valley Wine Estate (Elgin-Grabouw), their home away from home.

Team ACE Lesotho’s Leonhard Lukoschek leading the field during Stage One of the FNB Wines2Whales MTB Ride. Photo Credit: Tobias Ginsberg

Olympian Phetetso Monese (Lesotho) and Leonhard Lukoschek (Germany) of Team ACE Lesotho applied pressure from the start. “This is my third W2W,” says Monese. “Last year I finished first in the men’s race. I really want to defend my title. So we went fast from the start. Stage One featured some great riding. I was a little worried when I heard that Leonhard was a roadie, but after today I’m no longer worried.”

Monese became the first Olympic cyclist from Lesotho when he qualified for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

“I’m a visiting student from Germany,” says Lukoschek. “I don’t have a mountain biking background. I’m actually a triathlete that’s more of a runner. I’ve heard that W2W is well organized and that the views are beautiful, so I expected to see stunning landscapes. It’s definitely lived up to its reputation. I’ve also heard that the event is one big party, so I’m really looking forward to tonight.” Team ACE Lesotho crossed the finish line in 03 hours 21 minutes 59 seconds. Team Transporters’ Steven Bark and Fabian Valsechi came in second, with Team Tallboys’ Michael Van Niekerk and Trevor Baptiste finishing third.

With the competitive streak clearly running in the family, brother and sister duo Mariske and Stephan Strauss of Team Oak Racing obliterated the field in the mixed team race claiming the stage victory in 03 hours 40 minutes 09 seconds. “This is my 4th or 5th W2W. The event just doesn’t get old,” says Mariske. “The trails are awesome. I must admit the forest section was absolute heaven. It’s getting hot out there. My brother was a machine. We said we’d take it easy, but you know how it goes, you always find challengers on route to dice.”

“This is the first time that we ride together,” says Stephan. “For the past four years I’ve focused on work. It’s really nice to be back on the bike again. We’re definitely here to have fun. After today I can confirm now already that we’ll be back next year.” Team Giant Durbanville’s Julien Louw and Colleen De Oliveira came in second, while Haaskat’s Russell Lund and Anneke Hanekom finished third.

Defending champions Ilse Viljoen and Jana Kruger of Team Defenders took the Stage One victory in 04 hours 26 minutes 06 seconds. “We had a good ride,” says Viljoen. “We started well, but it got hot quickly out there. We had to stop at water point two for a drink. We are really looking forward to Play Day.”

According to Kruger, Stage One was phenomenal. “The single tracks were superb. It was even more enjoyable than last year. To sum up Stage One, it was tough fun.” Team Pace of Mind’s Halcyone Muller and Heidi Nieuwoudt came in second, while Team Pool Nurse’s Alta Kriegler and Sunette Beyers finished third.