The 2016 stage racing season drew to a close for Team NAD Pro MTB at the 2016 FNB Wines2Whales held in the Western Cape region this past weekend.
For the first time, the race attracted a massive international field which included the likes of Christoph Sauser, former XC and Marathon world champion, Sam Gaze, u/23 xc world champion and countless others.
The three day race took riders from Lourensford Wine Estate over the Gantou pass and into the Overberg region. Riders spent two nights at the Oak Valley wine estate, before making their way to Onrus beach on the final day of the race.
Day 1 was a short 68km with 1420m of ascent. This type of stage suited the XC riders better as it included plenty of single track and short steep climbs with many accelerations. Riders faced a climb directly from the start and immediately the international riders ensured that the tempo was high and whittled the field down to the race contenders.
“We knew it would be hard from the start, but they really put everyone into the hurtbox. We had to dig deep and hang on for life to make sure we stay with the front riders. Christoph Sauser and Sam Gaze put the hammer down and opened up a gap with Conny Looser and Fabian Giger. A very strong South Eastern wind made the rest of the day very hard and long. There was no place to hide after we made our way over the compulsory portage. The field was blown to pieces. It was really difficult to get a good temp and we settled to ride within our abilities. We managed to finish the stage in 4th place, which was a great result under the circumstances” - Nico Bell
One of the big challenges that riders faced on the first stage was the compulsory portage section over the Gantou pass. Riders had to push and carry their bikes over the old wagon trail which the top pros were able to run, but made the weekend warriors suffer from cramps and fatigue. The old wagon trail was just one of many features that made the 2016 Wines2Whales a special one.
“I could feel that my legs were still suffering from the effort at the Cape Pioneer. We knew that it would take a massive effort to compete for the podium, let alone the victory. Day 1 was hard. Both Nico and myself went through tough patches where our legs felt heavy and we had to dig deep to overcome the pain. The portage did not help either of us and the fight back to the front group took a massive effort. With about 15km to go on the first day, it felt like I was carrying another person on my back” - Gawie Combrinck
After fighting the wind the whole day, Nico and Gawie managed to finish the first day in 4th position.
Day 2, dubbed ‘play day’ was just that. The stage consisted of 64km with 95% single track.
“Day 2 was great. Lots of single track and beautiful trails, but it hurt. Many turns and punchy climbs made for a super hard stage. The XC specialists and lighter riders made the pace very high and we prefer the longer endurance type or riding. We have raced quite a bit of this type of racing in 2016 and have definitely improved quite a bit. There were no real breaks on the day and everyone covered the attacks. We managed to hang onto 6th position on the day which kept us in 4th place on GC” - Nico Bell
“My ultimate nightmare. I prefer the long hard grinding and endurance type of riding. The single tracks were sweet, but that took it out of me. A fight for every single entry to every single single track takes its toll on you. Gaps appear quickly and closing them down takes huge efforts every time. I took shots on day 2” - Gawie Combrinck
At the conclusion of day 2, Team NAD Pro were about 3 minutes off the podium time of Team Telkom and 6 minutes behind the leaders, Sauser and Gaze.
Day 3 took riders to the coast and a chance to take a swim in the ocean. 69km with 1200m of ascent meant that the pace was high from the start. A group of 12 teams formed early and managed to get away from the rest of the field. Konny Looser and Fabian Giger pushed the tempo and Sam Gaze was the first casualty. The race leaders started fading and provided the rest of the teams with an opportunity to capitalise.
Nico and Gawie rode with Team Telkom for most of the day to finish the final stage in 3rd place, which was enough to move them up on the GC to 3rd place overall.
“It was a fast start. The move went early and we had to go with it. We saw that Sam was struggling and we tried to work with them to manage the gap, but unfortunately they were not able to keep up the pace. We were happy to finish the final stage on the podium and improve our GC position. Our goal was to make the podium and the hard work throughout the year paid off. We are very happy with the 2016 season and ending it off with a good result” - Nico Bell
“We knew it would be hard. We knew what we had to do. Give it 110% and hang on. We formed a group of around 4 teams and worked together well. Konny and Fabian gapped us on the final climb, about 20km from the finish and were able to ride way for the stage and overall victory. We chased hard with Team Telkom and it came down to a sprint finish for second place. It was a beautiful race and we loved the trails. A great way to end the stage racing season for 2016” - Gawie Combrinck
Konny Looser and Fabian Giger won the event with Team Telkom finishing in 2nd place. Team NAD Pro Mtb finished in 3rd place, just 3 minutes behind second place. A fitting end to a fruitful year of racing.