The Faces team of Candice Lill and Adelheid Morath got their FNB Wines2Whales title defence off to a winning start on Friday, 25 October. Departing Lourensford Wine Estate in consistent rain, the Elite Women endured a muddy day on the bike, but that did little to dampen Lill and Morath’s spirits as they thrived in the wet conditions.
Lill and Morath won the 2018 race in commanding fashion, claiming two stage victories on their way to the general classification crown by 9 minutes and 47 seconds. Their push for victory was founded on a strong start to the opening stage last year, and this year’s race is off to a similar start. The pair attacked from the off, capitalising on the cold legs of their rivals; after the start had been delayed by the ceaseless rain.
“The plan was to push the pace on the first climb, like we did last year” Lill explained, after crossing the finish line in Oak Valley. “We managed to get a little gap over the dormakaba team of Robyn de Groot and Amy McDougall, but they closed it again on the rolling section that followed. Then, on a little kicker before Water Point 1, Amy seemed to be struggling a bit, so we accelerated again. We got a gap and pretty much held it steady all the way to the finish”.
Adding colour to Lill’s tale Morath said: “That was tough! Racing in the pouring rain from the start made it really difficult to see where we were going, especially following in the slippery and muddy singletracks.” The Faces team’s winning margin was 1 minute and 32.1 seconds over the second-placed dormakaba team.
“We rode nicely together” McDougall reflected on her budding partnership with De Groot. In just their second stage race together, the pair worked well to keep Lill and Morath in sight for most of the stage. “From what I can remember, the trails in Oak Valley and Paul Cluver get pretty slippery when they’re wet. So, anything can happen tomorrow” a muddy McDougall concluded.
Jennie Stenerhag and Nadine Rieder were third on the stage, crossing the line 10 minutes and 34.7 seconds after the stage winners. “Candice and Adelheid got away on the first climb, Robyn and Amy followed them. Then it was us who summited third” the Fairtree rider, in the Fairtree-Rotwild combination, clarified. “After that, we were on our own for the rest of the stage. It was pretty lonely, to be honest. The temperature wasn’t too bad at least, once we got going.” Stenerhag reiterated the general theme reported by the stage finishers.
Behind the top three teams, Ariane Lüthi and Samara Sheppard had fought back from a slow start to finish fourth. The Kross Spur team was just under 4 minutes faster than the fifth-placed Multitask Industries combination, of Alice Pirard and Sabine Spitz. Katie Lennard and Laura Stark were sixth, Sarah Hill and Danielle Strydom were seventh and the most social elite riders in the field, Barbara Benko and Mariske Strauss crossed the line in eighth.
The rain is predicted to fall until late on Friday evening, but it is looking positive for overcast skies but no further precipitation on Saturday. At 64 kilometres long, Stage 2, is the play day of the FNB Wines2Whales and the singletrack packed route could offer opportunities for the chasing teams to make up time on Lill and Morath, especially if the leaders can be forced into taking undue risks. Challenging conditions typically reward the strongest riders though, so, the 2019 Chardonnay race is sure to see worthy winners crowned in Onrus, on Sunday.
Results: FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay
Faces: Candice Lill & Adelheid Morath (03:03:11.8)
dormakaba: Robyn de Groot & Amy McDougall (03:04:43.9)
Fairtree-Rotwild: Jennie Stenerhag & Nadine Rieder (03:13:46.5)
Kross Spur: Ariane Lüthi & Samara Sheppard (03:24:17.8)
5. Multitask Industries: Alice Pirard & Sabine Spitz (03:28:11.3)