The final stage of the FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay race concluded under clear blue skies, overlooking the azure waters of Walker Bay, at The Marine Hotel. Sunday, 28 October, was the concluding day of the elite women’s race in the 2018 FNB Wines2Whales event series and produced arguably the most exciting racing of the weekend.
Ariane Lüthi and Barbara Benko shook off the disappointment of the opening two stages to claim victory on the clifftops of Hermanus. There was no stopping Candice Lill and Adelheid Morath though, the Summit pairing comfortably sealed the title by crossing the line safely.
The story of the day was the battle for second position on the overall standings. Mariske Strauss and Jennie Stenerhag, of Silverback CBC, held the slenderest of advantages – just 0.6 seconds – over Robyn de Groot and Michelle Vorster. The Ascendis Health team were eager to overturn that minute deficit and understandably so as R20 000 was at stake. With the winners taking home R100 000, second place riding away with R40 000 and third R20 000 there was a significant financial reward resting on those tenths of a second.
Team Spur’s Lüthi and Benko had no general classification concerns on their minds; they were aiming solely for the stage victory. Having received an hour time penalty, for exceeding the two minute time gap between teammates on the opening stage, Lüthi and Benko were out of the running for the podium. They were however motivated to secure the stage honours in front of the biggest crowd of the race.
In the quest to do so Team Spur made use of Ascendis Health and Silverback CBC shadowing each other to launch an attack. Throwing caution to the wind on the rocky Katpas descent from the Elgin Valley to Botrivier Lüthi and Benko were only followed by Lill and Morath. Lill’s bravery in following a move she did not really have to cost her a rear wheel puncture, but with the technical zone located near the bottom of the descent the race leaders were able to limit their losses effectively. After a quick wheel change Lill and Morath were four minutes down on Lüthi and Benko, but more importantly only three behind the group contesting second. Their 16 minute and 41 second buffer meant that they never had a reason to panic.
At the front of the race Lüthi and Benko forged on, leading solo and intent on claiming the consolation of a stage victory. “We wanted to try our luck, the other teams did not want to risk too much on that downhill, so we just took our chance and went for it” a still puffing Lüthi explained upon crossing the finish line. “I’m really, really, happy about it. It was nice team work today with Barbara (Benko) and an awesome ending – after not such a good start...” the Team Spur rider admitted.
Having bridged back up to the group of Silverback CBC and Ascendis Health with 20 kilometres left to race the Summit women allowed the battle for second to play out without interfering. As they had no need to pursue Lüthi and Benko, Lill and Morath simply let De Groot, Vorster, Strauss and Stenerhag race their own race.
“We had kind of planned for it not to come down to a sprint again” De Groot confided. “I tried to get away, not even a kilometre from the finish. It almost worked. I thought Michelle (Vorster) was going to follow up. But there were some tricky corners and none of us have done this finish. And it landed up being a sprint” the South African marathon champion related.
A minor mechanical, as a result of a wire in her rear derailleur, forced Strauss to briefly stop at the third water point just 14 kilometres from the finish. It did however, according to Stenerhag, not cause too much stress: “I looked back and I saw she was with us, so it wasn’t too bad actually.” Having edged out De Groot and Vorster twice already the Cape Brewing Co rider was confident that she and Strauss held the upper hand. “We just knew we would have to take them in the sprint. But we felt quite good having taken them two days before in the sprint, and we kind of like it” the Swedish rider smiled.
Lill and Morath rolled across the line just a couple of seconds behind De Groot and Vorster. In so doing they became the inaugural winners of the women’s Chardonnay race. “Shucks, not an ideal day at all” a visibly relieved Lill said after sealing the title. “I’m normally okay fixing a puncture. But the valve core came out, so we had some drama. But luckily we were quite close to the tech zone so we could get some help.”
Reliving the final kilometre Lill continued: “We didn’t want to get involved in their (Silverback CBC and Ascendis Health) sprint. They have been fighting every day and it was really cool to watch from behind.” Having been complimented on her sportsmanship Lill blushed: “Next time it may be us in that situation and I’d want them to do the same.”
Lill’s partner Morath successfully defended her FNB Wines2Whales title, having won the 2017 edition alongside Jennie Stenerhag. Reflecting on her second victory in the race she replied: “It feels amazing!” “It is the best way to finish the season. I really like the singletracks here in South Africa” the German praised before confiding that she would be back on these shores again soon.
With the conclusion of the Chardonnay race the focus now shifts to the fun riders taking part in the mid-week Pinotage event. The least competitive of the three FNB Wines2Whales events takes place from the 29th to the 31st of October – before the elite men do battle from the 2nd to the 4th of November in the Shiraz race. To read all the stories and to watch all the videos from the FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay mountain biking fans can visit www.wines2whales.com.
FNB Wines2Whales Results | Chardonnay Stage 3:
- Team Spur: Ariane Lüthi & Barbara Benko (3:08.23,6)
- Silverback CBC: Mariske Strauss & Jennie Stenerhag (3:09.51,8 | +1.28,3)
- Ascendis Health: Robyn de Groot & Michelle Vorster (3:09.53,1 | +1.29,5)
- Summit: Adelheid Morath & Candice Lill (3:10.03,1 | +1.39,5)
- Galileo Risk: Theresa Ralph & Sarah Hill (3:14.52,3 | +6.28,7)
- Summit: Adelheid Morath & Candice Lill (9:31.17,0)
- Silverback CBC: Mariske Strauss & Jennie Stenerhag (9:47.47,3 | +16.30,3)
- Ascendis Health: Robyn de Groot & Michelle Vorster (9:47.49,3 | +16.32,3)
- Galileo Risk: Theresa Ralph & Sarah Hill (9:57.38,5 | +26:21,5)
- Team Spur: Ariane Lüthi & Barbara Benko (10:49.08,1 | +1:17.51,1)