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Chardonnay Race Attracts top Talent to FNB Wines2Whales

By FNB Wines2Whales, 10/16/22, 10:00PM HST


A fully loaded women's field is set to race the FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay, kicking off on 28 October

The defending champions, Candice Lill and Mariske Strauss, headline the 2022 FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay Race. The Rola Toyota KingPrice team will face stiff competition from Amy Wakefield and Irina Lützelschwab, and Vera Looser and Kim le Court, while fascinating battles are sure to play out throughout the 16 team strong field.

The 2022 FNB Wines2Whales gets underway with the Elite and age-category Women’s races in the Chardonnay event, from the 28th to the 30th of October. With significant prize money at stake, including R100 000 for the winning team, there is no shortage of motivation among the top teams. The desire to win will not be enough, however; conditioning, freshness, skill and racing acumen will all play their parts in determining the victors.

Headlining the Women’s field in 2022 are the defending champions, Candice Lill and Mariske Strauss. Racing as Rola Toyota KingPrice, the pair are reuniting for their fourth Epic Series stage race in 13 months. “My form is building again towards the FNB Wines2Whales,” Strauss pointed out. “I took my season break after racing the City Mountain Bike XCE series and now I’m building back up again towards 2023.”

“FNB W2W is always a great race!” Strauss enthused. “It’s a great way to end the year and I’m really looking forward to racing it and giving my all alongside Candice [Lill] in defence of our title. Hopefully we can end the year on a strong note and take that momentum into next year.”

“Teamwork is obviously key to success in any Epic Series stage race and it’ll be no different in the Chardonnay race,” she confirmed. “The foundation for Candice and my success as a team is that we get along very well on and off the bike. There’s a great atmosphere in the team when we’re together at events and because we know each other so well we don’t always need to rely on verbal communication. It’s so reassuring to know that you have a partner that will be there no matter what. I know if things get tough Candice will be there. And I believe we bring out the best in each other.”

While the team with number 1 on their bike boards will be tried and tested, their most highly ranked rivals are an all-new combination. Amy Wakefield will be lining up alongside Irina Lützelschwab, of Team Bulls, for E-fort Symbtech. The Swiss marathon and stage race specialist is taking on her first Epic Series event, though she did win the 2021 4Islands MTB Croatia race before it joined the series.

“I made an effort to race in Europe as much as possible this year and in doing so got to know the top marathon women,” Wakefield explained of how the partnership with Lützelschwab came about. “Irina [Lützelschwab] stood out for me because besides being very strong, she is level headed and consistent which are two very valuable traits in a stage racing partner.”

“FNB Wines2Whales is an important race in itself and also doubles up as a ‘trial’ event for the Cape Epic,” Wakefield confirmed. “I am looking forward to racing with Irina and testing out a potential future partnership for 2023… That said, the Chardonnay is fully focussed on the women’s race so we will be giving it the respect it demands. It is so special, because we can focus 100% on our own race without any interference. We also have all the media coverage which is incredible for our sponsors, women’s cycling in general, and then for our individual careers too.”

“This year it will be a very exciting race because there is such a strong line-up!” she concluded. “Teamwork will be very important for this one.”

Along with the Rola Toyota KingPrice and E-fort Symbtech teams the other five-star favourites for the race are the Namibian/Mauritian combination of Vera Looser and Kim le Court. The pair raced together at the SPAR Swiss Epic in the Graubünden region, off the back of the Commonwealth Games, and won the final stage. Along with being well matched on the bike the Efficient Infiniti Insure Rare Street Coffee team appear to get along superbly off the bike, too. If the mantra of fun is fast proves true, they will be in the mix throughout the Chardonnay race.

The Liv-Wintergreen and Bester Performance/Titan Racing/Altes Landhaus teams are four-star favourites, or outsiders for podium placings, in the opening event of the 2022 FNB Wines2Whales series. Both Sarah Hill and Elrika Harmzen-Pretorius as well as Yolande de Villiers and Stephanie Wohlters are teams which cannot be discounted, but how well Hill and De Villiers will be able to manage their less experienced partners throughout the three days of racing is likely to determine their chances of success. Wohlters, despite only stepping into elite racing this year, has already proven her tenacity and ability and could surprise some of the more established names in the race.

Though young in years Tiffany Keep and Danielle Strydom can also not be discounted, given their growing experience. The Valley Electrical Titan Racing/Imbuko {Type} DEV team have the singletrack prowess to excel on the trail heavy route from Lourensford to Onrus. A podium place, upsetting one of the top teams will represent a superb result for young women.

Namibia’s Monique du Plessis and Jaen-Marie Mostert (Cymot Racing), and Courtney Liebenberg and Irene Steyn (Hollard Namibia) are dark horses in the Women's field. As are their compatriots Luanne van der Schyff and Gabriela Raith (Pereira 1) and Candice Wiggill and Jeanne Heunis (Pereira 2). Time will tell if they will be mixing it up for a top five placing or racing for the minor places. The self-proclaimed “fun racers”, or the group of women with full-time jobs and racing licences, are evenly matched and fiercely competitive. 

Robyn Williams and Ila Stow, of Clickatell, have already proven themselves the team to beat in this race within a race. They will once again be facing off against Nicola Freitas and Juanita Mackenzie (Spoke and Mirrors) as well as Kylie Hanekom and Tarryn Povey. Povey will be lining up alongside Paceline teammate Sarita Louw, with the Paceline 2 team of Catherine Pellow-Jarman and Almari de Milander joining them on the start line at Lourensford. The final Women’s team is the Engineering Hub combination of Mandi Augustyn and Tracey Campbell.

Hanekom meanwhile will be partnered by photographer, mountain biker and trail runner Marzelle van der Merwe. Van der Merwe recently ran in third in the Otter trail run and is arguably as competitive as her Bike Hub partner. “I suppose I’m used to racing XC against them, so it’s not really something I’ve thought about,” Van der Merwe said of lining up against the likes of Strauss, Lill and Wakefield. “I’m just excited to have a jol with a friend and see how deep we can bury ourselves as a team. I’ve been focusing on running for the second half of the season. I’m actually pretty interested to see how the legs will be with some hard run efforts in them.”

Like Stow, Hanekom and Van der Merwe have not only raced cross-country events but have also taken part in a number of provincial Enduros. These skills will stand Van der Merwe in good stead, as she explained: “XCO and more trail riding just makes you super comfy on a mountain bike. I don’t really have to think about trails when I ride marathon, it’s just so much more mellow than XCO. I think it’s a huge advantage to be able to relax and recover on the downhill. It gives you an opportunity to do things that’ll make you even faster, like think about how aero you can be!”

While the Bike Hub team is focused on challenging themselves to the limit, Pellow-Jarman is a little less intent on pushing herself beyond her limits. “It’s a serious-fun race or a fun-serious race, depending a what your goals are,” the Paceline 2 woman smiled. “At FNB W2W you know that you’re always going to be served some proper mountain biking combined with a good amount of fun. After all they don’t call it the ‘race with gees’ for nothing!”

“I think it’s absolutely fantastic that FNB W2W are taking active steps to promote the growth of women’s cycling in SA,” Pellow-Jarman added.  “The women’s specific race not only makes the racing more exciting but also indirectly encourages more women to participate. It’s always great to see a stacked field of women and having 16 top class teams taking part this year makes me very excited!”

“As often as us ‘fun racers’ say ‘we’re not racing’, we secretly are,” Pellow-Jarman confessed. It might not be against the podium contenders, but I think amongst ourselves we’ll definitely have a bit of a throw-down.”

Elite Women’s Field for the 2022 FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay:

1. Rola Toyota KingPrice: Candice Lill (RSA) & Mariske Strauss (RSA)

2. E-fort Symbtech: Amy Wakefield (RSA) & Irina Lützelschwab (SUI)

3. Efficient Infiniti Insure Rare Street Coffee: Vera Looser (NAM) & Kim le Court (MRI)

4. Liv-Wintergreen: Sarah Hill (RSA) & Elrika Harmzen-Pretorius (RSA)

5. Bester Performance/Titan Racing/Altes Landhaus: Yolande de Villiers (RSA) & Stephanie Wohlters (RSA)

6. Clickatell: Robyn Williams (RSA) & Ila Stow (RSA)

7. Paceline: Sarita Louw (RSA) & Tarryn Povey (RSA)

8. Spoke and Mirrors: Nicola Freitas (RSA) & Juanita Mackenzie (RSA)

9. Bike Hub: Kylie Hanekom (RSA) & Marzelle van der Merwe (RSA)

10. Cymot Racing: Monique du Plessis (NAM) & Jaen-Marie Mostert (NAM)

11. Hollard Namibia: Courtney Liebenberg (NAM) & Irene Steyn (NAM)

12. Valley Electrical Titan Racing/Imbuko {Type} DEV: Tiffany Keep (RSA) & Danielle Strydom (RSA)

13 Engineering Hub: Mandi Augustyn (RSA) & Tracey Campbell (RSA)

14 Pereira 1: Luanne van der Schyff (NAM) & Gabriela Raith (NAM)

15 Pereira 2: Candice Wiggill (NAM) & Jeanne Heunis (NAM)

16 Paceline 2: Catherine Pellow-Jarman (RSA) & Almari de Milander (RSA)