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Wine2Whales 2010: Experiencing the Champions - Part1

03 Jan 2011

Wine2Whales 2010

Having taken some time to reflect how it came to pass that I paid hard-earned cash to endure 3 days of suffering at the hand of a mountain-biking world champion, I’ve concluded it was a most unusual collusion of events that resulted in this unfortunate situation: My regular partner’s wife was expecting their first child on the Saturday of the race and after much deliberation he concluded that it would be unwise for him to ride.

By the time he’d finished his deliberations though, my alternatives were limited as all the other ‘usual suspects’ had already teamed up with someone else for what was billed to be ‘a race not to miss’.  Add to this my morbid curiosity about ‘just how strong a pro rider really is’ and I suppose it is possible to understand that – for a brief moment – the prospect of ‘riding with a champion’ sounded like a good idea.  After a long negotiation with the bank manager I managed to raise the necessary funding for a competitive bid and a few weeks later I was informed that my bid to ride with Christoph Sauser successful.  It was around this time that I started questioning the wisdom of my decision, but the cold sweat and anxiety attacks at night got me out of bed early to get training.

Christoph and I met the evening before the race and there was nothing about his friendly demeanour to suggest he would turn into a sadistic axe murder on the bicycle…  We even had a couple of glasses of wine and I thought this was going to be so much fun… Arriving at the start line with seconds to spare and having sheepishly followed Christoph to push in at the front of the pack, I felt compelled to put in a superhuman effort from the gun.  After having turned myself inside-out for a few kilometres through the Lourensford vineyards and having long lost the ability to string together a full sentence, I noticed that Christoph – sitting comfortably on his riser bars and spinning his legs – was not as much as breaking a sweat.  It was around mid-way through the day as we started climbing towards Sir Lowry’s, that my wheels started coming off more seriously and Christoph made his first offer for me to hold onto his jersey.  I might have been tired, but I still had my pride – and more importantly there was always the risk that someone would capture this on camera – so I declined his kind offer.  The low-light of my day was the compulsory portage over the top of Sir Lowrys and it was here that I – still recovering from the embarrassment of just being past by a mixed doubles pairing and shortly on their heels by the first ladies team – that I also declined his second generous offer to carry both our bikes and allow me to drag myself over the top of the hill before sunset… Having survived that, it was all downhill to the finish where I arrived broken and unable to talk while I was sure I heard my partner whistle a tune as we crossed the line.

The next day was – and this takes some admitting for someone who grew up in Stellenbosch – probably the best mountain-biking terrain that I’ve ever come across.  Sweeping single tracks, beautiful scenery and fewer climbs to contend with.  It was on this day that my downhill skills – secretly considered ‘the ace in my game’ – was put into context by the champ:  I was leading the chase down a sweeping single track in slightly wet conditions.  Being quite proud of my effort and keen to see how(read ‘if’) the champ was keeping up, I dared a peek back at him as I came out of a switchback only discover that Christoph had one hand on the handle bar, a finger on the front brake lever and in the other hand he had his camera.  He later explained that he was trying to get some pictures for his website…

With two days behind us, I was feeling confident that the end is in sight and allowed myself more than a generous portion of beer that evening.  It wouldn’t take long for me to rue the premature celebrations as Day 3 got off to a hectic start.  I was hanging onto the back of the pack while Christoph was doing his normal routine of taking pictures, enjoying frequent relief stops, sitting down for a meal at the watering points and chattering away with the other riders.  By the time the fast downhill section at the beginning of the day had run out, so had my legs.  I had the opportunity to once again repent at leisure the wisdom of starting as hard as I could.  My ever-patient partner shepherded me through the next few hours of mountain-biking hell through the ironically named “Hemel-en-Aarde” (heaven and earth) valley towards the spectacular finish at the beach at Onrus.  Here I wisely declined Christoph’s final offer to humiliate me in front of the crowd by taking him on in a sprint for the line – apparently in settlement of some wager that was struck amidst the previous night’s binge. Anyway, that was the end of an absolutely unforgettable experience.

The Wines to Whales mountain-bike race was an excellent event and definitely one never to be missed.  Despite my claims to the contrary, the Ride with Champions initiative was amazing and well done to Christoph and the other guys from Songo who gave up their time to ride with a normal Joe.