The three-day Gravel & Grape mountain bike stage race is only weeks away and some top teams have it firmly in their sights.
Leading South African professional Erik Kleinhans has reunited with Matt Beers (Red E-Topeak Ergon) in a combination that will probably start as favourites when the gun goes off for Stage 1 on May 5. They will, however, have a fight on their hands from the established pairing of Chris Wolhuter and Dylan Rebello (Imbuko Wines), who won the race last year and are highly motivated to defend their title.
“Matt and Erik will for sure most likely be our main rivals. They are both strong riders who we race against frequently,” says Wolhuter. “That being said, Jurgens (Uys) and Nicol (Carstens in Team Versus Socks) cannot be underestimated. Jurgens is coming back from an injury lay off and looks very motivated to get back to a high level.”
Wolhuter says he and Rebello had a “good Cape Epic” last month but were hampered by some mechanical troubles: “So we are looking to make amends for that and will be going for the title again this year.”
Beers, asked if he and Kleinhans would be going for the win, says: “Yeah for sure! But we always want to keep it fun and light-hearted after the race and talk nonsense with friends … I think it really helps mentally.”
“We ride extremely well together and complement each other’s riding styles really well: our strengths are almost exactly the same. We are both powerful riders on the flats and can smash the descents too,” Beers adds.
Riding together Beers and Kleinhans won the Berg&Bush stage race last year and four stages of the Cape Pioneer Trek.
This is the third staging of the Gravel & Grape, which Wolhuter describes as “a great event”.
“There are some great trails in the area. I know they have also done a lot of work in the Slanghoek region and the riding there last year was already fantastic,” he says. “The route profiles sometimes suggest an easier stage, but the region has some tough rocky sections which make it tougher than what it looks like on paper.”
“Then there is a relaxed vibe in the evenings, which creates a great environment to interact with the other riders and enjoy a glass of wine.”
Beers is also a fan of mountain biking in the area: “I have raced this event before back in 2015 in the mixed category with Nicola Giliomee. Apparently they have done a lot of work so I am looking forward to riding some new trails and seeing different scenery.”
The Gravel & Grape is taking place from 5 to 7 May. The event features two rides, the Gravel & Grape Extreme and the Gravel & Grape Adventure.
In the women’s race the standout pairing is likely to be British pro Catherine Williamson and up-and-coming Knysna youngster Nicky Giliomee.
“We’ll be hoping to race as best as we can. I know Nicky is a strong rider and have raced against her at a few races last year and I know we’ll have fun whatever happens,” says Williamson, a former winner of the women’s category at the Cape Epic.
“I’ve never ridden Gravel & Grape before. I know the terrain can be very difficult, dry and rocky. But I always love racing in the Cape and as it’s getting towards winter I’m sure it’ll be a bit cooler than the last time I was that way,” adds the Briton.
The Extreme is the same three day race that hardcore mountain bikers have come to know and love over two years, while the Adventure is a two day challenge that covers 65km of cycling over the course of its stages.
The Adventure is a solo or team event. Entries are for teams of two in two different categories: junior and open. The junior category is for both team members between the ages of 16 and 18 years, while the open category can be a son/daughter, husband/wife, daughter/father team or any two adults who would like to experience their first stage race.
Both events feature expertly hand-cut singletrack. The Gravel & Grape is an event that sets out to take mountain biking back to its roots, focussing on fun but challenging riding with trails that reward the effort put in.
“The Gravel & Grape delivers raw, rough mountain biking,” says Wolhuter. “A highlight was riding through some parts of the valley that were completely isolated. It was very beautiful, very serene.”
“We want people to experience the valley and region as it is for us; beautiful, challenging, unique and exciting,” says one of the race organisers and Slanghoek Cellar’s Pieter Carstens.
By involving a number of wine farms in the race, each day offers something different, from the highest peaks to the lowest valley floors.“Make no mistake, this is an event that will test you, but will also provide warm hospitality and the opportunity to indulge in our award-winning wines after each day’s riding,” says Carsten.
The Breedekloof Valley is just one hour from Cape Town, and includes Rawsonville, Slanghoek, Goudini & Breerivier. The event race village is based at Goudini Spa, making this a family weekend. Participants of the Gravel & Grape will have full access to the resort’s facilities, including the iconic warm baths.
Although entries have already closed, the Gravel & Grape are offering an opportunity for 10 teams to enter by Sunday, 23 April.