Stage 1 of the 2023 FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay women’s race was won by Candice Lill and Tyler Jacobs. Lill and Jacobs led from start to finish to claim line honours and the leaders jerseys in emphatic fashion.
The race for the minor podium spots was a tight affair with various teams making moves. In the end it came down to a sprint between Tiffany Keep and Danielle Strydom of Safari Essence Imbuko Giant Racing and the Sandton City-Efficient Infiniti outfit of Cherise Willeit and Samantha Sanders. Keep and Strydom suffered a mishap around the final corner, leaving Willeit and Sanders to cross the line in second. More news to follow soon.
FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay Stage 1: How The Racing Went Down
With a brand-new stage having been devised for Stage 1, the initial distances drawn on mapping software transpired to be a little bit long and steep. The figures on the day were in fact 55 kilometres rather than 59, with 1 300 or so metres of climbing rather than the imposing 1 800 which were initially advertised. A reduction in the distance and, on paper, difficulty was perhaps a good thing, as the surface was exceptionally tricky in places. September’s floods had scoured the roads, leaving them rocky and eroded in places.
This did not bother Lill and Jacobs, however. The cross-country riders were at ease on the testing terrain and were able to manage both their efforts and their equipment regardless of what the FNB Wines2Whales course threw at them. Having strung out and distanced the rest of the racing women’s field the Computer Mania Seattle Coffee Co team were joined up front by Tiffany Keep and Danielle Strydom of Safari Essence Imbuko Racing.
Sadly, for Keep a puncture cost her 6 minutes on the trail. “I’ve been racing on the road this year, so when I punctured, I wanted to just put my hand up for a spare wheel form the team car,” Keep joked. “It took us a bit longer than we’d have liked to get it fixed. By the time we were going we were 2 minutes behind second and in fourth on the trails.”
While Keep and Strydom fought back Lill and Jacobs forged ahead. Without the pressure of riders on their wheels the pair were able to ride their own race. “We could manage our efforts nicely,” Lill allowed. “It’s great to take the FNB Wines2Whales stage win, but it doesn’t change our approach to the race. We’ll still be taking it day by day.”
The victory is unquestionably exciting for Jacobs. The good excitement she experienced was different to the excitement some of the other teams endured. “I bought a bit of ground high up in Lourensford and Cherise [Willeit] bought a bridge,” Samantha Sanders laughed. “It was rough out there in places. But very beautiful too.”
The Sandton City Efficient Infiniti team had capitalised on Safari Essence Imbuko Racing’s puncture and spent the latter half of the stage in second position on the trail. In the final 10 kilometres Keep and Strydom managed to reel Sanders and Willeit in, but were unable to best the experienced pair in a sprint finish.
“Coming into the finish here I thought we were where we needed to be,” Strydom explained. “But actually coming from behind was nearly impossible, you had to lead into the penultimate bend. We all went into the final corner a bit hot, because nobody wanted to break. Cherise [Willeit] and I touched wheels, but it was nobody’s fault. It was just a racing incident. And then Tiff [Keep] crashed behind us.”
“Fortunately, it was on grass,” Keep noted. “It’s my first fall in a while. Luckily, I didn’t hurt myself. You still have to get up and finish though, because the clock doesn’t stop!”
Sanders and Willeit conceded 4 minutes and 49.9 seconds to the stage winners, Lill and Jacobs. With Keep and Strydom ceding another 20 seconds. The result sees Computer Mania Seattle Coffee Co take the first CIOVITA orange leaders’ jerseys of the race; which they will wear into Saturday’s Stage 2, in Oak Valley.
The racing women get the FNB Wines2Whales action underway on Friday, 20 October. Perhaps the biggest news ahead of the start is that Vera Looser and Kim le Court – the so-called ‘Queens of the Epic Series ’23 – will not be racing together due to a Le Court still recovering from injury. This throws the race wide open and will almost certainly see at least one first-time winner. Here is who to watch:
MORE FNB Wines2Whales news:
Learn more about the route they will be tackling, here, which teams to watch, here and check out the Epic Series YouTube channel for regular updates and highlights.