The FNB Wines2Whales is one of South Africa’s quintessential 3 day stage mountain bike races and one that we’ve been lucky enough to ride eight times! With all of that countryside covered over the years, this will be our first SwitchBack.
A little bit of history on the SWITCHBACK. To bring some new flavour to one of South Africa’s classic Stage Race routes, in 2021 the FNB Wines2Whales shook things up a bit by creating the SWITCHBACK edition!
Instead of running the route from the gorgeous Lourensford Wine Estate near Somerset West over the Gantouw pass, down into Oak Valley for Play Day, and then blasting down to finish on the coast in Hermanus, the race started in the whale watching town and showed riders the spectacular scenes of the Western Cape the other way around en-route to enjoy the fruits of Lourensford’s wines!
With this in mind, let’s dive into the details of what you can expect!
Stage 1 Route Overview
Stage 1 begins at the Curro School grounds in Hermanus and makes its way to Oak Valley Estate over a 70 km route with 1500m of climbing.
Leaving Hermanus, we’ll get to work on our first major climb in the form of the famous Rotary Way road that delivers stunning sweeping views of the coastline east of Hermanus upon reaching the top.
Once the tar has been left behind, the trails head around the back of Hamilton Russel vineyards, and past Die Plaaskombuis, an acclaimed Farm Style restaurant in the area. The route will be making use of the famed La Vierge stairs this year, instead of heading up The Gorge trail, so you can save your granny gear for later.
Heading West and after passing De Bos Dam we’ll have our first of 3 water points on the route at Karwyderskraal with delicious nutrition from USN and others as well as some delicious new trails to enjoy, crafted by the Cape trails team for your riding pleasure!
These new Karwyders Trails take us further inland to Wildekrans and are guaranteed to be fast and fun, in typical Wines2Whales fashion. These new additions are accompanied by even more new sections as we reach Beaumont Family Wines and Botrivier after passing under the N2 Culvert, built by Agrimark! Waterpoint 2 will be on the radar here.
The new Botrivier trails will lead us west towards our final destination, Oak Valley, but not before a little climb up Kat Pas. Waterpoint 3 will come to the rescue before dropping into Houwhoek, where we’ll find ourselves riding upstream alongside the lovely Jakkalsrivier.
Leaving the N2 and we’ll make a beeline towards Paul Cluver and Oak Valley where a flurry of trails, new and old, punctuate the final kilometres to make sure there is plenty of Gees to carry us into the FNB Recharge Lounge!
The notable changes for stage 1 are the three climbs;
- in Hemel-enAarde Valley – from Bouchard Finlayson to De Bos Dam
- In Botrivier – from Vd Stel Pass to Kat Pass
- and the Paul Cluver trail
From Bouchard Finlayson to De Bos Dam the Hemel-en-Aarde Gorge climb (170m) has been replaced with a scenic and easier climb, via the Hemel-en-Aarde Steps Climb (105m).
In Botrivier, the trail from Vd Stel Pass to Kat Pass has been replaced with a more scenic and interesting contour trail.
And finally for stage 1 the challenging Paul Cluver trail has been replaced with an easier, more scenic and interesting trail, which includes the new Rondomtalie Switchbacks.
Stage 2 Route Overview
Stage 2 as we all know is play day, and one of the best days of riding you can do in the country. Start and finish is the Oak Valley Estate Race Village, although we cover a distance of 68 km and climb around 1250m, it is good to the last kilometer!
Reportedly, there will be more bridges than ever in 2023, with the main feature being the bridge over the Rietvlei Dam, built by the Paul Cluver team with support from Cape Trails and Agrimark, that has unlocked the superb Rietvlei Magic descent that will be a highlight for many!
There are 3 water points across the route. Number 1 is at Cow Trail between Vissies Magic and Rietvlei Magic. Number 2 comes in just after the incredible bridges at Pofadder and the 3rd is en route home at Paul Cluver.
Stage 3 Route Overview
STAGE 3 of the 2021 FNB W2W Switchback route showcased climbs that were tougher than Stage 1, so the team has made more drastic changes. Based on rider feedback the W2W team have replaced three major climbs on Stage 3 namely the:
- Grabouw Country Club to Gantouw Pass climb,
- Journey’s End to Vergelegen climb and finally the
- Lourensford killer climb towards the finish.
From the Grabouw Country Club to Gantouw Pass, the original long section of the climb has been replaced with a shorter and easier climb.
From Journey’s End to Vergelegen riders will enjoy a major route improvement. The landowners of Idiom, Wedderwill and Vergelegen Nature Reserves have given the event permission to ride through these properties.
This allows the event to eliminate the Journey’s End Climb, resulting in a magic new route that is more scenic, with a possibility of game viewing and ultimately, is 4km shorter with 100m less climbing.
An extension of the last long gradual climb in Vergelegen of 2km means that riders will cross the Lourens river at a new spot. The significant upside is that we will all get to experience more magical and flowing downhill single tracks on the Lourensford side of the river.
And finally, the replacement of the Lourensford Killer climb towards the finish is the best route improvement of the 2023 FNB W2W Switchback.
The team at Lourensford Wine Estate have given the event permission to build the 8km Channel Trail. This new trail is mostly along a downward running water channel, offering a unique and most interesting MTB experience, starting with a 15m hanging bridge, over 10 water channel crossing bridges and the ultimate BIG SWITCH Switchback.
This new addition is a fast and interesting single track, with intermittent gravel roads offering sufficient passing zones. The Channel Trail experience closes off with riders crossing the 40m Fair Cape floating bridge, to wrap up a magic 2023 FNB W2W Switchback experience.
By the sounds of things, we truly are in for a stunning ride at the 2023 event. There is still room for riders but those entries are sure to be snapped up quickly so I wouldn’t dawdle if I were you. You can enter here.
If you’ve never experienced the W2W route in SWITCHBACK format, there is a lot that you’re missing out on! The race village experience is of course outstanding and the Cape trail teams work around the clock to deliver the incredible trail riding experience the event is known for.
See you on the start line!