Scenic theme underpins Winelands Encounter

Offering riders the best experience possible has underpinned the philosophy of veteran route designer Johan Kriegler as he prepares the course for this month’s Liberty Winelands Encounter mountain bike race.

The Liberty Winelands Encounter, in partnership with STANLIB, will be aiming to retain its status as the most beautiful race in South Africa when it takes place in the Western Cape from April 21 to 23. Photo: Ewald Sadie

The three-stage, 160km journey through the Cape Winelands starts on April 21 and Kriegler said they wanted to ensure it retained its status as “the most beautiful race in South Africa”.

“It has that distinction because it goes through four of the oldest towns in the country in Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Paarl and Wellington,” he said.

“Besides that, the route takes in the mountains of the Boland region and the objective is to give the riders spectacular views without making it too tough.

“With that in mind, we considered all the scenic angles on offer and planned the stages around that.”

Acknowledging that the first stage was the toughest of the three, Kriegler said they had made it slightly easier this year, while maintaining a balance between providing a strong challenge and catering for the more recreational rider.

“In my view, you can divide routes into three categories, with A category being the most challenging and C category the least demanding,” he said.

“The Winelands Encounter falls into the B category and last year we felt stage one was more like an A category route, so we have made a few changes.”

Kriegler, who has also designed the Wines2Whales route, said Winelands was the only event that was allowed on the prestigious L’Ormarins wine estate, which belongs to South African business tycoon Johann Rupert.

“This year we will be coming in to L’Ormarins much lower down and the route will cover more gravel roads.

“We have also brought the Boschendal single-track into the route for the first time and we have taken out one or two climbs around the Berg River Dam, which will make it a bit easier.”

Kriegler said there would still be some technical challenges for the riders, but these wouldn’t be “hectically difficult or dangerous”.

He added there would be a number of sections during the three-day race which could be significant in influencing the outcome.

“On stage one the Botmaskop climb over 15km with 700m of ascent and the single-track around the Berg River Dam could be decisive,” said Kriegler.

“Stage two has a lot of open riding and you can almost cycle like roadies in a bunch, while stage three has a lot of single-track and here your technical skills will count for a lot.”

With a total ascent of 3 700km spread evenly over the race, the Liberty Winelands Encounter, in partnership with STANLIB, will cover 54km on the opening stage, 57km on the second day and 48km on the Sunday.

Kriegler said they had started their preparations in December and felt they had achieved their overall objective.

“Most of the time was taken up by stage one to sort out an easier, more interesting and more scenic route,” he added.

“I know what the potential of the area is and I think in terms of the profile we wanted to achieve, this is the best we could have done.”

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