Former management consultant Johan Kriegler had a very clear picture of success in mind when he created the FNB Wines2Whales three-stage mountain bike race.
“The basic principle I had in my head from the start was to make it scenic, adventurous and fun,” he says. “It’s not an extreme event, it’s something more intermediate.”
Kriegler says he knew he had hit upon the winning recipe when he took part in the Nedbank sani2c for the first time about six years ago.
“Glen (Haw) was the only guy who was building trails for an event – that was a new thing. And while I was cycling it I thought, ‘I must copy this model for the Cape’.
“That’s how I got the idea in my head and how Wines2Whales started.”
It would be another year and a half before he staged his first event but when it took place it was an instant hit.
“The first proper Wines2Whales Race took place in November 2009 and we had 300-odd riders.
“The following year it jumped to something like 1 200 riders with 300 on the waiting list alone.”
In 2011, Kriegler was forced to add the Adventure component due to rider demand, with the Ride following last year.
“This year, we have over 4 000 riders and all our events are fully booked with waiting lists on all three.”
Kriegler remains modest about the event’s success and says the sudden boom was not unexpected as similar events were few and far between.
“I think we were lucky back then that there weren’t really any multistage events aside from sani2c and Cape Epic. Now there are a lot.”
He believes the beautiful Western Cape was a mountain biking resource just waiting to be tapped.
“In the area that we go through, from Somerset West to Hermanus, you’ve got those mountains and wineries and the views are just unbelievable.
“So the scenic component was there, it was just a case of building trails.”
And build trails they did, spending almost R1.2 million on trail development, maintenance and alien plant clearance since inception.
“When we started, I thought, to make it successful and sustainable in the long term, we’d have to put money into the trails.”
Initially cash-strapped, Kriegler joined forces with the Pedal Power Association, which supplied funding and expertise for establishing some trails.
“Those ones we’ve opened to the public year round but the rest are exclusively for Wines2Whales.”
Continuous trail development has also had positive spin-offs for the local community surrounding the race village at Oak Valley Wine Estate, he says.
“For me, one of our greatest achievements is that we brought in four local unemployed youths when we first started. They’re now part of Wines2Whales, have their own trail-building business and are fully contracted to us throughout the year.”
The event supplies the trail builders with good quality mountain bikes, which they also use for commuting purposes from their homes in Grabouw to wherever they are working.
“Sometimes it’s 10km from home and sometimes it’s 30 or 40!”
On the beneficiary side, Kriegler explains that the event officially supports a number of local schools and crèches, the local Rotary and Round Table clubs and a few community organisations.
“The clubs work on the event, so they stage the water points and prepare the products we give them.”
The beneficiaries receive their share of around R800 000 per annum and approximately 150 local people gain temporary employment during the event.
Kriegler says his job is to look after the beneficiaries and landowners, while partners Stillwater Sports and Entertainment look after the sponsors, logistics and event management side of things.
“We have very good relations with the landowners. There are about 50 involved – from large farms to smallholdings.”
The mountain biking bug has already bitten a number of them, he laughs.
“When we started they said, ‘Ja, ja, you can do this event’. The next year some came back and said, ‘I want to buy a bike, what kind should I get’?”
The farmers have lent their knowledge and expertise with regard to the lay of the land and getting around obstacles.
“Our trails run along the mountains and the issue with the Cape mountains is that you can’t go too high. So we need to find ways of getting over the cliffs.”
This year, says Kriegler, they will build the 100th bridge on the route. The bridges vary from 1m to 55m in length, with the highest one being 8m above ground.
While he may have gotten his original concept from sani2c, Kriegler believes Wines2Whales has perfected the art of bridge building.
“Glen and I have a healthy little competition going. On sani2c, he has his manicured trails, so I said he must come and learn about bridges from us. We have our ‘manicured bridges’!”
Sharing knowledge is something Kriegler believes event organisers must do for the growth and improvement of mountain biking and the benefit of all.
“There are a few organisers who jealously guard what they’ve got. But there are new events coming up all the time, so if you’re prepared to be open and share your ideas, others will also do so.”
He says feedback from riders has shown that the route is still a major determining factor in their enjoyment of multistage races but that the quality of and access to food and ablution facilities is also vital.
“Guys don’t want to stand in long queues and they want clean, hot showers.”
Kriegler says this year’s Wines2Whales participants can look forward to a great vibe at registration inside the winery at Lourensford Wine Estate.
“They will be able to enjoy the food, drink the local wines and just chill before their event.”
With daily distances varying between 66 and 76km, he promises a rideable, balanced challenge for pros and amateurs alike. “Stage two will also be a little easier than in previous years.”
Having staged Wines2Whales half a dozen times now, Kriegler’s energy and love for the event remains undiminished and is clear in every detail.
“When you have a passion for something and you love what you’re doing, it’s not really work.”