The Candice Lill and Tyler Jacobs combination, a pairing of South Africa’s fastest World Cup racers, were in a class of their own at the opening event of the 2023 Wines2Whales.
After three days of racing in all manner of conditions Candice Lill and Tyler Jacobs emerged victorious from the 2023 FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay race. The Computer Mania Seattle Coffee Co. team notched up three straight stage victories to claim the overall title by 9 minutes and 5 seconds from Safari Essence Imbuko; on Sunday, 22 October. Tiffany Keep and Danielle Strydom had themselves enjoyed a stellar race, after overcoming a difficult opening stage to finish second on Stages 2 and 3 en route to sealing silver. Cherise Willeit and Samantha Sanders, Sandton City Efficient Infiniti, completed the final stage and general classification podium at Lourensford Wine Estate.
The first event in the 2023 FNB W2W series was a dramatic one. Stage 1 had to be moved in its entirety, two days before the race got underway. The new route in Lourensford provided singletrack thrills, as well as a misty and cool day of racing. Lill and Jacobs were the somewhat surprising winners on the day, after both had repeatedly stated that they had no expectations coming into the event.
Stage 2 was a mud-fest of the sort that FNB W2W has a reputation for dishing up every few years. Steady overnight drizzle persisted throughout the day. This meant that the trails were treacherously slippery in places, which accounted for Vera Looser. The defending champion, who had already lost her title-winning teammate, Kim le Court, before the race started virtually within sight of the finish line and broke her hand. She was not the only crasher; but unlike on Stage 1 when a fall prevented Keep and Strydom from contesting the sprint for second, on Stage 2 the pair prevailed over Willeit and Sanders. Ahead Lill and Jacobs were imperious in the wet, riding away to a commanding stage victory.
Heading into the final day the Computer Mania Seattle Coffee Co. pairing held a 7-minute lead. The 64-kilometer point-to-point course, from Oak Valley to Lourensford, took in 1 450 metres of climbing. Despite the cold start, clear skies saw the temperatures rocket into the low 30s, drying out the trails with the aid of a stiff south-easterly wind.
Though the fastest riders were done before the mercury climbed too high, the wind played its part in the stage. After a steady first 20 kilometres – during which Computer Mania Seattle Coffee Co, Safari Essence Imbuko and Sandton City Efficient Infiniti raced side by side – Lill and Jacobs began to establish an advantage on the climb to Gantouw Pass. On and just after the compulsory portage the leaders battled the wind.
“It was very blustery between the Pass and Water Point 2 at Idiom Wines,” Lill recounted. “We nearly got blown into each other the wind was so strong.” Shortly after the water point Keep and Strydom regained contact with the women in the orange CIOVITA jerseys. The Safari Essence Imbuko team’s ability to stay with the leaders was compromised by Keep missing a gel, which in a show of remarkable sportsmanship Lill provided for her.
That did however not prevent Lill and Jacobs from distancing Keep and Strydom on the final climb, whereafter they rode to a third stage victory. “I’d said I had no expectations coming into the race, and I really didn’t,” Jacobs reiterated after wrapping up the title. “That didn’t mean I wasn’t stressed by being in the leaders’ jersey though. I could hardly eat breakfast every morning I was so nervous.”
The overall victory may have come as a surprise to Jacobs, but Lill might have had it in her sights all along. “I know Tyler [Jacobs] has the cross-country speed so I knew she could surprise herself,” Lill smiled. “This weekend was all about managing her efforts, making sure she fuelled and ensuring she had a good time. I wanted Tyler to have a good first experience stage racing, and I think we achieved that.”
Keep and Strydom crossed the final finish line 1 minute and 50 seconds after the Computer Mania Seattle Coffee Co. team. Having started the race with a puncture and a crash on the same Lourensford finish line, on Stage 1, the Safari Essence Imbuko pairing were clearly happy with their second place overall.
Willeit and Sanders completed the podium places on the day, and overall. They were in turn ahead of the Freewheel Cycology team. Hayley Preen and Frances Janse van Rensburg had themselves enjoyed an exciting stage, with Janse van Rensburg crashing just before the Gantouw Pass portage and having to chase back to reclaim fourth. Sarah Hill and Claudia Krenn rounded out the top five places on the day and on the final general classification standings.
Results: FNB Wines2Whales Chardonnay
- Computer Mania Seattle Coffee Co: Candice Lill & Tyler Jacobs (8:55:42)
- Safari Essence Imbuko: Tiffany Keep & Danielle Strydom (9:04:48 | +9:05)
- Sandton City Efficient Infiniti: Cherise Willeit & Samantha Sanders (9:13:28 | +17:46)
- Freewheel Cycology: Hayley Preen & Frances Janse van Rensburg (9:37:00 | +41:18)
- Hilly & Edgy: Sarah Hill & Claudia Krenn (9:42:02 | +46:20)