Johan Kriegler, the founder of the Wines2Whales (W2W), one of the World’s premier 3-day MTB stage races takes us back on his journey since childhood days in Stellenbosch.
Johan’s first bike was a steel BSA that carried him not only to school every day, but into the surrounding Stellenbosch mountains and plantations on weekends where he and his friends built ramps in the veld.
After university Johan didn’t take part in many sporting activities. However, in 1985 at the age of 30, his sister Alta, a Springbok cyclist, influenced him to take part in the Argus Cycle Tour. He took up the challenge and rode a steel Peugeot Rapport and managed to complete the race in a sub-three hour ride. It was only after a few Argus Cycle Tours that a friend introduced Johan to mountain biking. To him it was very much like what they did at school on their “dikwiels”.
“We swapped our road bikes for mountain bikes almost 25 years ago when they still had steel frames and knobbies, with no suspension until the aluminum frames with the elastomer front shocks was introduced,” Johan recalls.
He was fully engaged into mountain biking, and entered events all over the country, whilst on business trips. He would fly back and forth to Cape Town once or twice a month. “It was a hectic time, a hard time, but also a good time, and the consultancy business was doing well, but this was not at all a sustainable lifestyle,” Johan remembers.
On weekends back home, Johan and his friends explored and built trails around the Boland mountains, much like school days. They hosted their first genuine mountain bike event in the Western Cape, and called it the Vergelegen Classic, later known as the Lourensford Classic.
“We could ride it, but it scared a lot of riders as there were insane drop-offs with most riders walking down, some lost their grip, while others lost their nerve – not to mention the many casualties.”
Johan confesses that he contemplates a lot how to improve things, from business systems and procedures, which later included the W2W events. His early business days were spend on analytical studies how to design and implement business/ productivity improvements, addressing resources, skills, and business concepts. By the mid-90s Johan started his own consultancy, completed his Masters in Corporate Governance, and travelled around the country promoting Quality Strategies.
At age 48 Johan was flying throughout the country, hardly spending any time with his family, realizing that this was no way to live. In 2006 a friend invited him to ride the sani2c MTB with amazing single tracks that the event has on offer. During the event Johan recognized that the Western Cape displays beautiful mountains and the sea, but does not have a mountain bike ride such as the Sani2c. The question that came to mind, “Why not start a 3 day mountain bike event in the Western Cape?”
Johan realized what “Farmer” Glen (Haw’s) secrets were; he was building single tracks exclusively for the Sani2c and did all the organizing and logistics himself. Johan stays in Somerset West and has a cottage in Hermanus.
Eleven years ago he started riding his mountain bike scouting possible routes in the Helderberg and Overberg region, to figure out a 3 day route from Somerset West to Hermanus.
It took Johan almost a year to figure out an acceptable route. In 2008 he was ready to launch his new trail and invited 30 MTB friends to join him on the Mountain2Ocean Pioneer Ride. “I asked them R150 per rider to cover the expenses for the Saturday evening braai at Oak Valley, and the wine they enjoyed,” Johan remembers. The following year, during April, Johan and Gerda organized their first official 2 day event. Gerda made history by re-naming this event, the “Wines2Whales”.
On the start-line of the first official W2W there were only 110 riders. As marking the trail would be a real waste of time, Johan showed the route to some friends before the event, and during the event they all played follow the leader. “Those were the fun times, as cyclists got lost – most were found.
They enjoyed the wine-and-braai with laughter sharing their experiences of the day,” Johan recalls. Later the 2 day / weekend W2W became the W2W Pre-Ride and then the Houwhoek Tour.
After the April event Johan partnered with Hendrico Burger and Michael Meyer and Dezroy Poole from Stillwater Sports and together they established the 3 day W2W. Within 2 years it became one of South Africa’s most popular mountain bike events, consisting of three events, catering for all levels of riders and attracting almost 3 900 competitors per year.
The success of the W2W through the years has led to other events, the Houwhoek and Greyton MTB weekend tours. To date around 75 bridges has been built, the largest being, Witklippies on Paul Cluver Estate, 8m high and 50m long, as well as unique scaffolding structures including the magic Vergelegen bridge and Kromco PERI Playpark.
During the first three years of W2W, the Pedal Power Association co-funded some of the trail building. Johan also contemplated how W2W could become a sustainable vehicle to improve the lives of previously unemployed youths. He achieved this by setting up a trail building enterprise with four youths from Grabouw; Ashwell, Brendon, Denzel and Jason. Cape Trails
passion is to build and maintain the best MTB Trails and they have participated in sani2c, to see and experience what they have to better. Cape Trails has built public trails on the Paul Cluver Estate, Thandi Estate and Schapenberg, under the initial leadership of Martiens Scheepers together with four employees.
“We invested in a home for the Cape Trails in Grabouw and have established, with the support of Big Box and BEN (Bicycle Empowerment Network) a community bike shop on the property. It creates additional income for Cape Trails; by buying second hand bikes from BEN, service and repair it, and sell at a profit. When I look at the achievements of Cape Trails and how they have grown, and enjoy developing these trails – it has become one of my greatest achievements. Another route-related achievement is that we have ignited a number of trail building initiatives in partnership with other trail builders and landowners, such as Errol and the Basin MTB Club at Lourensford, Quenion Gobregts at Oak Valley, Andries Burger at Paul Cluver, Braam Gericke at Wildekrans and Jan van Schalkwyk at Hermanus,” says Johan.
Johan says that most people just want to have fun on their bikes and want to ride a trail that doesn’t kill them, whilst having a good workout. On W2W they can enjoy the most unique and beautiful fynbos and mountains of the Kogelberg Biosphere and surrounding areas, whilst covering more distance and diversity on a bicycle than you can when hiking. “Afterwards they want to chill with friends, drink CBC beer and enjoy another day in our beautiful country,” he adds.
“The FNB W2W is the kind of riding I like – the kind that ensure you have fun on your bike. The climbing is not too long, hard and/or boring. The single tracks are built to eliminate unnecessary climbing or boring sections. For the W2W rider it’s not only fun on the bike, but having fun during the whole event. This requires exceptional organization, sponsor-, landowner-, and beneficiary relations and partnerships on our behalf.”
“Therefore, experiencing fun is applicable to all the interactions that we have with riders, from entering, at registration, at the Oak Valley Race Village, on-route, and in the FNB Rider tent,” Johan explains.
Cape Epic acquires the FNB Wines2Whales
In 2017 the Cape Epic approached the W2W Directors with an offer to purchase the FNB Wines2Whales. As part of the sales agreement both Hendrico and Johan will remain with the Cape Epic team to ensure that the ethos and DNA of the FNB Wines2Whales stays intact.
The 2019 FNB Wines2Whales edition will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the event with the final finish-line at the Marine Hotel in Hermanus, where the ‘whales’ will welcome these riders after their three day endeavour. The 3 different events were renamed to Chardonnay, Pinotage and the Shiraz to place the emphasis on the “wines” character of the W2W. The Chardonnay now caters for the professional women, to ensure that they receive similar exposure and greater coverage during the event.
“The future challenge is to keep improving the FNB Wines2Whales by maintaining the vibe and fun component of the event. This will require our ongoing and best creativity, organization and team work,” Johan concludes.
Photo Credit: Cherie Vale, Ewald Sadie & Oakpics.com