Having a whale of a time

Dutchman Mitchel Steenman is 2m tall and weighs 97kg. His FNB Wines2Whales partner Matthijs Jasperse is no slip of a thing either at 90kg and 1,95m.

Together they qualify for the FNB Wines2Whales Pinotage Whale category – for teams in which each rider weighs over 90kg.

Cycling is, of course, a sport dominated by lighter people – the leading professionals tend to be on the diminutive side, which makes it all the easier to scale the many hills that are part of mountain biking. The Whale category was introduced by the FNB Wines2Whales to give the bigger competitors a race of their own.

Over the past three days Steenman and Jasperse (Team EkoPlaza Skadi) have dominated the Whale category – and even defied the accepted wisdom about large cyclists: they beat the next best similarly-sized competitors by more than two hours and also finished an impressive fourth overall in the whole Pinotage field.

The Lesotho pairing of Phetetso Monese and Malefetsane Lesofe (Team Sufferfest African Dream Team) negotiated the course fastest for their third win in three days at the Wines2Whales Pinotage. Photo: Nick Muzik

And not only are the lanky duo taking part in the Pinotage – they have already finished the Chardonnay event and on Friday will line up to take on the Shiraz. In other words, they are riding the Jeroboam – the three three-day events that make up the annual FNB Wines2Whales.

“Coming all the way from Europe we thought we should do at least six days, Then we saw that there was the Jeroboam and thought: ‘Why not?’,” said Steenman, a world-class rower who has represented Holland at three Olympic Games. He is hoping to again make it to the Games in Tokyo in two years time.

They are also super keen mountain bikers and have competed in the Cape Epic and the Cape Pioneer Trek together

“There is a great atmosphere at this event,” said Jasperse after today’s finish. “There are lots of celebrations at the  evening prize-giving and all kinds of competitors get attention (from the organisers).”

Back home in the Netherlands mountain biking is a relatively small sport while road riding is huge. There are also relatively few trails and, of course, not may hills.

Splashing along to the finish of the Wines2Whales Pinotage. Photo: Greg Beadle

But they have not found the climbing difficult, said Jasperse. “We find the descents more difficult, especially when there are lots of stones. We don’t get descents like that at home.”

The towering Steenman said he found “switchbacks to be really difficult” on the extra-large bike that he has to ride.

That said, they are obviously learning fast on the FNB Wines2Whales’s legendary trails: “It’s nice to ride so many singletracks,” said Jasperse.

Meanwhile, two riders from the opposite side of the size scale, the diminutive Lesotho pairing of Phetetso Monese and Malefetsane Lesofe (Team Sufferfest African Dream Team) negotiated the course fastest for their third win in three days and grabbed an 11-minute overall win.

Lesofe said they had “really enjoyed” their FNB Wines2Whales experience and are particularly impressed with the trails along the route.

They and many other riders also welcomed the race’s new finish venue on the Hermanus cliff top outside the iconic Marine Hotel.

And there in the sparkling sea to welcome the riders were several whales.