Cape Town - Defending champion Chris Wolhuter will line up for his title defence at the Liberty Winelands MTB Encounter with a new team-mate.
The 27-year-old, who won the inaugural event alongside Jarryd Haley, will be joining forces with Craig Boyes in the three-day race that starts at Coetzenburg on Friday.
Wolhuter, who launched the Imbuko-Freewheel Cycology professional team this year, first partnered with Boyes at this year’s Cape Epic.
“We have since formed a good bond and will be doing some more races together,” said the Capetonian, who grew up in Pietermaritzburg.
He left his rivals in no doubt of their intentions after his success a year ago.
“Yes, of course, we will be going for the win. We had a good Epic and the focus since then has been on recovery and sharpening up for Winelands.”
Wolhuter said they had decided on a conservative strategy for the race.
“We will focus on one stage at a time, aiming to capitalise where we can, but also bearing in mind that it is a three-day event and that we need to conserve energy where we can.”
Having featured on several podiums this year already, he said he was satisfied with their form going into the weekend.
“At the GR300, Craig won the first and second stages, but unfortunately punctured on the final day to finish third in the general classification,” said Wolhuter, who was runner-up after placing second on the final stage.
The duo also had a solid Cape Epic where they finished fourth in the fight for the African jersey. Last weekend Wolhuter proved that he was peaking at the right time when he placed third in the 99er MTB Challenge.
After Winelands, they will be racing in a number of multistage events, including the Mauritius Tour Beachcomber and the PwC Great Zuurberg Trek, where Wolhuter finished runner-up alongside Andrew Hill last year.
“These are all special events in their own right and I am looking forward to each,” he said.
The Winelands race offers a boutique experience for competitors, an innovation Wolhuter endorsed.
“I think it certainly caters for a certain type of rider and, given the number of stage races on the calendar, each has to try and differentiate itself.
“This one certainly does that and we enjoy that aspect.”
Wolhuter said the route took in some fantastic trails in and around the Cape Winelands and for him the Skyfall and Welvanpas trails were the highlights.
Riders will face 54km with a total ascent of 1 500m between Coetzenburg and Le Franschhoek Hotel outside Franschhoek on day one.
Day two features 60km of trails with 1 300m of climbing to Kleine Valleij and the last day is a round trip of 48km with 1 100m of climbing back to Kleine Valleij.
A scene from the inaugural Liberty Winelands MTB
Encounter (Photo: Ewald Sadie)