It’s been a long wait, but the Whitehaven GrapeRide is about to become a reality.
The iconic cycling event, which started in 2005 with 698 participants, was postponed last year when Covid decimated the sporting landscape, 2020 supposed to be the first year of involvement for new sponsor Whitehaven Wines.
However, on Saturday, cyclists from throughout the country will put a two-year hiatus behind them as they again take the opportunity to test their fitness and stretch their legs amid world-class scenery.
Previously Forrest Wines had sponsored the annual event which, at its peak, attracted over 2500 riders.
Although numbers this year will be well below that figure, organiser Duncan Mackenzie is relieved to get the event back up and running and expects well over 1100 riders to line up.
“The event is on the rise again with more entries than the pre-Covid 2019 event and thanks to the travel bubble we’re preparing to welcome some of our Aussie mates in the field as well,” he said.
“Whitehaven have been outstanding in their support of the event through lockdown and beyond. We’re looking forward to the first GrapeRide Kids ride (still places available) with special guest Olympic track cyclist Olivia Podmore who will be autographing the event T-shirts for the kids taking part.”
Mackenzie says the commitment award for 2021 probably goes to former Canterbury rider Paul Kircher who has just come out of two weeks MIQ following his return from Australia to take part in the ride.
“I had a recent reality check when I realised that we’re now attracting riders who weren’t even born when the first GrapeRide took place in 2005.”
A major change to the course from previous years is the situation of the start/finish line. Riders will begin and end their races at the Vines Village complex on Rapaura Rd. They previously finished at Forrest Estate Wines.
The GrapeRide once more offers a variety of courses from the Classic GrapeRide (101km), to the Magnum (202km), the Taster (42km) plus short (21km) and long (42km) mountainbike courses.
The Magnum field leave at 6am, with the remainder of the riders setting off from 8am. A kids race is also on offer this year, beginning at 1.30pm. Registration takes place at the Vines Village from 10am Friday. E-bikes are welcome in all categories except the Magnum.
The GrapeRide has long been touted as a family affair, offering opportunities for riders of all ages and capabilities to participate.
For Marlborough’s Pinheiro family, Saturday provides a chance for the whole clan to mount up.
Marcello Pinheiro, Paula Saad and their children Arthur (9) and Isadora (7) will all tackle the event for the first time.
Marcello, an employee of main sponsor Whitehaven Wines, is not expecting to break any records when he tackles the 42km Taster, but the 38-year-old, originally from Brazil, relishes the chance to get on board.
“It’s going to be awesome. It will be the first time that we are all going to be doing some sort of race. Not that we are there to win, especially after harvest … but we just want to enjoy the views, the outdoors.
“Paula and I are going to be doing the 42km race together and hopefully finish before the kids race so we can do that with them as well. Just to add support.”
Marcello, who is a regular mountain biker on the Wither Hills and a futsal player, said the fact the event was scheduled for post-harvest played a big part in his ability to participate.
He also said the fact his employer was sponsoring the event was a motivating factor.
“A hundred percent. With the company supporting it, providing the opportunity, why not [take part]?
“You have got to make the most of it. Good experiences and good memories, that’s what it’s all about.”
CAPTION: Marcello Pinheiro, Paula Saad and their children Arthur (9) and Isadora (7) are set to tackle the Whitehaven GrapeRide for the first time on Saturday. Photo supplied.