Riders are three days into the 2017 Old Mutual joBerg2c and it’s fair to say that everyone has their race legs now – well, they better, because from day 5 the riding gets tough, with some big climbs, long days and technical riding to come. – By David Moseley
But first, by the time you’ll be reading this, comes day 4. This is a mountain bike stage that’s widely regarded as one of the greatest mountain biking experiences in the country.
From Sterkfontein Dam, where we finished the long 125km day 3 (I suppose there is no such thing as a short 125km stage), the joBerg2c moves off the escarpment and into KwaZulu-Natal.
The popular stage includes the well-known trail of Great Wall My China – the ride on the edge of the escarpment, which can be exhilarating or terrifying depending on your relationship with heights.
In 2017 riders will also be treated to a 20km single track finish. That’s right, the last 20km of day 4 is single track heaven; bumps and berms, all the way.
But before day 4 you get 1, 2 and 3. These are stages that look ‘easy’ on paper due to the fact there is very little climbing. But every year riders are shocked to discover just how difficult day 1’s ride from Frankfort to Reitz – a 116km stage with just 800m of climbing – can be.
Day 1 is also a neutral stage, and usually features a fun floating bridge at the Vaal crossing. However, this year, due to the high water levels, the bridge was nowhere to be seen, meaning riders were ferried across the vast Vaal in power boats.
After that there were long sandy stretches, thankfully these were broken up by long muddy stretches.
Many riders mentioned the sand during the course of the day, which is always a huge mistake as every seasoned stage racer knows that as soon as you say rain, mud or sand, the substance of your terror appears immediately before you.
Thankfully at the joBerg2c, that also works with the things you need; with riders desperately trudging through the mud their efforts and breathless whispers for sweet relief were rewarded at the third water point on day 1 with ice-cold beers being served on the banks of the Vaal. For those more focussed on results, the marshmallow and condensed milk was ideal race nutrition.
Day 2 and 3
The second stage of the joBerg2c – 93km from Frankfort to Reitz (these small always welcome riders with the warmest hospitality) – is also a flattie. The district roads take riders through the bread basket of the country, with approximately 2 million mielies being passed on the route. Eventually you can hear the mielies whispering to you. Or that might just be the solitude of the solo joBerg2c entrant.
The end result in Reitz is the world famous mielie brood made by the locals. Darren and Candice Lill, who are currently leading the mixed category, put their good form down to the incredible local delicacy.
This rider enjoyed a splendid day 2, but was perhaps over-excited by the prospect of the lamb spit waiting in Reitz.
After tearing up the day 2 route in a personal best time, day 3’s 125km ride from Reitz to Sterkfontein Dam dawned with a race strategy of attack, attack, attack.
Everything was going according to that plan until the 50km mark, when the extravagantly burned day 2 matches combined with poor day 3 race nutrition tactics to ignite an impressive blowout.
For 75km there was much cursing, whimpering and bargaining, all the way into a headwind, up the only climb of the day at Mt Paul (albeit 115km into the race) and along the damn Sterkfonteim Dam wall (still that pesky headwind). The race organisers also apparently added more stones onto the dam wall, making the last 6km stretch and interminably bouncy, bucking bronco ride home.
But at least tomorrow there is day 4, and the prospect of some sweet single track and a stunning race village on the banks of Tugela River.