Go ride, go explore, go Old Mutual go2berg…
South Africa’s newest mountain bike stage race is a six-day journey from the Free State to the Central Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal that showcases the very best of the country and its people, brought to you by Old Mutual and some legendary race fellas.
For just over a decade, the joberg2c provided adventurous mountain bikers with a true journey across South Africa.
Starting in Frankfort in the Free State and ending in Scottburgh in KwaZulu-Natal – with stops at Reitz, Sterkfontein Dam, Winterton, Nottingham Road, Underberg and Ixopo along the way – the nine-day ride was a truly remarkable tour-by-bike through some of South Africa’s most dramatic landscapes.
All good things – rather than coming to an end – must get reinvented though. And after a final joberg2c in 2022, the event reemerged in 2023 as the Old Mutual go2berg with joberg2c partners Craig Wapnick and Gary Green remaining at the helm of the new six-day event (seven days if you include the ‘just-for-fun’ Prologue that takes place the day before the journey-proper begins).
Other characteristics from joberg2c remain too – such as visiting the towns of Frankfort and Reitz, riding towards Sterkfontein Dam, the sublime singletrack along the Escarpment before the ride descends into KwaZulu-Natal, the overwhelmingly abundant ride refreshment tables, and the insistence from Wapnick and Green that the go2berg is a mountain bike tour for adventurous souls.
There is a solo race element, which was well-attended this year by South Africa’s top riders and saw Phil Buys and Danielle Strydom ride off with the men’s and women’s titles respectively, but on the whole, the go2berg is about visiting the lesser-seen but no less impressive sights of South Africa’s picturesque countryside.
Cut-offs, if any, are generous, and there is always a helping hand along the way to make sure participants get from A to B with maximum smiles for their miles.
With years of planning the joberg2c behind them – as well as Gary Green’s vast experience as the founder and organiser of the ever-popular Berg & Bush – the 2023 go2berg was an inaugural event minus the first-event jitters.
Wapnick, ever eager to please his riders, was slightly nervous but mostly emotional on the first-night ride briefing, calling those in attendance both pioneers and guinea pigs for the route in the same breath. He wanted everyone to have a great time but was also eager for feedback on his new baby.
His anxiety, however, was unnecessary. From free Seattle coffee on arrival (and for the duration of the event) to the craft beers and gins of Nottingham Road Brewery (sadly, for one’s own account) to the sumptuous feasts prepared every night by the local communities along the route, to the 530km of riding itself, the 2023 go2berg was a roaring success.
The route went as follows: a 20km prologue in Frankfort, Day 1 Frankfort to Reitz, Day 2 Reitz to Clarens, Day 3 Clarens to Sterkfontein Dam, Day 4 Sterkfontein Dam to Em’seni (home of the Berg & Bush), Day 5 Best of the Berg & Bush Trails loop, and Day 6 Em’seni to Champagne Sports Resort. In a fresh twist, the night in Clarens was spent at the 4-star Protea Hotel, while the tents at Em’seni, complete with cots, bedding, blankets, and electricity were the height of indulgent safari luxury.
Old Mutual go2berg: The six-day sweet spot
The bulk of the ride took the field along quiet district roads, with singletrack sections packed into Days 3, 4, and 5.
For those riders looking to test their downhill skills or refine their Nino Schurter tribute acts, this is probably not the ride for you – although the riding on Days 4 and 5 does feature some of the finest singletrack trails in the country.
The go2berg is first and foremost a tour and riders should arrive with the mindset of the tourist. Everything is timed, so you can race the clock, yourself or your friends, but the real beauty comes from cruising along, stopping at the refreshment tables (braaibroodjies! Boerie rolls! S’mores! Sweets, cakes, fresh pancakes and more!) and generally embracing a ‘going somewhere slowly’ mindset.
I was a big fan of the joberg2c, completing six, but the nine-day task was always very demanding – from a physical effort, time away, and travel point of view.
The six days of the go2berg is probably the sweet spot for the rider looking for a new challenge beyond the three-day stage race but not wanting to commit six months of their life training for an untamed mountain bike event.
Highlights – for me at least – of this first go2berg were many, but what stood out was the ride towards Clarens, with the gorgeous sandstone cliffs looming ever larger as you got closer to the town.
Riding from Clarens to Sterkfontein Dam was also an exceptional day – a scenic tour of the countryside ending with a steep climb up a koppie (named Mt Paul) that offered uninterrupted views of the dam before descending down 4km of jaw-dropping singletrack.
As with joberg2c and Berg & Bush, the ride from Sterkfontein to Em’seni (near Winterton) ranks as one of the best days you’ll ever have on a bike. Just when you think you’re done for the day, Wapnick and Green throw more singletrack at you. You ride, bounce, rock, rattle and roll for 90km – the day alone is a bucket list route for anyone with a knobbly-tyre bike.
But perhaps the best innovation is the final day ride from Em’seni to Champagne Sports Resort. The route itself is pleasingly mellow, but the finale takes you up a long, winding hill with ever-improving views of the Drakensberg before ending on the lush, green lawns of Champagne Sports. And then, unlike other events where the mad rush to pack and leave begins, you simply do nothing. An eager scholar whisks your bike away to the bike wash, while you lie on the grass with a burger and ice-cold beer pondering the journey you’ve just completed.
The day eventually ends with a closing function where Wapnick, increasingly more jubilant as the night progresses, dishes out awards to just about everyone in attendance. A raucous celebration in the Cathkin Arms pub and a night spent in the cosy rooms of the resort ties it all up. Bliss. Absolute biking bliss.
Are you ready for the 2024 go2berg? Head over HERE for all the details.