Rider Blog: Three Rides For One At joBerg2c
There are many ways to approach the nine-day Old Mutual joBerg2c mountain bike race: fit, unfit, cooked, under-cooked, worried or relaxed. Some people like to look at the bigger picture, while others break it down into daily chunks – wisely, because nine days is a long time on the bike.
But maybe the best way to break up South Africa’s longest MTB stage race is to look at the event as three events for the price of one. In South African stage racing, we love a three-day race, so the joBerg2c provides the perfect opportunity to tackle three races in a row. And the best part is that each three-day segment is completely different from the other.
The first three days – which riders completed on Sunday afternoon – started in Heidelberg last Friday. It takes rides on a tour of the Free State, stopping in at Frankfort and Reitz, culminating at the immense Sterkfontein Dam. The three days are generally flat, with district roads helping to chew up the kilometres (and in turn helping the riders burn up calories so they can chew on the koeksisters).
The challenge of days 1, 2 and 3 comes in the form of the unrelenting pedalling. For almost three days there is no respite, as legs spin like the old steel windmills dotted around the area.
Highlights of the first three days include riding along the vast Vaal River on day 1, the perfectly manicured Boerbull Descent on day 2, and the Mount Paul descent on day three followed by the finish along the Sterkfontein Dam wall. At three kilometres long, it’s apparently one of the longest “earth” dam walls in the world. And boy, does it feel damn long with 120km in the legs.
To get the most out of the joBerg2c, you need to ride with a good teammate, or even a crew.
Thankfully this year there are characters in abundance – like Dr Chris, or Womble, a paediatric surgeon who is riding in aid Surgeons For Little Lives. The Surgeons For Little Lives ride every year and raise funds for very necessary equipment and various upliftments at Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto. Womble keeps mostly to himself on the rides, but bursts into life on the approach to the water points, as he can smell a wine gum from 20km. After that brief flurry of excitement, he resumes his normal position, which is doggedly cycling to the next wine gum.
Then there’s Des, or Des-troyer, who mutters incessantly about his tender rear end, vowing never to return to the event, only to pop up every year just to ride over people on the aforementioned descents – or should that be DEScents? Des is fond of the boerewors at the joBerg2c, so thankfully there’s enough here to feed an army – as long as they get to the water table before Des does.
Rox is an elegant lady saddled with inelegant riding chums, but she holds her own on the ups and downs, and is partial to a pint as soon as the bikes roll over the line. Her mantra is “water point to water point” and if you get in between her and the date balls, you’re liable to lose a finger. She’s also a farmer’s daughter, which is handy when you can’t tell a soya bean from a jelly bean, and she politely helps the city slickers understand the vagaries of farming.
Gerald is the old pro of the event, having participated since its inception nine years ago. In fact, Gerald has been cycling since the inception of the first bicycle. Gerald was once the premier cricket commentator in South Africa, so we have to stop a lot along the route to let him sign autographs. We also have to stop a lot to wait for him.
The good humour and joking are vital to get through the 900km stage race. So far, with 300km in the bank, the path to victory has been paved with laughs and good-natured ribbing. With six days and 600km to go, I suspect the crew will be suffering from sore faces as much as sore bottoms by the end.