Old Mutual Joberg2C, 9Days, 910km
Stage 1 (non-racing) Karan Beef, Heidelberg–Frankfort – 113km, 917m
This definitely a unique way in which to start a bike race, with a neutral stage, where we could ride our own pace and mingle with average weekend warriors. It was still no gimme at 113km and with the sudden rise up to altitude and the lack of post Epic training, I was having myself a little fright of what lay ahead. Dave seemed to be fine, and the stage highlights were crossing the Val River in one of the many dragon boats that we had to paddle across. Four and half-hours later we arrived at the finish and began to setup our camper and home for the next 8nights. Along with our Hyundai H1, trailer, Swen and Nicoles tents, we would have a cozy campsite awaiting us every day.
Stage 2 Frankfort–Reitz – 93km, 1030m
Not quite sure what prompted us to do what we did on this stage, but after around 15km into the race, we some fast and fun Freestate singletrack. Dave and I came out with Stewart and Rossouw of Fedgroup, and soon found ourselves with a small gap on the rest of the field. Rossouw had dropped off the pace, and Dave and I continued on our own, building ourselves a lead of around a minute. This was not easy to maintain as four teams were pursuing us, and they would obviously roll faster than us on the big district roads. Un-sure how my legs would survive this effort, I was pleasantly surprised when we were able to hold on to take the first stage by around 40seconds. Not an easy way to win, but definitely a rewarding one.
Stage 3 Reitz–Sterkfontein Dam – 125km, 1064m
Again we started the stage with perfect weather, and how recovery had been made easy with the support of our staff. We rolled out easy and I was convinced that today I would spare as much energy as possible and just follow the wheels for what would be my longest ride in a month.
The bunch stayed together until around 80km, when the pace started heating up, and soon, it was only Team RE-CM, Fedgroup and ourselves left. Dave and I turned on the gas again around the 100km mark, but this stage looked set to finish in a sprint. It was a magnificent site rolling up to the Sterkfontein Dam, and we were at the disadvantage of not knowing how the finish worked, having not ridden the race the previous year. I looked ahead and saw a fairly subtle climb, followed by some rough grass tracks to the finish, and knew that our Scott Spark’s would be the biggest advantage over the rest. I went hard up the drag, followed by RE-CM, and straight into the rough track towards the finish. Unfortunately through the rough bit, Neil Macdonald got his chain jammed and Dave and I were able to finish ahead of Fedgroup for the win, and gain another half a minute or so.
Stage 4 Sterkfontein Dam–Winterton – 124km, 1937m
This had to be one of the most phenomenal days I’ve had on a mountain bike in my career. Not in terms of how I felt, but for the trails that Craig, Gary and Glen and found to drop us off the Escarpment and down towards the Berg. Incredible fast flowing trails, with panoramic views that showcase our country to the max. The day was long, and heating up fast. Again we had so much singletrack to digest, that the long piece after Spieonkop, you battled to be able to get your hands off the bars to eat, and could feel fatigue creeping in. Fedgroup made a break at the final feed zone and river crossing, and Dave and I responded quickly to get onto their wheels, and for the remainder of the stage, the last 20km, just followed them, allowing them to do all the work as we got a ‘free’ ride to the finish. They managed to take the stage in the sprint, but I was content to see the end of this long and challenging stage. Dave also earned more respect for some exceptional downhill skills displayed, too much fun.
Stage 5 Winterton–Kamberg – 102km, 1625m
The organizers varied the route up, and after all the technical riding of the previous day, todays stage ran along the foothills of the Berg, and was absolutely beautiful. Only downside was the start of a lot more climbing. Although this suited us, we managed to ride a gap into the field up the biggest climb, only to be joined by Team RE-CM. Fedgroups Rossouw was suffering from illness and the opportunity for us to ride away with RE-CM would mean that we extended our overall lead as Fedgroup were second on general classification. So again, the final 20km we benefited from a ‘free’ ride as the boys in black and yellow were also trying consolidate their overall place and move up into second. The finish was quite tight and narrow and they did earn a great stage win, just ahead of us. However there would be a shuffle on the overall placing behind us. Best part of the day, rolling up to our camper village, which had now grown to include two other teams and the festive vibe within our campsite, was full of good humor, war stories and of course red wine.
Stage 6 Kamberg–Hazeldene Farm – 93.7km, 1982m
The serious climbing was about to begin, and we took full advantage of this stage and put the first bit of serious time into our competition. We managed to ride away on one of the many long climbs early on in the stage, and again spent the remainder of the day alone and at the front of the race. Our bikes were running like machines thanks to the work Swen was doing on them daily, and likewise were our bodies from Nicole. She had adopted the job of mother to us and not only looked after our bodies, but also nutrition, washing and cleaning. The scenery remained breathtaking and a tough day was rewarded with a beautiful campsite just outside Underberg. We extended our overall lead to around nine minutes, which is still not much in this sport, as we know. You couldn’t help but feel the Midlands hospitality in the air, and finally we would be onto familiar tracks. Bring on the Sani routes!
Stage 7 Hazeldene Farm–MacKenzie Club – 86km, 1110m
Effectively this was stage one of the Sani2C, a race I know only too well. This time however, the weather was perfect and the trails were dry and fast. We knew not to waste any energy on the stage, and RE-CM, Brandon Stewart and ourselves rode most of the day at the front of the race, with only a slight gap over Dave Morrisson and Louise Knipe of Team Itec-Connect. They did however latch on to us in the final 10km, just in time for the usual sprint up the final climb to Mackenzie Club. Dave and I were up for the sprint, and just when we were about to have dig, Neil Macdonald opened up the taps, and we simply followed. But he had gone about 100m too early and his teammate, Waylon Woolcock was able to come past him, with Dave and myself on is wheel. Neil was just off the back of us and tis meant we had taken our fourth stage win, and probably our first in a sprint. Team Itec-Connect had now moved up into third spot overall, but the overall race looked set between Nedbank 360life and RE-CM.
Stage 8 MacKenzie Club–Jolivet – 97km, 2230m
Probably the ‘queen’ stage of the event, with the incredible descend down into the Umko Valley, followed by the notorious climbing out, this stage was always one that favored us. However it would be with mixed emotions as the passing away of a good friend and ex teammate the day before. We rode to his memory, and in a way, gave us the motivation to dig a little deeper than we needed to. Again Brandon followed us for company and we set a great tempo ride from the valley floor all the way to the finish. Our Maxxis tires were rolling fast, and had not even come close to letting us down through the various rough and rugged terrain. We took the stage, extended our overall time, and dedicated it to our friend, JVH.
Stage 9 Jolivet–Scottburgh – 75km, 1235m
75km was all that remained between the Joberg2C Massi-Fergusson Tractor Trophy and us. And this time we were adamant to follow the wheels and not miss any turns. In fact this had become the talk of the race village and we were the brunt of many jokes the evening before. RE-CM hungry for a final stage win put all the effort in, and we were content to follow them all the way down onto the beach in Scottburgh, where they rode a small gap into us to take the final stage. Dave and I could enjoy our ride up to the finish, having conquered the Joberg2C for 2012, with a flawless ride and no hassles.
I have to say that the race far exceeded my expectations and has quickly become my favorite event on the calendar, and one that I’d recommend to any budding stage race rider. Chapeau to Glen, Wappo, Gary and their crew for a fantastic nine days of riding.
Next race will be the fifth leg of the MTN Ultra Marathon series in Mabalingwe, and will be an important one as we just missed out on Clarens, which cashed with Joberg2C.
1st Evans/George (Team Nedbank 360life) 32hrs27
2nd Macdonald/Woolcock (Team RE-CM) 32hrs44
3rd Morrison/Knipe (Itec-Connect) 33hrs27