The Old Mutual Joberg2C – Ride the Beloved Country
It’s all in the name – this event takes participants from Heidelberg (just South of Johannesburg) on the Highveld, through the Free State, down into Natal and finishes on the beach at Scottburgh with Indian Ocean waves crashing in the background. The race slogan is as significant as the name with this event definitely focused on the experience along the way. Don’t get us wrong – there is a very definite racing element, but it is confined to the hours spent on the bike with everything else focussed on this unique journey.
In keeping with their theme, Joberg2C has always made the first stage a neutral day with everyone getting the same time affording all the opportunity to appreciate the scenery while getting to know one another en route. This year the final stage was also neutral and aptly named a champagne stage where riders could soak up the final day atmosphere after a concluding prize giving the night before which was longer for some than for others regardless of results…
Stages 2 to 8 were the ‘racing stages’ where we battled for stage and overall honours. Barring the Elite Men’s field, the Mixed Category was by far the strongest category assembled. This is fantastic as it grows a significant facet of the sport by allowing ladies a less intimidating entry point into mountain bike racing.
Being a GPS navigated event, Joberg2C is a perfect opportunity to showcase our fantastic Garmin equipment with the Garmin EDGE 1000 literally taking centre stage. With its big screen and GPS accuracy we bombed along on the stages safe in the knowledge that a simple glance at our handlebars was all that was needed to keep us on track.
Even with a neutral stage to start and finish with, nine days and 900km on a mountain bike takes its toll. We were really lucky with the weather which made our journey easier, but this is how Joberg2C 2017 unfolded:
Stage 1 Heidelberg (Karan Beef) to Frankfort School (116km, 862m ascent)
Despite being neutral this was a long day in the saddle with the boat crossing of the Vaal Dam being a particularly fun innovation along the way. Good thing we weren’t racing as someone might have been drowned in a stampede 😉
Stage 2 Frankfort School to Reitz Show Grounds (93km, 1001m ascent)
Quoting the Joberg2C website: “This is where racing begins for some and the journey continues for most”. This stage went deep into rural Free State via sections of singletrack divided by stretches of district road and finished with the fun Boerbull Descent leading to the Husky Romi Wolf Sanctuary where you didn’t want to get left behind…
Stage 3 Reitz Show Grounds to Sterkfontein Dam (122km, 1188m ascent)
This was another long stage where the Jabulani singletrack came at just the right time to break the monotony of district road riding. The stage finish up and over Mount Paul was as hard as it was spectacular with views of Sterkfontein Dam and the Drakensberg Mountains signalling the stage finish.
Stage 4 Sterkfontein Dam to Emseni Camp (93km, 1100m)
This was the day we left the mielie (maize) fields behind and descended off the escarpment into Natal Bushveld, home of the Berg&Bush event. The iconic Great Wall my China, Solly’s Great Traverse and Bezuidenhout’s Pass set the tone for the day with the ‘Long Drop’ trail putting the cherry on top as we descended to the Emseni with a smile.
Stage 5 Emseni Camp to Clifton Nottingham Road (123km, 1900m ascent)
This was a leg breaker with huge distance and lots of climbing to be conquered after the halfway stage of the event. With 3 distinct characteristics we raced from the Natal Bushveld, skirted the Maloti Mountains and finally on to the dairy farmlands and Clifton School for some hard earned rest.
Stage 6 Clifton Nottingham Road to Glencairn Farm at Sani Pass Road (98km, 1821m ascent)
After a welcome start on tar roads we were straight at it up Gumtree climb which sorted the men from the boys. A surprisingly hard day made harder by the Slow Poison climb, but made bearable by spectacular scenery and the descents down Harrison’s pass and Rock and Roll midway through the stage as well as SO Sappi and Never Ender close to the finish.
Stage 7 Glencairn Farm to MacKenzie Club (82km, 1000m ascent)
This stage is famous as it’s also the first day of the Sani2C event – one of the longest standing stage races in South Africa. A fast flowing day punctuated by well established singletrack , floating bridges and purpose built rest camps.
Stage 8 MacKenzie Club to Jolivet Farm (96km, 1521m ascent)
This was the final racing stage and what a tough way to end the race albeit not the journey. The spectacular descent into the Umkomaas was as good as it gets and we made the most of it before riding next to the mighty Umkomaas river and finally up the new ‘Iconic climb’ to get back to the high country where the finish awaited.
After 7 days of racing there was no doubt about the results. The mixed teams were ridiculously consistent finishing in their respective positions daily, making the final overall result a direct reflection of the daily results. Darren and Candice Lill (Dormakaba) retained their title from last year with Grant Usher and Amy Macdougall finishing in 2nd. Johann Labuschagne and Catherine Williamson edged us out for 3rd, but to put matters in perspective all the mixed teams finished in the top 17 overall and top 13 overall results if you exclude solo riders. In a field of almost 400 teams that takes some doing!
Stage 9 Jolivet to Scottburgh The Old Mutual Wealth “Champagne Stage” (84km, 854m ascent)
Another neutral stage and an opportunity to spin out the legs, meet those we hadn’t met yet and enjoy the scenery while riding with other mountain bikers. This initiative was a hit with most riders and sure to become a favourite way to conclude this fantastic journey.
Although we only really got to enjoy them on the first and last stages, the waterpoints along the way were fantastic. They seemed to be opportunities for the locals to spoil the Joberg2C riders, each of them trying to outdo the others with us being the beneficiaries. On that note it was fantastic to see how land owners embraced the event, allowing us access to remote areas often by trails specifically built and maintained for this event. It is a credit to organizers and their vision that the local communities got so involved making the experience truly unique.
Craig Wapnick, Gary Green and Glen Haw’s vision with this event was to provide a journey where the destination is less important than the experience along the way and boy did they succeed! It was a true privilege to be part of this journey made exceptional by the passion of all those involved in bringing it to us and Team Garmin MTB is already making plans to be back next year. After all, it’s good to be reminded why we started to ride our mountain bikes in the first place!