Race Report: @bergandbush Descent – Descending into (MTB) heaven

This past weekend we headed to the Drakensberg foothills for the 13th edition of the Berg&Bush MTB stage race. As with Mankele 3 Towers last weekend an event that has been around this long is doing a few things right. ‘Farmer Gary Green’, his family and his management team put together a stunning event combining a fun route with a spectacular venue to deliver one of the best events around.

We had tailored our training program to target both 3 Towers and Berg&Bush, but fate had different ideas. Last weekend our ‘master plan’ was derailed by a mechanical and this weekend both of us picked up a head cold which made things tricky. We weren’t about to let fate have things all her own way and with a cough, a splutter and eternal hope we lined up for the 3 day adventure.

Stage 1 is a transitional stage from Sterkfontein dam to Emseni camp in the Natal Bushveld where the remainder of the event was hosted on the banks of the mighty Tugela River. The drop from Oliviershoek pass (1730m above sea level) down the Drakensberg escarpment via Solly’s Folly is one of the iconic trails in South African mountain biking. Once at the bottom the real work started as we made our way over the remainder of the 95km stage. Race batching worked perfectly for us as we spent most of the day in the company of another Mixed Team of Theresa Ralph and Tom Wetton. Close to the finish we made our move and opened a small gap to win the stage and take the lead over our friendly rivals setting up a good natured battle for the rest of the weekend.

Our plan on stage 2 was to be conservative, but in keeping with our recent trend that strategy went out the window early on! Countering a move from Theresa and Tom we found ourselves off the front very early and decided to roll with it. We kept our momentum really well throughout the rolling 60km stage taking a 2nd stage win and extending our lead as we raced over the engaging Bushveld singletrack.

Stage 3 was short and (very) sharp featuring the Spioenkop climb with pitches up to 25%. After battling a bit on the opening flat part we slowly found our rhythm to take another stage win along with the overall honours.

Given our profession, scoring a good result has its obvious merit but more than that it felt like repaying the event and its people for their hospitality and effort. Their kind spirit permeates through everything and everyone at the event. Sure, there is some rivalry but good sportsmanship and friendliness is valued far more than any sporting victory. Our kind of race then!