When the Voice of Cycling, Phil Liggett, says the Fairbairn Capital/Old Mutual joBerg2c is taking mountain biking back to grass roots, he means it – quite literally.
The nine-day, 900-kilometre escapade across South Africa that starts on Friday, April 29, sees organisers and farmers spending months carefully crafting hand-made single track to create a truly unique off-road experience.
“The route is king,” says organiser Craig Wapnick, who together with farmers Gary Green and Glen Haw form the brains trust behind the race. The route uses sections of Green’s FedGroup Berg and Bush and the last three days are the same as Haw’s Subaru sani2c.
“Eighty percent goes through private farms and game reserves and cannot be ridden at any other time,” says Wapnick.
According to Wapnick, the route is a combination of single track, what he calls “Subaru” track, rural farm roads and a smattering of district roads.
“Our aim is to include more single track each year. We have around 30 kilometres of new trail on the first three days alone.”
Now in its second year, the journey starts from Heidelberg (south of Johannesburg) and runs through the north-eastern Free State, down the escarpment into KwaZulu-Natal, along the foothills of the Drakensberg and finally to the coastal town of Scottburgh via the Umkomaas valley.
Around 220 two-man teams will attempt the feat. “For some it’s a race, for others a ride, but for all it’s a massive challenge,” says Wapnick.
“We create fast-flowing single track rather than overly technical routes so that riders of all levels can enjoy the thrill of bombing down awesome sections according to their ability.”
Wapnick says the race is “all about the gees” and putting smiles on riders’ faces, even if these eventually turn to grimaces.
“Make no mistake, the Fairbairn Capital/Old Mutual joBerg2c is flippin’ tough,” says Wapnick. “Ask anyone who rode last year.
“But with great riding you are not aware of the massive distances until you apply your bum cream in the evening.”
Wapnick says comparisons between the race and the Absa Cape Epic are inevitable, but he steadfastly refuses to enter the fray. “If there are differences, and I’m sure there are, we will leave the debates and conclusions to those who have had the privilege of riding both.”
In Liggett’s opinion, the two races serve a completely different purpose. “The Cape Epic has established itself as, arguably, the biggest challenge of all.
“Although the physical challenges are similar, the joBerg2c is (I hope) more relaxed. It’s not quite so much about winning, but about finishing.”
Liggett believes that, thanks to a more relaxed elimination time, the race has “filled an important gap” by allowing social riders to experience top multistage competition usually reserved for professionals.
The timing of this year’s race, just clear of the European spring classics, has allowed Liggett to put his money where his mouth is – he has signed up for the first five days before having to jet back to Britain for standing commitments.
“Of course, I’m frightened to death but looking forward to seeing some of the nicest parts of South Africa from within the heart of the countryside. For me, the challenge will be to complete each day with some energy left for the evenings to have some fun!”
The sense of camaraderie that this journey creates between riders is something that crops up time and again. “Last year I never heard any complaints, even on the wet days,” says Liggett.
“Everybody who takes part appreciates the work and friendship that has blended into a bond to make it a very special nine days. I cannot think of a similar race anywhere in the world.”
Wapnick says the support and commitment from the farmers along the route are crucial to the event’s success. “Not only do these legends of our land let us through their farms, they also assist us with machinery and time.”
He says the farmers are motivated to help because their communities benefit – the organisers pay everyone who works on the event. “Our formula is not about charity but rather about hard work for big rewards.”
The reward for riders at the end of this remarkable journey is the sense of accomplishment that comes from rising to a challenge beyond their daily lives, says Wapnick. “Nine days and 900 kilometres is a huge commitment.
“But they’ll keep coming back for more as long as the villages continue to feed them great farm food, provide them with hot showers and as long as we create more and more single track.”
Visit www.joberg2c.co.za, follow joberg2c_journo on Twitter or join the Facebook group.
- Mclean Tips Knox and Niyonshuti for joBerg2c (myza.co.za)
- Cycling: Swiss leads climb to victory in cape mountain classic (independent.co.uk)