From three months of win­ter train­ing to the sugar-cane fields, tough climbs, gnarly de­scents and ocean views of South Africa

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Me­lanie Cham­bers pho­tos by Em Gat­land

Just be­lieve in your­self,” said a rider be­hind me. Could he see my shak­ing legs? Feel my pound­ing heart? Sense my fear? It was on a steep moun­tain slope, which, from above, must look like Zorro had cut the switch­backs. From the cor­ner of my eye, I saw a woman walk­ing. “This is be­yond me,” she said. With a new­found feel­ing of supreme kick-ass­ness, I con­tin­ued.

Be­lieve in your­self. With this in mind, I started flow­ing through the cor­ners, aim­ing the front wheel with con­fi­dence, let­ting the brakes go – find­ing my groove. Fi­nally reach­ing the bot­tom, un­clip­ping while my leg was still shak­ing, I searched for the rider be­hind me. Gone. He’ll never know how much he helped me. Farther down the rocky de­scent to the gravel road, my part­ner in life and cy­cling, Paul, was wait­ing for me with a group of lo­cal school kids – all of them jump­ing and cheer­ing me on. As I posed for a picture, the six days I had spent on my bike felt like a life­time of vi­gnettes and ad­ven­tures.

There were three more days of the Joberg2c moun­tain bike stage race, which ran for an eighth time this past April. Those three days would take us to the In­dian Ocean, south of Dur­ban, 900 km away from our start south­west of Jo­han­nes­burg.

I dis­cov­ered Joberg2c while rid­ing my first ever stage race, Epic Is­rael, in 2016. “If you liked three days, you’ll love nine,” said Ico Schutte, a South African moun­tain biker and pad­dler.

In De­cem­ber, I con­tacted Craig Wap­nick, Joberg2c

or­ga­nizer. “Howzit, Me­lanie?” said Wappo, as he’s known in the lo­cal rid­ing com­mu­nity. “Do you want to race or ride?” This is an im­por­tant ques­tion for Joberg2c. Of the 800 rid­ers, 80 per cent ride. “Don’t get me wrong, you still have to train damn hard, but you don’t want to miss out on the scenery.”

I asked Paul Rei­nis to be my part­ner. Paul is a racer, through and through, with a com­pet­i­tive spirit. Could he just ride and not race ahead? Some­times at home on the trail, if I’m slow­ing him down, he’ll ask: “Are you feel­ing OK?” I’m warm­ing up, damn it. Would our re­la­tion­ship sur­vive th­ese nine days?

South Africa has about 50 moun­tain bike stage races an­nu­ally. Still, Joberg2c holds a spe­cial place in the coun­try’s rac­ing canon and the in­ter­na­tional cir­cuit: “It is a jour­ney,” said Wap­nick. Track­ing through pri­vate land most trav­ellers won’t see, it’s the long­est of SA’S stage races: “It’s an in­cred­i­ble and un­be­liev­able way to ex­pe­ri­ence South Africa on a moun­tain bike.”

It’s not a tech­ni­cal race like BC Bike Race, nor is it a strictly com­pet­i­tive race like the Cape Epic. “We’re not try­ing to break peo­ple, we’re try­ing to up­lift them,” said Wap­nick. Rid­ers will ex­pe­ri­ence var­i­ous ter­rain from the rolling flat hills of the Free State prov­ince to the lush green area of the Kwazulu-na­tal.

First run in 2010, Joberg2c is a com­bi­na­tion of two pop­u­lar stages races: Berg & Bush, by farmer Gary Green, and the Sani2c races by dairy farmer Glen Haw. Haw pitched the idea of a nine-day race to Green, which Green got be­hind. Haw also brought his old friend Wap­nick on-board to help. The trio cre­ated Joberg2c.

Through­out Joberg2c, com­mu­ni­ties, schools and farm­ers host the wa­ter sta­tions and nightly tent vil­lages with lav­ish, un­lim­ited meals, bike wash­ing, de­vice charg­ing sta­tions, mu­sic and ex­cel­lent cof­fee. “Our gov­ern­ment doesn’t sup­port th­ese com­mu­ni­ties enough so they use the race as a fundraiser,” Wap­nick said.

In Jan­uary, I got in touch with Melinda Davie, the cre­ator of The Wild Bet­tys (my Toronto club) and Joberg2c par­tic­i­pant: “There re­ally isn’t a mo­ment when you’re not ped­alling. It’s non-stop.” With only three months to pre­pare, I was pet­ri­fied.

How to get enough mileage dur­ing a slushy win­ter? Af­ter much nag­ging, my part­ner got me to work ef­fec­tively with Suf­fer­fest train­ing videos in­stead of lol­ly­gag­ging on the trainer while watch­ing Co­nan­the­bar­bar­ian movies. Paul

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