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