The first day of racing proper, and the promise of new singletrack sections throughout the 93km route had the start line pumping at 7am this morning. I’m pretty sure the enthusiasm for a pre-dawn wake-up and freezing start line will start to wane at some point… But for now, 500-plus riders fueled by free Seattle Coffee Company cappuccinos in the morning are screaming out behind the huge tractor that leads us out each morning.
Nic is providing a blow-by-blow account of the JoBerg2C. You can find his blog at nictwohands.wordpress.com and follow him on twitter. This blog post also appears here. You can also check out his accounts of getting to the race and stage 1.
I was stoked. My upset stomach was a distant memory, and my legs were ready for a day interspersed with amazing singletrack throughout. Andrew and I timed our start to perfection, removing our jeans and stashing our bags with the transport trucks to arrive just minutes before the start gun. I’d hatched a scheme over breakfast with Oli Munnik, who was riding for GoPro, and so had two of their video cameras strapped to his bike. One to his chest, the other, looking backwards over his rear wheel. We’d heard a new section of singletrack appeared at about 10km into the stage, so we found each other near the start and I attached myself to his wheel. We went out guns blazing with the frontrunners.
10km is a long way. And riding in the front pack means taking your life in your hands as the bunch motors through jeeptrack with billows of fine dust covering everyone but the front four or five riders. You also can’t see a thing. It was a treacherous experience but we held it together and got our noses into the singletrack among the top 10.
As it turns out the singletrack we’d busted our gut to enter near the front wasn’t terribly exciting and after a few fast turns we were out the other side. Oli turned to me. “I think I’m done for the day” he gasped over his shoulder. I couldn’t speak, but was in full agreement. It was time to chill. More rewarding singletrack followed through a rocky outcrop, then the day’s main attraction loomed.
I have dreamed of the first waterpoint of this stage for a full year now. It has taken on mythical proportions in my mind. Last year Andy and I spent almost a full hour at the mercy of the Free State farmers and their unbelievably hospitable wives. This year the waterpoint had improved, if that was even possible. The JoBerg2C could just as easily be a reality TV cooking show. Wors rolls, koeksisters, vetkoek, koffie, potatoes, soup, chocolate bars – the choice was exhausting. I didn’t know which way to turn. An amazing woman appeared like a mirage from the chaos and offered me a cup of coffee and a cup of soup, neither of which I wanted right at that moment. I drank the coffee. I then politely refused the soup chaser. The look of disappointment on her face when I also declined a third koeksister will be forever etched into my mind. I feel like returning to that incredible farmstead to apologise again…
I witnessed an hysterical cameo play out in front of me as I stuffed my face. A good mate of mine, Rory, from crank.co.za, was getting back on his bike trying to exit the waterpoint. Just as he’d thrown a leg over his bike an exceptionally helpful (and exceptionally large) farmer helped him off his bike again, and wheeled it away to the bike rack, where he was about to rack it and turn around to ‘help’ another unsuspecting rider. Rory tried desperately to explain that he was actually leaving, but with a mouth full of koffie, vetkoek and bananas all he did was dribble all over himself. A small tug of war ensued, which was inevitably won by the farmer. Rory chased him to the bike rack, and finally explained his intentions to leave, which he then did.
Andy had caught me by this stage and we trundled off onto some long district roads to join Rory and a small but strong group of riders. We were surrounded by sunflower fields, mielie plantations, and crosswinds! We worked hard on the open district roads between the fun singeltrack sections. Oli suddenly appeared again at the second waterpoint and we ducked into a stunning roller coaster. Following Oli is an experience in itself. His loose and playful style has him popping off any root, rock or bump. It is like watching a dance. I’d like to see that GoPro footage someday.
In the meantime Andy was hanging on by a thread. I could tell by the silence interspersed with the occasional grunt that he was hurting. He completed the IronMan in PE less than a week ago and his legs, while strong, were screaming in agony. He spent the next hour yo-yoing off the back of our small group of four. But he hung in and we all crossed the finish line together.
It was a great day out on the bike, and Andy and I are slowly getting into the swing of things again. It takes a while to reacquaint yourself with the unspoken language we share out on the bike. We’ve now each had a tough day, so we’re learning the language fast!
Kevin Evans and teammate David George from Team 360Life had a superb day on the bike. They won, after leading from the first waterpoint. So how did they experience the route?
“I was pleasantly surprised,” Kevin grinned. “I don’t know how Wappo and his team have managed to find such an amazing route out here in the middle of the Free State. I really didn’t expect to see the quality of trails they’ve built out here.”
See? It’s not just me. That’s a pretty solid endorsement from one of South Africa’s greatest seasoned mountain bikers. Although he did concede that the pace of the racing upfront has surprised him: “I was hoping for a few days to take it easy, get over my health issues and ride myself into it. I thought all the teams were in the same boat after a tough Epic. But it’s so fast at the moment!”
Another potentially fast awaits as we head to Sterkfontein Dam tomorrow. 124km is a long way.