Fizz and fun at go2berg – Day 6

The final stage of the 2023 Old Mutual go2berg, the seventh day of riding in total when you include last Saturday’s prologue, was a bubbly little spin of 66km to Champagne Sports Resort in the Central Drakensberg. District roads, mielie fields and various farms made up the bulk of a satisfying and smooth route.

After a few days of intense winds (head, tail, cross and downright furious), the outlook for the final day was positive when the wind died down on Thursday night and the race village was treated to a spectacular Oros-orange sunset.

Sleeping outside in thick canvas tents – in sturdy camp cots with linen and full bedding, on the banks of the Tugela River – allowed a weary field to recuperate ahead of their final go2berg challenge.

The 9am start time for the final day, announced at Thursday dinner by co-organiser Gary Green to rapturous applause, was also a mood booster.

Six (and a half) days of mountain biking doesn’t seem like a lot, but once you’re in the thick of it, the challenge is substantial. A lie-in, then, is always appreciated.

Friday dawned and in perfect conditions under a clear blue African sky that European diarists gushed over centuries ago, the go2berg rolled out of the Em’seni race village (which will see action again next Friday with the Standard Bank Berg & Bush Descent), and straight onto the rust-coloured singletrack trails of the region. An early climb and some trail riding fun split the field and set the tone for the day.

This rider, still recovering from a bout of “I’m getting too old for this nonsense”, simply wanted to finish. But as the day and the trails opened up, the mood improved.

The route took us first away from the Tugela River and then up a trail in the direction of Spioenkop Dam, an impressive scene in the bright KwaZulu-Natal morning light.

From there, with our backs to Spioenkop, it was a straight shoot towards the finish at Champagne Sports Resort with the towering might of the Drakensberg in full view for the duration of the ride (It’s no Table Mountain, but it’s not bad).

Rumour has it that Champagne Castle, the peak in the Drakensberg that was our beacon for the day’s ride, got its name after two mountaineers dropped a bottle of champagne just as they were about to celebrate reaching the summit, inadvertently naming the mountaintop in the process.

It sounds like nonsense, and it probably is, but ‘champagne’ was a fitting theme for this final stage of the inaugural go2berg – it was a celebratory procession from start to finish, with riders cheering each other along for the 66km journey. In fact, a hallmark of this first year of go2berg has been the friendly and fun-loving nature of the field. Long may that continue.

Buoyed by the superb conditions, the scenery and the knowledge that soon they would tick off an impressive achievement, riders enjoyed lengthy stops at the two water points of the day, snacking on braaibroodjies, cheese grillers, boerewors, smores, jelly babies, ice cold drinks and even beer if you knew which school teacher (the hosts of the second waterpoint) to wink at

The pace was sedate throughout with no surprises along the way and only one major obstacle to overcome – a long, steep climb to the finish line on the hills above Champagne Sports Resort. Nobody ‘popped’ and all made it home to celebrate a fine week of crossing a portion of South Africa that doesn’t always make it into the highlights reels, but really should.

The 2023 Old Mutual go2berg winner Phil Buys would have been popping champagne bottles in the late morning after finishing the stage in a time of 2h20 (30 seconds behind stage winner Gert Heyns) and claiming the overall victory. But for the rest of the field, the champagne moment was completing an event that showcased the very best of South Africa.

By: @davidmoseley

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