Go up to down at go2berg – Day 3
Mountain biking is a funny old game, but mountain bike stage races are funnier still. You enter, commit to training for something six months away, forget to train, rock up at the event anyway full of (over) confidence in your (limited) ability and set off ready to conquer the world or, in this case, the Old Mutual go2berg.
Once at the event, you spend most of the day sitting on a tiny seat that knows exactly how to rub your delicate parts up the wrong way, battle the elements that are seemingly always up for a fight even when you’re ready to roll over, ride over hills and around mountains, eat, sleep and repeat for a handful of days. But therein lies the magic, because by going through the same daily cycle (pun!) as everyone else, you start to meet some interesting characters on your incredible journey through the gorgeous countryside.
This year at the go2berg I’ve crossed paths with a Kenyan-based British rider who has travelled to South Africa for a handful of months purely to ride in different parts of the country (oh for the might of the Pound!); I’ve chatted to another English rider who is taking part in the event to raise funds for food banks in the United Kingdom (the same charity that Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford is so heavily involved with).
Then there’s the two lads from Howick in KwaZulu-Natal who are probably past their prime when it comes to racing mountain bikes, but insist that beating a tubby Capetonian (yours truly) to each waterpoint is the height of physical prowess (I suspect they’re really just jealous of my elevated sense of style), and today I passed a couple from Maritzburg who were positively nuclear with energy after completing the thrill-a-metre descent off Mt Paul, the singeltrack trail that can only be ridden once a year (at the event) that is otherwise heavily guarded by the Free State’s most fierce mountain sheep.
Of course, almost all in the field started day 3 of the go2berg, an 86km ride from Clarens to Sterkfontein Dam, in particularly relaxed and radiant moods thanks to the greatest mountain bike event innovation ever – a night in the hotel after a tough day of riding (part of the package at this inaugural go2berg included an overnight stay in a guest house or hotel in Clarens, genius).
Being from the fairer southern suburbs of Cape Town, this rider can just about manage one night in a tent, so two was pushing it. But the third night was a blissful bedroom, complete with room service. The only downside was a roommate who needed to pee every three minutes and kept putting all 321 lights on in pursuit of the porcelain, creating an unappreciated digs disco every time.
Today’s stage, though, was all about getting to Mt Paul. This rocky outcropping sits across the road from the vast and mighty Sterkfontein Dam, and the focus for day 3 was to enjoy the trail for the first time since 2019 (the route was used by joberg2c previously, but the event never happened in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid, while last year heavy rain forced the organisers to divert riders around the base of the climb).
The route to Sterkfontein Dam was a classic day of country riding – long district roads accompanied by scenery that postcard companies from a bygone era would pay top dollar for. If the riders at the event were young enough to know what a social media is, images of the route would be blasted all over the world. Alas, you’ll just have to read this story to get the idea.
In terms of ride challenges, the biggest headache was choosing between the vetkoek and mince or the ham and mustard sandwiches at the waterpoints. Eventually, after standing around for 20 minutes at waterpoint 1, this peckish pedaler was chased away by the event organiser. All good things must come to an end.
The climb up Mt Paul is fairly sedate, but two and three-quarter days of cycling in the legs mean that a bead or two in effort is pushed out.
With shepherds and their Anatolian mountain dogs as spectators, you wind your way up towards a radio tower where views of Sterkfontein Dam open up in front of you.
From the top it’s a wild, winding 3km ride with little margin for error. It’s also a taste of things to come as go2berg moves closer to KwaZulu-Natal and the trails of Berg & Bush; riders can go to bed tonight (sadly, back in tents and not a hotel) knowing that Mt Paul has warmed them up for day 4’s drop off the Escarpment and a day of trail riding that will have all the characters smiling.
More of today's photo's