go2berg prologue – Day 0
The Old Mutual go2berg, South Africa’s newest mountain bike stage race, taking place for the very first time, started today in Frankfort in the Free State.
Today’s ride was a 22km prologue or, as this rider and his ride partner called it, a slow-logue. The occasion was a very gentle and laidback warm-up to a six-day ride that will take adventurous mountain bikers from Frankfort to Reitz then on to Clarens, Winterton and eventually finishing at Champagne Sports Resort in the Central Drakensberg. It’s the sequel to the hugely popular joberg2c, three days shorter but with 15 times more beer.
As with joberg2c, mountain bikers have come from all over the world and Cape Town to cycle through mielie fields, over farms, alongside long, winding rivers and on kilometres of freshly-cut singletrack.
The event is a ride, though it has a racing element too. The professional riders are racing solo and stand a chance to win big prize money – even more, if they compete in the Berg & Bush that takes place a week after go2berg.
For this (slow) rider and his (slow) riding companion, just getting to go2berg was a slow process, which is just the way we like it.
Driving from Cape Town on Thursday, we stopped overnight at the bucolic Prior Grange guest house in Springfontein, nestled cozily between Colesberg and Bloemfontein.
Prior Grange is owned and operated by a cricket-mad farmer – “Blackie” – who has built a cricket field on his property complete with clubhouse, Protea and visiting-club memorabilia (he hosts the Springfontein Sixes every October), and organic lawnmowers that you can eat once they have finished work for the day (sheep. The lawnmowers are sheep).
Prior Grange has turned a handful of its 1890s-built buildings into accommodation. More importantly, though, one of those buildings has been transformed into a pub that Blackie opens every night at 6pm for his guests.
While he holds court behind the bar with his son, your evening meal is prepared (with help from the lawnmowers) and laid out in your chalet; a roaring fire crackling away to warm the room completes the scene.
Last night we were joined in the pub by a Durban father and son travelling to the Western Cape on a surf safari, a retired Winterton farmer, now living in Somerset West, who we suspect had escaped from the retirement home and was embarking on a countrywide joyride and two Englishmen who insisted that the Free State was colder than the United Kingdom.
Beers were gulped, sherry was sipped, some stiff double brandies were poured and stories were shared before everyone retired to their rooms for a meal of lamb and formidable, farm-fresh side dishes.
All of this is to say that, like driving around our vast country instead of flying from A to B, the go2berg is intended as a ride that is about the journey and what you find and discover along the way while riding. Over the next six days of riding, multiple characters, much like the visitors to Blackie’s Bar, will reveal themselves.
Although only clocking in at 22km, today’s Prologue was still able to showcase the beauty of the region, in this instance the wide and free-flowing Wilge River, a major tributary of the Vaal River.
Riders left Wilgerivier High School and shot down some fresh trail towards the river; as is always the case with riding in South African countryside, the main obstacles were cows and riders stopping to take pictures of cows.
The Prologue route then meandered along the Wilge River, taking the field on a mellow Saturday afternoon mountain bike ride with little to no challenges to overcome – just the way we like to prologue.
It was an opportunity to speak to fellow cyclists and to discover their reasons for riding. As fate would have it, we ended up chatting away with two Winterton locals who knew all about our new friend from last night and with two riders out from England who are about to find out the Free State, when sleeping in a tent not far from a river, is colder than the United Kingdom.
Day 1 of the Old Mutual go2berg is just over 80km in distance and will take riders from Frankfort to Reitz on Sunday where mielie brood, lamb chops and more bicycling banter await.
More of today's photo's