Old Mutual Joberg2c Race Journal

May 13, 2014

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela

Andrew Buckley of the Ride Giant/Ride Northstar mountain bike team has accomplished something that most would find truly impossible.  This spring Andy raced the the Old Mutual Joberg2c in South Africa.  A journey to such a far away land is an amazing feat in and of itself.  Add in hauling all your race gear across the world to charge trails in a completely unfamiliar place and you’ve got what most would consider impossible.  Now that Andy’s done and back in the states, I look forward to hearing more fantastic stories of this awesome mountain bike experience.  Below are some stats and thoughts of each stage of this incredible event.  Please sit back, read, and enjoy some highlights of this amazing event!

Day 1 Joberg2c, Heidelberg to  Frankfort.

116km today or 72 miles through classic cattle and maize farms. Some fun singletrack , lots of dirt road and segments of the bumpiest, muddy and sandy singletrack I can remember. The highlight of the day, a floating temporary bridge made of shipping pallets allowing is to cross the river Vaal.  400m of precarious bike handling on the 1.1m width. (People did fall in)


Today was a neutral no race day, but we came on 193 of 800, time of 5hrs 48m.  We will race this pace to save energy for days later with more climbing


Onward tomorrow- snow in them mountains apparently

Day 2-3 JoBerg2c – well the last 48hours have been eventful. Day 2 was our first day of true racing. High paced start at -2 celsius made for cold hands and feet.  By 7:30 it warmed enough to strip layers and settle in for more farm singletrack and backcountry roads. 93km want fast and we were back to Reitz camp by noon.


Felt a bit queezy on the last 10k, little did I know what was in store. A night of stomach cramps and GI issues!! Got a bag of fluids and good cramp drugs, but I knew I was out of day 3.  Me and fifty others got sick from bad water. It’s Africa!

Got a ride to camp at Sterkfontaine dam, and skipped a hard day of 123km


Tomorrow we descend off the escarpment and hopefully to warmer temps

Day 4 into 5  JoBerg2c-  Sterkfontein dam to Winterton country club, leaving the Free State to enter KwaZulu Natal. Back on the bike for a frosty 1degree start.  We rode into the valley mist on district roads to find a climb to the escarpment. Terrain that in some ways resembles Zion with singletrack over slick rock. Stunning views into Natal led to an epic descent on real deal trail. (America beats SA on descending skills)


The last climb of the day was about 600 vert of steep technical track with sun beating on your back. Turns out the SA’s can’t climb it either if it’s loose, but to give credit, they are tough and with determination not often seen.


On a day of 121km we spent very little on roads which was great, but pacing on s-track is always slower so 7hrs 17 in the saddle, we came in 195 out of just under 800, 178 overall to date.  But that’s about to change….


After a shower, lunch and comp beers life was good.  By 7pm I was back with the doc with my GI issue, and a new found love for porta johns.  My favorite quote from doc, “what part of don’t eat protein and fat didn’t you understand”.  Spending every other day in the invalid van wasn’t my plan, but now I just need to get better.  Day 5 off.


Day 6- JoBerg2c , Kamberg to Underberg– 91km and a climb day of 2000m


Well hopefully as I write this my GI issues are behind me (no pun).  Today was a mostly district road traverse of mountain passes with a little tech S-track here and there.  Not a bike ride I would normally choose if it were not for the breathtaking beauty of the Natal province.   It’s big sky, majestic mountains and green valley floors are a sight to see.


This mornings start was again cold at just over freezing, but early climbing warmed the blood.  Unfortunately a diet of white bread, bananas, pasta and rice is not a good prep for powerful legs- racing this day wasn’t really on the cards.  Josh and I labored behind middle of the field for the first part of the day, the legs finally came back to life on the first real climb to water point 1, about a 700m ascent.  Next a chilly 13km high speed descent got us to the 52km mark before 11am. Did I mention SA’s can’t descend?


The up and down terrain drew us through a number of rural villages all with African kids standing by the roadside asking us for chocolate.  We couldn’t figure out why they thought we would be carrying chocolate. An Australian friend explained that in these poor villages the kids use the few words or word they have learned in English to reach out to strangers. The disparity in socio economic groups is striking. The average wage earner in these rural areas could turn the value of my bike in to four years worth of wages.


How lucky I am to have such an adventure.


We finished at picturesque Hazeldean farm in Underberg and I treated myself to some meat for lunch for the first time in 38 hours (fingers crossed)- beer is a gastric insulator I think.


Tomorrow promises the goods- singlestrack in abundance and grippy dirt!! We hope to go faster


Day 7- JoBerg2c, Underberg to Ixopo. 81km and 1360m of climbing


A warmer and later start time today, and we were all prepared to hammer hard to get into a good group ready for the S-track at 15km.  However, when it rains, sometimes it pours.  As I’m getting better, Josh had no GO.  (As it turns out he has IT, and in curled up in a ball in the tent tonight).  So this becomes a real test of team, for one as occasionally selfish as I.  So I stuck with my friend, yoyoed a bit, pushed him a bit, talked about random stuff and watched him suffer a brutal slow pedal day to the finish.


Our one exception was the singletrack, with incredible forested smooth to rough red dirt, the overwhelming sensation was TRACTION!  Almost any speed with a top of the bike was rewarded with an ‘Empire Strikes Back’ tree dodge as the tires bit into the dirt like a pit bull with a new bone.


(Did I mention SA’s can’t descend?). We figure they all train on dirt roads around Johannesburg and never really see S-track, so one should really empathize.  However, after lots of polite ‘whenever you’re ready, could I pass’ we have resorted to just going.  A slight touch of the back tire seems to do the trick to make them pull left.  We did fly 22hours.


The country today was a mix of tree and dairy farms, but still with grand vistas mountain to valley.   I am struck by the mass industry of agriculture in this province.


We climbed our last few km’s back to camp, and arrived at a slow pace that puts us to the back of the start tomorrow.  Having said that I am so proud of what Josh pulled off today, he kept pedaling when many would quit.


Tomorrow is a mix of epic singletrack and hot midday climbing . Should be interesting

Day 8-JoBerg2c, Ixopo to Jolivet.

98km and 1700m


On day 4 our team GC ranking was 69th, we were actually doing quite well-things change and new opportunities arise. 


Today we started in batches of 100.  We were batch G, the last.  Due to splintered team results we now ‘didn’t count’.  And yet three amazing things happened today.


1. Josh Fonner- the legend, my captain, rallied after yesterday’s sickness and got on his bike.  I’m so proud to ride with this guy.


2. Group G (The Gastro group) allocation, allowed us to move forward and lead with a ten minute spread between the group in front. This gave us ample opportunity to feel the fast freedom of some world class singletrack


3. The Umkomass Valley, a spectacle of incredible beauty with a trail named ‘wow’ for good reason.  To be perched on the side of the mountain and travel at speeds non human on this tacky dirt-what a treat.


We descended for 20km to a valley floor of a different climate, after figuring out a technique to avoid  and mitigate the non technical SA’s. The valley nicknamed Death Valley was Hot!  Now all we had to do was reach our flat point water stop at 40km and then climb out for 60km, uphill that is.


I had told Josh that I thought most of the climb was on fire road, actually it was mostly singletrack, and at times a good grind.  In fact about 85% of today was s-track.


Water point two had a great spread of food including hamburgers.  What the heck, my first real red meat!  Then another 1000ft of climbing to the peak before we rolled though the high Forrest toward our camp.


Sometimes things happen that are unexpectedly shocking, or at least for me.  So when in the final 2km, riding aside a sealed road, I saw someone’s pet dog get run over, I felt quite heartbroken for the imagined kid that loved that dog.  It made me cry (perhaps I was just tired), but it reminded me too of our temporary state in this world and how it can change in the skid of a tire.


We made it back to camp in 6hrs 29m, not bad for sick guys. 


We can’t wait to be done tomorrow and swim in the Indian Ocean at our final destination.

Day 9-JoBerg2c, Jolivet to Scottburgh.  84km , 1550m down 850m up


We Rode the Beloved Country!


7am start and we were all excited to get this thing going.  We again were in group G, so we got American and jumped into group E.  2 minute gaps for each group. Today I had the best legs of the week.  I knew in five minutes I had gusto. Caught the back of D in no time, hooked into C (where we should be)


Today we flew.  Josh warmed up and we hammered a constant pace on a mixture of sandy double and singletrack.  We spent much of our day in the sugar cane fields, with the leaves slapping us as we pedaled mostly downhill.


Again the crest top  ores were amazing, but mostly today was about getting to the Indian Ocean at Scottburgh.


As usual the 20km last push in the wind seemed to take forever.  The final segment always comes, this time a 600m floating bridge across the lagoon, 1m wide, and the whole thing moved with the wind.


We were down in about 4hrs 20m


So what to make of this event?  Every part of the experience is hard- from the riding to the cold to the hauling of bags each day, basics like showers and toilets become an art of timing.  Would I donut again? Ask me tomorrow:)


A note on South Africa and the people. What a warm, enthusiastic show for life here, even though there is an underlying sense that not all is well politically or socially.  So much potential, but time will tell how the riches of this country (place and people) are realized.  In every town we were greeted by friendly Afrikaans, Anglos, and tribal people. All showed such warmth and interest in us and our journey. I am pleased to have met all if them.  Even the ones that can’t go downhill, ride tech uphill, cross rivers it ride mud:);


Today was a neutral no race day, but we came on 193 of 800, time of 5hrs 48m.  We will race this pace to save energy for days later with more climbing


Onward tomorrow- snow in them mountains apparently


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