Our journey begun across the Tasman at The Pioneer and reached a crescendo closer to home in the tropics of Cairns and the Crocodile Trophy. Next year, we’re opening the season with an adventure beyond our imagination, welcome to the Old Mutual joBerg2c.

Words: Cyclist

Photography: EM Gatland / joBerg2c

It’s been barely two months since our most recent major off-road excursion and with the days running out for 2017, we’re busily planning the coming 365 of them. Never one to shy away from an adventure, we’ve slotted the Old Mutal joBerg2c in South Africa into the early part of the calendar. The 9-day, 900km mountain bike stage race will see teams of two travel from Johannesburg to the coast at Scottsburgh, through four provinces, countless mountain passes and scenery we’re promised will completely blow us away.

We thought we peaked in our mountain bike stage racing careers after the Croc, until we heard about the joBerg2c. Not the first race that comes to mind when thinking of mountain biking in South Africa, but if last year’s photos are anything to go by, it is going to be every bit as incredible and even wilder.

The racing takes place around SA’s eastern plateau, Highveld, a whole different landscape to the populated trails and beaches of the south-west. The brainchild of local farmers and keen cyclists, joBerg2c, showcases the landscape like no other race. Having spent their entire lives in this countryside the organisers have an intimate knowledge of the surrounds and created the race route with endless dirt, only 10 kilometres of ashphalt feature across the entire 900-kilometre route. From the plateau of SA’s largest city Johannesburg through the grasslands, mountains, valleys, and river crossings, to meeting the Indian Ocean at the KwaZulu-Natal coastline south of Durban, the race passes endless dirt, predominantly four-wheel-drive and single track with a few fast rural roads in between.

As any cyclist will attest, mountain biking adds a deeper element of connection to your surrounds, this race brings you into the local community too. The race is supported by the communities it passes along the way, locals assist in all aspects of the organisation, and in turn the race raises funds for the towns it touches.

If we’ve learnt one thing, it’s to not the take the views for granted, it may read like endless beautiful vistas and waving at zebras, but racing 900 kilometres in an entirely different continent is not to be underestimated, and part of the joBerg2c mission is to provide a real experience. The race requires all riders run a GPS with routes enabled, navigation will be left to the riders and their GPS devices, there won’t be a thousand kilometres of bunting to follow and we definitely don’t want to find ourselves lost in a wild country with no mobile reception.

That being said, we should be in safe hand, the race is fully serviced with on-course support, and did we mention they were farmers? They keep the whole race fueled with the best braais and coldest local beers in the country, and the mornings are kickstarted with free coffee, 20,000 fresh cups are brewed daily.

This will be our biggest MTB undertaking yet, so we’ve decided to partner with the team from MarathonMtb.com to form a combined Cyclist-MarathonMTB.com squad. Former Novo Nordisk professional Justin Morris will represent his current stripe at Marathon MTB and we’ll send a suitable partner to fill the Cyclist position.

In getting to know our partner a little better, we sat down with Justin for a few words about the year to come and how to best prepare for an event of this difficulty. The professionals for all things off-road stage racing related, we’ll be looking to MarathonMTB.com for more advice as we get our bikes and bodies ready for this huge event.

Cyclist: You’ve travelled and race around the world but will this be your first time to South Africa?

Justin Morris: I changed planes at joBerg airport on the way to the Tour of Rwanda in 2012. But apart from that, this would be my first time to South Africa. I’m pretty excited. I have raced with many South African riders over the years and they always are very proud of their homeland.

C: What do you know about the joBerg2C?

J: I did the Crocodile Trophy in 2012 with a South African rider named Werner Van Der Merwe. I spent 10 days in the Queensland outback hearing about how cool the JoBerg2C was, so have since then always wanted to make the trip. I like that it is more old school as far as the distances and number of days. I’m the kind of rider who loves the long distance races and events.

C: You raced professionally on the road but its on the mountain bike where your roots really lay. What has the last couple of years been like making the transition back to the dirt?

J: Professional road racing was an amazing experience and helped me discover a lot about cycling and life. The reality is that to make a living out of cycling you really have to pursue the road. However, my heart has always been on the mountain bike. Road racing can be so tactical, at times political and the strong but savvy rider is generally the one rewarded. Mountain biking on the other hand ensures the strongest or best bike rider always wins – barring a mechanical. This is what I love about being back on the MTB. The honesty of the sport is very rewarding.

C: The festive season is almost upon us, how will you ensure your fitness is maintained during the holiday season?

J: Festive season and yummy treats is always a challenge for me, especially as I live with Type1 diabetes. I always try to create a balance between how much I eat and train. The opportunity to have a few days off work often works well as I can usually maximise treats by maximising miles. Win, win!

C: Do you have any other races or goals to be used in the lead up to joBerg2C?

J: I recently completed the Highland Fling in Australia which was a good eye opener for what I have to work on. I have bee travelling a lot lately and know there’s plenty of work to do. I will try to incorporate a few local races and perhaps some national XCO events to hone the skills before JoBerg 2c.

C: You’ve got plenty of experience off-road, what kind of advice have you got for us roadies?

J: To race MTB well, you’ve got to train full gas! There is no bunch to protect you from the wind in MTB races. It is like doing a full-on time trial that smashes your entire body for up to six hours a day for 9 days straight. Finding rhythm on the rough stuff, being comfortable and accepting of long sessions in a difficult heart rate or power zone will help you come to terms with the demands of a stage race like the joBerg2c. Relaxing the upper body when riding through singletrack and looking down the trail – not at the front wheel – will also help with finding that elusive ‘flow state’. 

Head to the joBerg2c website for race details, full course previews, pricing and what to expect during the event.