Last year’s surprise winners Neil MacDonald and Waylon Woolcock will be out to silence their critics at the joBerg2c mountain bike race, which starts at Heidelberg in Gauteng on Friday.
The former road cyclists are determined to prove that their victory in the second edition of South Africa’s longest paired stage race was no flash in the pan.
This year, the Team RE-CM riders will be up against a formidable field that includes the likes of Kevin Evans and David George (Nedbank 360Life), Brandon Stewart and Jacques Rossouw (FedGroup Itec-Connect) as well as Gawie Combrinck and Nico Bell (Transact).
MacDonald acknowledged that the competition would be tough but said they were both looking forward to the nine-day event. “As our first serious mountain bike race, it holds a special place for Waylon and I.”
The pair has had a good season thus far with a top-five finish in the Columbia Grape Escape and a fourth place in the African jersey category at the recent Absa Cape Epic.
Despite some bad luck and a few setbacks in their first outing in the latter last month, MacDonald said they had emerged relatively unscathed and without injury or illness to finish 14th overall.
“We’re happy with our conditioning at the moment and things are looking good for joBerg2c.”
The Randburg resident said he and Woolcock, who lives in Sandton, tended to favour a more conservative approach to racing.
“Last year, our goals were to win one of the stages and finish on the podium but we achieved a lot more than that in the end.
The duo won six of the nine stages en route to overall victory.
“Our goal now is obviously to defend the title and win as many stages as possible, so we’ll see what we can do.”
He said the change in the structure of the R330 000 prize purse to include financial rewards for stage wins could affect the dynamics of the race.
“But when you’re focusing on the stages, the general classification normally comes along with it, so we’ll be trying to win as many as possible.”
With two of the country’s longest endurance races under their belts, MacDonald said he and Woolcock felt they had now earned the title of “real” mountain bikers.
“After last year, when we won joBerg2c and the final stage of sani2c, we had a lot of the guys saying, ‘well, you’re not roadies anymore’.”
The 35-year-old said the off-road discipline had extended his career and he was pleased with the good results he and his 29-year-old partner were getting.
“I’m like an old diesel at the moment. Mountain bike racing offers prolonged intensity, which suits us much better.”
The 910km race finishes in Scottburgh in KwaZulu-Natal on May 5.