Every man for himself is not something you’ll hear often at the Old Mutual joBerg2c. In fact, it’s very much the opposite at the country’s longest MTB stage race, where the race organisers do everything in their power to get people over the line.
There is a cut-off time for each day, but sweeps, bike mechanics and anyone else involved with the ride are allowed to chip in and make sure riders finish all of the nine stages.
Participants, too, are always willing to help each other out, even if that leads to some longer than necessary days in the saddle. That’s what happened to rider Sam Bladergroen during the middle part of the joBerg2c on a particularly gruelling stage that went from Winterton to Glencairn Farm in the Underberg.
Bladergroen and two other riders, both doctors, stopped to help a woman who had fallen on a technical section near the end of the 93km Day 6. They waited alongside her until she was able to be taken off the route by the medics. It meant that Bladergroen and his ride partner Rob Morgan were almost the last people to cross the line. They still rolled over with big smiles in a time of 9 hours and 30 minutes, with Bladergroen, despite the long day on the bike, professing his love for the day’s route and the joBerg2c experience overall. “It’s 10 000 percent better than last time,” enthused Bladergroen.
Six minutes after the pair had completed the day, the honour of finishing last on the stage when to an international rider, Christopher Hinks of Dubai. Hinks had also stopped earlier in the week to help out a struggling female rider over the course of two days and had been paying the price for his few days of Samaritan work. “I rode really slowly with her for a while, but then she decided to pull out and I had to race to catch the rest of the field. It left me very drained,” says Hinks.
On Day 6, he also crossed the line solo, this after his partner – who came into the race having barely recovered from a bad bout of food poisoning - was forced to abandon the race after Day 2 due to lingering ill-effects.
Drained from his exertions, Hinks asked anyone who would listen “what he was doing here”, describing the ride as one of “unrelenting brutality”, questioning why he’d paid to put himself through such extravagant suffering. Having cycled on Day 6 from the 24km mark with no one but race sweep Dave Johnson for company, Hinks was a broken man. He immediately perked up, though, when describing the efforts of Johnson in getting him to the finish – at 16h36 in the afternoon.
“The man is a legend,” beamed Hinks. “He nursed me from 24km all the way to the end. He’s a great guy. Every time I felt like bailing, he quietly encouraged me to push on. I owe a lot to him today.”
After reflecting for a few minutes on his day, Hinks decided that all the pain and suffering was worth it. “You know, this is hard. But it’s amazing. This country is amazing. joBerg2c is amazing. The people I’ve met in South Africa have been great. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. It’s perfect.”
With around 160km left to cover in the 900km event, Hinks continues his solo travails at joBerg2c, finishing with a smile every day.