Entries are now open for the 2016 Grindrod Berg & Bush. Mountain bikers who want to participate in what has been labeled by many as the best stage race on the calendar should visit the event website now. http://www.bergandbush.co.za/

Having started 11 years ago, after race director Gary Green and his wife Nicky realised the cattle and game paths on their farm would make for excellent mountain biking, the Grindrod Berg & Bush has earned a reputation as the one to do if you’re only going to do one.

ccs-62657-0-61221500-1464269935.jpgRiders make their way along Great Wall My China before dropping off the escarpment down the legendary trail known as Solly's Folly. Credit: Em Gatland

From 50 enthusiastic entrants in their first year, the Berg & Bush now offers riders the choice of the Descent, the Great Trek (both three days) and a two-day event succinctly named the 2 Day (which is already sold out).

Over the years the Greens have worked tirelessly to make the route as exciting and enticing as they possibly can for riders. Ever year something is fine-tuned so that entrants get maximum thrill from their ride.

2016 will be no different, with Green, trail builder extraordinaire Glenn Harrison and landowner Solly Prinsloo tweaking the famous Solly’s Folly descent off the escarpment.

“We’ve fixed up some areas where we noticed riders braking too much; where the sections weren’t flowing. We’re building extra 'overtaking’ lanes down Solly’s Folly and overall we’re trying to make the drop off the escarpment the best descent in the world,” says Green.

One fan who hopes to return in 2016 is last year’s mixed category winner, Candice Neethling. The Cape Town-based rider, who has been in a rich vein of form recently, winning the mixed race at the joBerg2c in April and the ladies title at sani2c in May, participated for the first time in 2015 and was immediately smitten with the Berg & Bush.

“I did it last year for the first time and it straight away became one of my favourite races on the calendar – and that’s not just because I won the mixed race,” says Neethling. “If anybody asks me now, I tell them that Berg & Bush is the best race to do if they are looking to ride a stage race. The first day is superb. Riding on Great Wall My China and then dropping down Solly’s Folly is such a privilege. It’s an incredible section of trail.”

Neethling admits that at last year’s Berg & Bush she didn’t get a chance to take in the view, so this year at joBerg2c she was encouraged by mixed category teammate Darren Lill to look around and appreciate the surroundings. “I was struggling, but I managed to take it all in,” says Neethling. “It’s an incredibly unique and special experience.”

Of course, the race is also famous for taking riders up Spioenkop, the site of the famous Boer War battle. Thankfully what goes up must come down, and at Berg & Bush they do their downhills in style. From the Spioenkop summit it’s a 13km singletrack descent back to the Emseni race village. “After the climb the descent is really enjoyable,” says Neethling. “You can really cut loose on the way down. It’s very cool.”

The event has also become renowned for its relaxed atmosphere once the riding is over for the day. With the Emseni race village nestled on the banks of the Tugela River, it’s the perfect setting to unwind after a euphoric morning of shredding trails. “Last year everyone was sitting around enjoying beers,” says Neethling. “Even for those of us who are racing; I like to switch off after riding and the vibe at the Berg & Bush is geared towards that. You can be serious on the bike and then chill at the race village.”

For riders outside of Gauteng or KwaZulu-Natal, the Berg & Bush has a dedicated shuttle service that runs from OR Tambo International Airport to the start at Windmill Farm (for bikers and boxed bikes). The shuttle will also take riders back to OR Tambo after they’ve completed day three of their event.

And for those in need of a little luxury after a day’s riding, or who might need to recover after three days of adrenalin spikes, the Berg & Bush is now also offering the ‘Drakensberg Experience’, a special partnership with hotels in the surrounding area which gives you 30 percent off your stay.

You can either spend the ride period at Cathedral Peak Hotel (valid 9-31 October 2016), Champagne Sports Resort or Montusi Mountain Lodge, or stay on after your ride for a longer Drakensberg holiday.