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Woolcock (left) and MacDonald are all set to defend their title at the Old Mutual joBerg2c nine-day stage race starting on Friday.

Photo credit: Dominic Barnardt

A year ago, road cycling pros Waylon Woolcock and Neil MacDonald donned their new Team RE:CM kit for the first time and surprised many when they won the Old Mutual joBerg2c, at nine-days in duration, South Africa's longest mountain bike stage race.

The pair won six of the eight racing stages in the process, using their road racing nous to put away rivals in the finishing sprints. It was a fairytale-like debut for Team RE:CM and MacDonald and Woolcock will line-up for the 2012 joBerg2c in Heidelberg, just south east of Joburg on Friday and test the old sports adage that it’s always harder to defend a title than to win it the first time.

Over the past year Woolcock (29) and MacDonald (35) have matured immensely as mountain bikers, having competed in many of the marathons, ultra-marathons and stage races that occupy the packed South African mountain bike racing calendar.

The RE:CM pair has finished on a number of podiums and collected a handful of victories in the process. Earlier this month they completed their first ABSA Cape Epic, finishing in 14th place overall and fourth African team. The pair clearly understands what awaits them during the nine-day race, which traverses three of South Africa’s provinces – Gauteng, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal and finishes at the coastal town of Scottburgh on 5 May.

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Woolcock (front) and MacDonald have good form after finishing 14th overall at the recent ABSA Cape Epic.

Photo credit: Dominic Barnardt

“We are under a lot more pressure than we were last year,” smiled MacDonald. “We perform well under pressure though so it’s not necessarily a bad thing. All three African teams that finished ahead of us at this year’s Cape Epic will be on the start line and that’s going to change the race a lot compared to last year.”

Nedbank 360Life’s Kevin Evans and David George, FedGroup ITEC-Connect’s Brandon Stewart and Jacques Rossouw and the Transact pair of Gawie Combrinck and Nico Bell are expected to pose the biggest threat to Woolcock and MacDonald’s title defence.

“Besides having more depth this year, the prizemoney for each day is very generous and is likely to make every stage a good tussle,” said Woolcock.

The R164 000 prize purse for the men’s race (about US $21 000) has been allocated to favour stage wins more than the overall title. With R16000 prize money for daily stages, the racing is expected to be aggressive throughout the eight racing days, even if one team does have a large overall lead. There’s R10 000 for a stage win, R4 000 for second and R2 000 for third. The overall race purse offers R20 000, R10 000 and R6 000 to the top three teams respectively.

“Just winning two stages is equivalent to the overall first prize cash. It’s going to add an interesting dynamic,” said MacDonald. “I suppose if you’re able to win a couple of stages, you’ll be in line for the overall win too. The joBerg2c is one of our biggest goal events this year and we’re going to make sure we do everything we can to defend our title.”

Woolcock confirmed that he and MacDonald appear to have good form and have come out of the Cape Epic physically and mentally strong.

“We’re both feeling good. The Epic was very tough and we’re expecting a more challenging joBerg2c course this year with more singletrack. But one thing I’ve learned in mountain biking is to prepare for the worst and expect the unexpected! Either way, it’s going to be an exciting event.”

2012 joBerg2c stages:

27 April: Stage 1 (non-racing) Karan Beef, Heidelberg–Frankfort – 113km, 917m ascent

28 April: Stage 2 Frankfort–Reitz – 93km, 1030m ascent

29 April: Stage 3 Reitz–Sterkfontein Dam – 125km, 1064m ascent

30 April: Stage 4 Sterkfontein Dam–Winterton – 124km, 1937m ascent

1 May: Stage 5 Winterton–Kamberg – 102km, 1625m ascent

2 May: Stage 6 Kamberg–Hazeldene Farm – 93.7km, 1982m ascent

3 May: Stage 7 Hazeldene Farm–MacKenzie Club – 86km, 1110m ascent

4 May: Stage 8 MacKenzie Club–Jolivet – 97km, 2230m ascent

5 May: Stage 9 Jolivet–Scottburgh – 75km, 1235m ascent

Daily highlights will be televised in Africa on SuperSport 6 with repeats throughout the duration of the event.

Follow Team RE:CM’s progress joBerg2c progress on twitter @Team_RECM or visit their website at www.teamrecm.co.za