The 2017 Old Mutual joBerg started in perfect conditions outside Heidelberg on Friday 21 April. 820 riders cycled the 114km to Frankfort. Photo credit: Em Gatland

But it does come in handy as a last minute bit of race prep. Riders are able to find their legs, test their fitness and settle into a groove that should (hopefully) carry them through the 8 stages to come.

Leading all 800 participants across the line first was solo rider Jako Montgomery (4:41.43).

“It is brilliant, the trails are amazing - the guys have done a brilliant job this year. The stronger riders held back a bit which made it a little easier to keep up with them. I’m feeling really strong and excited fortomorrow and the days to come,” said Montgomery.

Of the men's teams, race favourites NAD Pro MTB and Pyga Euro Steel crossed the line together (4:43.00). NAD Pro MTB’s Nico Bell enjoyed the neutral stage but did find some aspects of racing in the day's riding.

“You want to use your legs a bit, so for us, we tried to get to the finish quickly to be ready for the real racing on day 2. It was quite hot, so we didn’t want to be out there for too long,” said Bell.

The first stop on the 2017 Old Mutual joBerg2c is the friendly town of Frankfort. Photo credit: Em Gatland

As for the days ahead, Bell feels there will be many opportunities to attack.

“I think you can gain time on any of the stages so we just need to be ready. Usually the first day is a flat out sprint and then things become more technical and tactical as the days go by.”

Pyga Euro Steel Rider Philip Buys agrees, meaning his team will follow a similar strategy.

“If there is a gap and we see we have the upper-hand somewhere, we will definitely use it and ride hard. This is our first time here - so the first few days are like going into the unknown.

“Teams like NAD Pro MTB have been here before and know what to expect so they have an advantage for now. We do know the Berg & Bush stages so we know what is to come,” said Buys.

Mixing it up in the Lanham-Love mixed category

Team Garmin riders Yolandie du Toit and Ben Melt Swanepoel finished first in the mixed category (5:00.29). After opening a shaken bottle of sparkling water on the finish, du Toit and Melt Swanepoel were soaked as the refreshment sprayed uncontrollably. Du Toit laughed and said her day was “sizzling”, but the neutral stage was also about finding balance.

“It’s a tricky one though because you don’t want to ride too slow and be out there for too long - it’s pretty warm out there. You want to find a nice balance by coming in early to start recovering for the next day, but you don’t want to exert yourself to get in quickly.”

Lanham-Love mixed category contenders at the Old Mutual joBerg2c Grant Usher and Amy Beth McDougall enjoy a light-hearted moment on stage 1. Photo credit: Em Gatland

Over the years, the Old Mutual joBerg2c has become a favourite event for strong mixed teams to test their mettle. 2017 is no different. Chasing Du Toit and Swanepoel for the category this year will be 2016 champions Darren and Candice Lill (dorma kaba) and Grant Usher and Amy Beth McDougall (Lanham-Love Valencia). Candice Lill is coming off a very impressive debut Cape Epic, while Usher and McDougall were also impressive at the 2017 Cape Epic. Also in mixed category contention are Catherine Williamson and Johan Labuschagne (The Bicycle Company Mitas). The pair have a lot of experience riding together and will only get stronger as the week goes on.

The 93km stage 2 - when the real racing of the Old Mutual joBerg2c begins - takes riders from Frankfort to Reitz. For the racing elite, the stage will be fast and furious, while for the rest of the field highlights will include the water point hosted by Skewerkop Boere Vereeniging (the best boerie rolls in the world) and the Husky Romi Wolf Sanctuary just outside Reitz.