Day two of the Grindrod Bank Berg & Bush was a 70km bushveld loop through aloe alleys and farm fields, riding alongside the Tugela River and in general just riding as much singletrack as possible.
In the men’s race, Nico Bell and Wessel Botha (NAD) crossed the line as the first team (in a time of 2:23:07) after a breakneck sprint finish with Phil Buys and Matthys Beukes (Pyga Eurosteel) and Phil Sebona and Pieter du Toit (Pyga Eurosteel 2).
The six teams essentially spent the morning on the trails together, racing hard through the 70km stage ahead of the chasing pack. With no long climbs or sections to stage a breakaway, it came down to the final 100m for the three strongest teams.
“We all attacked on the climbs,” said Nico Bell, “but no one managed to get an advantage. We stuck together the entire day. The trails were a lot of fun, so we just raced hard and enjoyed the day.”
In the women’s race Theresa Ralph and Sarah Hill (Galileo Risk) pushed Amy McDougall and Robyn de Groot all the way, but the dormakaba pair were just too strong on the day. Dormakaba won the day in 2:42:31.
“It was a super morning,” said Ralph. “We tried to catch Amy and Robyn, but Sarah has had a long season and was struggling a bit. The trails were amazing, though, so it was a great way to spend a morning.”
The real action of day 2, though, came in the evening with the Spioenkop Sprint. The Sprint has been a feature of the Berg & Bush for the past five years and is a blockbuster race within a race.
Riders start at the base of Spioenkop Mountain at 5pm and bust their lungs for 1.3km, climbing over 200m. The men’s and women’s winner each takes home R20 000.
This year Phil Buys pipped Wessel Botha to the top of the Kop (time of 4:36), while in the women’s race Robyn de Groot (5:51) blasted away at the last turn to take the win ahead of Amy McDougall and Candice Lill.
“The race up Spioenkop is tough, but fun,” said De Groot after her win. The prize purse of R20 000 for just over a kilometre of work is one of the best in the country. The hill climb element of racing late in the day also allows the elite riders to race in front of an enthusiastic crowd.
“That race is just pain,” said Phil Buys after his win, “but only once you stop riding.”
Both races went down to the wire, with the Berg & Bush participants cheering on their favourite riders. In the men’s race Phil Buys, Wessel Botha and Julian Jessop were neck and neck, with Buys and Botha lurching towards the finish ahead of Jessop. Ultimately, it was Buys who had the edge.
In the women’s race Theresa Ralph set the pace until Lill, McDougall and De Groot struck. At the last turn, De Groot powered up and motored away from chasing ladies to claim the prize.
“The Sprint has been a phenomenal addition to our event,” said race organiser Gary Green. “We really seeing the top riders bursting up Spioenkop and I think it’s great that the other riders get to witness the power of South Africa’s elite rider up close.”
The last day of the Berg & Bush Descent is a 50km ride, featuring the climb up Spioenkop and the world class 14km descent into Em’seni.
Images: Em Gatland