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joBerg2c 2011 Day 4: Sterkfontein Dam to Winterton
I wake up full of expectation. Our breakfast is a quite affair as we mentally prepare ourselves for the big day ahead; the organisers are promising a ‘day to remember forever’. In the same breath they also make mention of a ‘beast of a day’. I am ready for the challenge!
On the start line we are entertained by a fellow rider with some words of introspection for the testing day ahead: “I hope that I don’t blow like a rancid yoghurt”. We start out of the resort and are greeted by a herd of buck racing through the veld and in front of our Massey Ferguson mascot. The neutral zone is a tar road section that is being resurfaced. As a result, the road has been closed to traffic allow us through and we need to get onto the dirt as quickly as possible to avoid inconveniencing the morning’s early-bird road users.
We leave the road, hit the dirt and head for the challenges that lie ahead. The initial furious pace is such that spectators would question whether or not we had actually already peddled ourselves more than 300km!
A Chilly Edge
The quick pace is firmly arrested by a substantial early hill that bites at the legs. Fortunately we have had an opportunity to warm up on the tar and dirt run-up. At the top of the hill riders are stopping to take off their windcheaters and jackets. Being that this is the escarpment, next to the unpredictable Drakensberg I think that this is a mistake.
We soon hit the single track, some beautiful trails that see long streams of riders flowing through the veld. My initial thoughts about the 'berg's weather turns out to be well founded, and as we progress up to the edge of the escarpment and across the border into KwaZulu-Natal we encounter a cold, howling wind that attacks us with quite some viciousness. I am feeling cold even with all my warm kit on.
On the Trail on Day 4
Once through the border post we hit a fairly tricky descent, made so by the seeping groundwater that has left the veld slippery with mud. In no time at all we are on to some fantastic single track that gets us ever closer to our descent to the plains below. The downhill sections are fast, the uphill sections quite technical in places. The riders concertina between these two extremes. We are treated to majestic views of the Drakensberg in all its splendour.
A sign along the escarpment warns: ‘No overtaking on the right’, and the organisers mean it. A blank cliff faces looms up large, with the drop to the bottom probably a good 50m. Going off the edge here would be certain death.
The trail starts to lead us down the escarpment through some great technical single track riding on the aptly named ‘Solly’s Folly’. I am having an absolute ball and am feeling very confident on my bike. The final section in getting us to the bottom is known as Bezuidenhout's Pass. I have let my confidence get the better of me and, going too fast, choose a bad line across a tricky section of rocks. I have to correct my line quickly and in doing so feel my front tire roll on the rim. The next thing I know I am summersaulting over my handlebars. By all accounts my fall was quite spectacular and I am very lucky to walk away without injury. I walk about 15m to where my bike has come to rest and my luck holds; aside from having to inflate the front tire everything is in good working order. Later that evening I discover that I have destroyed my helmet in the fall and I am off to the shops to buy a replacement!
Once we hit the plains below the great single track continues. We cross over the farms and veld and head towards Spionkop Mountain, the site of the Battle of Spionkop that took place on the 24th of January 1900, during the Anglo Boer War. The route ascends the mountain via a steep, concrete road. The legs burn all the way to the top and I am left straggling behind Janine who shoots to the top. The route then traverses the top of the mountain, during which we enjoy the scenic vistas that surround us; Spionkop Dam on one side of us and the mighty Drakensberg on the other.
What goes up must come down, and so it is with Spionkop. We descend the mountain on some very technical single track. I realise that I have slowed up with another team are suddenly behind us and, having nowhere to go, I pick up my pace.
Delights in the Garden
Our final water point for the day is in a section known as the Garden of Eden, a beautiful natural forest section that has us riding alongside the Tugela River. This section is tranquil and filled with the sounds of birds going about their daily activities. This water table also happens to be situated at roughly the halfway point in the race.
Sting in the Tail
Unfortunately the forest section gives way to the hot bushveld and the last climb of the day. The climb, Puff Adder Pass, is a very technical section of single track that seems to have no end in sight. We have no real sense of where the top may be as it is difficult to see past the thick undergrowth. We huff and puff our way to the top and are looking forward to an easy finish as it is really all downhill to Winterton.
For more information on this wonderful ride check out the joBerg2c organisers website.