Winterton to Kamberg
The day started with another tractor pull out of our overnight stop in Winterton but, sadly, that’s where the similarities with yesterday’s route end. To be honest, today’s stage was always going to struggle to match the incredible scenes that greeted our descent off the escarpment on Day 4. Yet it was a beautiful tour of rural Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Southern Drakensberg.
A long stretch of district road at the start threw up clouds of dust off the start. I was crying through it and decided to get out front for a clear view of the sunrise and some fresh air. I timed it nicely and dropped into a twisty section of trail through a local village ahead of the lead bunch. It’s rather stressful to have a pro peloton hot on your tail through high-speed singletrack but I only managed to lose the race line once or twice as we belted across the veld.
After about 45 minutes I promptly pulled out of the chase for the podium as the gradient ramped up across a small rise. I’ve lined up a number of excuses for this behaviour…
Firstly, there was a lot of pedaling still to be done. Course designer Gary Green had mentioned that three big climbs loomed during the day: which he’d named Tough, Tougher and Toughest.
Then, there was the fact that I had left Andrew behind in my quest for affirmation and glory. And although the first waterpoint came quickly, I missed his razor-sharp wit and riding banter.
Lastly, I knew if I kept hammering at the same pace I’d soon be bleeding through my eyeballs and therefore unable to spot the rhinos we were bound to encounter in the game reserve at the 60km mark (I’d spotted two here last year).
So I waited at waterpoint 1. Chatted to the cameraman. Had five doughnuts. Drank three cups of coke. Inhaled a few salted potatoes. Almost found myself married off to a farmer’s daughter. And then Andy arrived.
We cruised off together, holding a strong pace and catching group after group as we conquered each of the three rises. To be honest Andy’s banter today wasn’t its usual caliber, I suspect he might have found the early going a little tough.
As spectacular as the scenery was, the riding wasn’t particularly technical. And I didn’t spot any rhinos! Although numerous riders did. I hate missing out like that. The climbs along the way, however, were worthy of respect for their length and gradient. And 102km on a mountain bike is still a long way.
The scenery and vegetation changed from grasslands and mielie fields to forests and dairy farms as we neared our overnight stop at Kamberg. And what a stop it has been. We are surrounded by spectacular mountains. An ice-cold babbling brook (yep, just like in fairytales) runs between our tents and, as I sit here knocking this out on the keyboard, riders are giving weary legs a rest in the inviting stream. Tonight we are being hosted by Howick Preparatory School. The kids wash our bikes and escort us to our tents. Their folks lay on a lunch and dinner spread to put most restaurants to shame. There is a smile and an accommodating nod to any request from even the grumpiest rider.
I know I’ve been banging on about this now, but the hospitality of the joBerg2C is astounding. This is how every multi-stage race should be run. You really get a feel for the local community, and they are the best marketing campaign any destination could ask for…