Are you brave enough to tackle the gruelling Joberg2c bike race?
Nine days, 900km, 220 farms, veld, hills and ocean, the Joberg2c cycle race is an exceptional adventure
What do one cancer patient's last bold act, a group of paediatric surgeons raising funds to help children get the medical attention they need, and heroic moms and dads on bicycles from all over the world have in common? All are participants in one of SA's most gruelling mountain bike races, the Joberg2c.
Joberg2c is an annual mountain-biking pilgrimage - 800 riders complete 900km in nine days, through four provinces. The last race, which ended at the beginning of this month, was Joberg2c's 10th anniversary. Entries for the 2020 race open in mid-June and are highly sought after.
Craig Wapnick, one of three co-founders of the nine-stage ride, says the people who are brave enough to take on the biking adventure inspire him greatly.
"We have surgeons who participate in the race, world champion surgeons, but they're not like Ronaldo-style athletes who are constantly in the limelight. Yet they save babies' lives every day," says Wapnick.
"Then we get moms and dads who are world champion moms and dads riding with us; and also in the mix are exceptional people trying to overcome cancer," he says, recalling Paolo Beltramo, who completed the race with stage-four cancer and died the next year. "This guy rode with full-blown cancer as his last great thing he did in life. That kind of bravery sticks with you forever."
Wapnick could go on talking about the people who compete in Joberg2c, and with each person he remembers, his voice fills with energy. He remembers Douglas Sidialo, a blind Kenyan competitor who lost his sight in a bomb explosion but completed the race on a tandem bicycle two years in a row. "These guys are always with me."
For Wapnick, the race is as much about the people who compete as it is about the riding and the terrain.
"When I ride my bike I'm in my own meditative space and I'm so happy with life, but watching other people on the event get that same euphoria is a very close second to riding it myself. It's a huge motivator."
Joberg2c started when co-founder Glenn Haw signed up for the three-day annual mountain bike journey sani2c and approached Wapnick a few years later about starting a nine-day event from Joburg to the coast.
When Wapnick agreed, they approached Berg and Bush founder Gary Green to establish the trio that would organise the new race.
Joberg2c started out as a bicycle race across some of SA's most beautiful countryside. "When we realised we were onto something special, it made sense to open it up to other participants," says Wapnick.
Eight months later the first Joberg2c took place.
Wapnick and his colleagues now work over the course of the race and cannot take part. But he doesn't seem to mind: "Seeing riders pass us on the route and happily greet us keeps motivating us to do more."
Joberg2c is a significant source of income for the communities the race passes through. Local schools provide camping grounds and catering for the riders. Over the past 10 years income from the services has enabled schools on the route to afford more teachers, new buses and facility upgrades.
On top of that, the Nelson Mandela Library Project and Surgeons for Little Lives benefit from the race. Fourteen libraries have been opened along the route in the first decade, and there's a move to digitise some of them. Of the route's first library launch, Wapnick says: "It's staggering what literacy does to improve the lives of people."
Surgeons for Little Lives is the second of two partnerships with Joberg2c. Riders raise significant funds for a group of paediatric surgeons who advocate better health care for children.
Despite all the opportunities the race has made possible, Wapnick maintains a humble attitude. "I wouldn't give us the credit. We take the credit for giving people the opportunity to do something on our route, and for inspiring them," he says, emphasising the people behind the 800-strong event.
This year, Joberg2c sponsored 10 riders from Soweto. Wapnick explains the thinking behind the initiative. "We need to share and grow adventure sport, not just mountain biking, in communities where it's not so much a funding thing but also lack of knowledge about the activity."
The Soweto riders' presence in the race started with the Soweto Quartet in 2016, but has grown to 10 "vibrant people who give energy and genuineness" to the ride, says Wapnick.
Over nine days riders traverse 220 farms, crossing rivers and dams, through valleys and scaling mountains. They move through thick veld and over grassy hills all the way to the ocean. The tagline is "Ride the beloved country".
"At the finish line, people break down in tears. When you ride for nine days, things happen to you," says Wapnick. "You don't know everybody's story but you do know that every one of the riders has a story to tell. That's the great thing about Joberg2c - it's about great people coming together."
• Visit joberg2c.co.za to enter next year's race, taking place from April 24 to May 2.