Cape Town - Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck crossed the line first on a
reconfigured Day 1 of the Berg & Bush Descent, the
three-day stage race taking place in KwaZulu-Natal's central Drakensberg
The Mpumalanga pair finished in a time of 2:26:04. Second went to Andrew Hill
and Declan Sidey in a time of 2:26:09. Phil Buys
and Matthys Beukes, in a time of 2:27:32, were home in third.
The day’s riding distance remained at 99km, but due to heavy rain in the region
leading up to the first day of racing, the first 32km of day one was ridden as
a neutral zone, with the race proper starting at the first water point.
In the ladies race, Amy Beth McDougall and Sam Sanders
claimed Day 1 honours (2:36:48), with Candice Lill and Vera
Adrian (2:41:35) coming in second after puncture issues. Third in the ladies
was Carmen Buchacher and Michelle Vorster, finishing
The race started in cold and misty conditions at Windmill Farm on the banks of
the Sterkfontein Dam. As the clouds lifted, a field featuring some of South
Africa's top MTB talent turned up the heat, hurtling towards the finish and
race village at Em'seni Camp on the banks of the Tugela River.
In the men’s race, the shorter racing distance allowed a large bunch to stick
together, with the top riders only splitting around the 75km mark. Up until
that point, Buys and Beukes, along with Hill and Sidey, had been in control of
the pace at the front, but just after the third water point Bell was able to
accelerate, taking Combrinck with, and pull away from the field. Hill and Sidey
chased, staying with the leaders until a sprint in the final 200m saw Bell and
Combrinck over the line first.
“That felt longer than 99km for some reason, but it was a good, fun ride,” said
“The route was actually in great condition and the riding was really
enjoyable. The rain meant there was no dust, and I thought everything was
As the race entered the business end, there was a four man pile-up that could
have derailed three teams.
Buys' handlebar caught Combrinck, the
resulting instability taking down Bell, Sidey and Buys. No bikes or riders were
harmed, though, and the three teams were able to race on.
“The racing was a bit flat in the start,” said Combrinck, “but after the second
water point Nico started riding hard and that upped the tempo. Apart from the
crash there were no issues; the riding was really good overall. It was a little
bit slippery in the beginning, but the trails were fantastic and you could see
a lot of effort had been put in.”
In a reversal of fortunes from a race a week ago, McDougall and Sanders were
able to get home ahead of Lill and Adrian thanks to a minor mechanical suffered
by the later around the 65km mark.
“Candice and Vera had a puncture and we were
able to get away,” said Sanders.
“We rode hard and really enjoyed it, the
trails were fantastic.”
The leading ladies stuck with the second bunch of men for much of the race,
before pulling away towards the end of the route.
“What an amazing day of riding,”
“Tough but fun. The rain made the trails nice and tacky, so you
could really go all out. It was great conditions to ride in.”
The Day 1 route featured some of the region's iconic mountain bike trails;
Great Wall my China and Baboon Route took riders along the top of the
escarpment, with sweeping views of KwaZulu-Natal below, while the twisting and
turning Solly's Folly - switchbacks for days - was the perfect way to ride off
the escarpment and into the valley.
Everest, the final roller-coaster descent
of the day, was followed by the leafy Garden of Eden trail, the final 5km
stretch of the day's riding flows alongside the Tugela River.
Day 2 the Berg & Bush is a shorter day - just 60km - but
starts off with the lung-busting Ox Wagon Hill before heading into the
excellent bushveld trail and single track. With some short, sharp climbs and
technical descents, riders' fitness and skill levels will be tested.
After the day's racing, the riders will then relocate to the top of Spionkop
for the Volvo Spionkop, a 1.3km dash for cash from the bottom of the famous
hill to the top. The winning male and female rider will each be rewarded with
R20 000 for their efforts.
Berg & Bush Descent results Day 1
1. Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck (NAD Pro MTB) 2:26:04
2. Andrew Hill and Declan Sidey (Bells Cycling Kabuki
3. Phil Buys and Matthys Beukes (Pyga Euro Steel) 2:27:32
4. Wessel Botha and Henry Liebenberg (Absolute Motion)
5. Michael Posthumus and Derrin Smith (William Simpson)
1. Amy Beth McDougall and Sam Sanders (Valencia Ladies)
2. Candice Lill and Vera Adrian (dormakaba) 2:41:35
3. Carmen Buchacher and Michelle Vorster (Velocity Sports Lab
4. Yolandi du Toit and Theresa Ralph (Team Garmin Galileo
5. Christie-Liegh Hearder and Courteney Webb (Absolute Motion