The name Team Darkhorse Wheels may suggest they are outsiders at the gruelling nine-day joBerg2c mountain bike race from Heidelberg to Scottburgh next week, but Shaun-Nick Bester and Andrew Hill look like the pair to beat.
After mixed fortunes at the Epic, where the Darkhorse Wheels duo ended 25th despite Bester discovering only after the event that he had tick bite fever, the pair on Friday go into their second major stage race of the year as the favourites.
Hill, however, knows just how fortunes can rise and fall in a multi-day event and was careful to play down the team’s chances during the race from April 26-May 4.
“Our aim for joBerg2c is, like most stage races or tours, to try to ride for the overall GC placing and try to avoid any unnecessary energy expenditure or injury and illness.
“The overall race strategy is to finish on the podium. As a team we have the necessary experience of this event and know what is required to be up there in the mix for a win. Success in such a long event almost always comes down to staying healthy and being attentive to what racing efforts should be tempered, and which could provide meaningful time gaps in the GC (general classification).
“This year we have definitely tried to make our season-build slightly longer in an effort to target the nine-day race. Shaun-Nick and I have worked hard in the planning phase and looked at the specifics of the race, along with the stages, to see where we can improve.
“A long event like this is all about planning and preparation.”
Bester agrees, and adds that he believes their performance at the race will be due to the teamwork.
“Motivation for long events and particularly multi-day stage races is critical,” said Bester. “You go through ups and downs from day to day, and even during each day you could have good and bad moments on the bike.
“As a team, Andrew and I have a great ethos and we know we can really rely on each other. There is a lot of experience between us and both of us have raced a lot.
“A podium finish would be a huge achievement for the team and sponsors. A stage win or two is something we would definitely be targeting, but to keep the momentum going over nine days requires a lot of luck and good fortune.”
Bester and Hill are excited about taking part in the joBerg2c which provides riders with a unique look at South Africa. It is the only race which takes competitors from the South African Highveld, through four different provinces, and ends at the coast just south of Durban.
“The journey from just outside Johannesburg to the sea is a special one for all South Africans,” said Hill, “and we are excited to take our sponsors with us, hopefully with some stage wins along the way.”
The joBerg2C starts on Friday at Heidelberg in Gauteng and finishes nine-days later in Scottburgh on the KZN south coast. The first three stops will be in Frankfort, Reitz and Sterkfontein Dam in the Free State. The riders will then drop over the escarpment into KZN for overnight stays at Winterton, Nottingham Road, Underberg, Ixopo and finally Highflats.
The total race distance is about 900km with the bulk of the riding on district dirt roads as well as a lot of Jeep and single track. The longest day is the 121km Day 3 from Reitz to Sterkfontein, while the 97km Day 6 from Nottingham Road to Underberg has the most climbing, with 1 940 vertical metres of ascent.