This is not a race report of how the lead changed in some race somewhere or what tire pressure a pro used to a greater or lesser effect; this is a story of how a race tirelessly strives to help change lives.
Normally, stage-race organizers hype the bigger, farther, higher aspects in a statistics war with their perceived rival races. The nine-day joBerg2c stage race in South Africa has big stats too–900 kilometers in nine days, 13,000 meters of climbing and many more meters of descending–but that’s not its trump card. Instead, it’s the quiet, unassuming way the organizers embrace, support and give back to the local communities through which they traverse–from the bright lights of Johannesburg, South Africa’s financial capital, to the sleepy coastal town of Scottburgh. Over the past three years, joBerg2c has generated enough money to help raise the literacy level by 20 percent in the four provinces and eight villages that sit along the rural race route.
The motivation behind the philanthropic part of the race stems from the passion and philosophy of the race’s founders: Glen Haw, Gary Green and Craig Wapnick.
Some 20-odd years ago, when I first started exploring my local forests on a mountain bike, Glen Haw was already knocking out self-supported multi-day rides along the Wild Coast of South Africa’s Eastern Cape. Eventually, after years of riding with mates and perfecting his route, he formalized the concept in 2000 as South Africa’s first mountain-bike stage race: the Imana Wild Ride. From the outset ‘Farmer Glen’ wanted to support the locals who had shown him routes over the years, and also help preserve this fragile coastline by showing the world its value as a tourist destination and not a conquest for large mining conglomerates.
In the 16 years since, the Imana Wild Ride has built almost 30 classrooms for local schools along the route and helped re-invigorate the local tourism industry. Here’s more on the visionaries behind joBerg2c:
In the early 2000s, Farmer Glen started taking weekends off to ride from his dairy farm at the foot of the Drakensberg mountain range to his in-laws’ home in Scottburgh for Sunday lunches. He roped in some of his mates and, over the next few years, the route eventually took the form as the Sani2c three-day mountain-bike stage race. The race raised R325,000 ($21,745) in its first year back in 2005. Now the Sani2c runs three concurrent events that raised more than R8.3 million ($555,350) last year alone and almost R48 million ($3 million) over the course of a decade. That money funds a large number of local schools and community-driven projects all along the Sani2c and joBerg2c routes.
I met Farmer Glen in early 2008, when Steve Peat, Greg Minnaar and I went to shoot the amazing 17-kilometer downhill trail into the Umkomaas Valley. Halfway down the descent sits the Msayana School, where the kids where thrilled to see the legends of DH–granted they had no idea what DH racing was or who these guys in the full-face helmets and goggles were. But they loved it, and to this day if you are on a good run through their section of trail the kids still cheer, “Steve Peat, Steve Peat!”
Around the same time, just a bit farther inland, a beef farmer from the historical Battlefields area of Northern Kwa-Zulu Natal, Gary Green, was also plotting routes through the thorn scrub around his farm and beyond into the Free State. Likely spurred by the Sani’s inaugural success in 2005, Green launched his three-day race, the Berg & Bush, in 2006. In the past decade, Green’s race has helped fund literacy projects for schools, Qhubeka bikes (World Bicycle Relief’s South African program) and many other worthy projects. In 2009, at a coffee shop meeting in Johannesburg, a city that the rough-and-tough farmer admits scares him, the third member of this trio joined ranks and the idea of the joBerg2c was born.
‘Proper Wappo,’ shortened to ‘Wappo,’ as he is commonly known, was a big-city advertising guru looking to add more meaning to his life and escape the big-city rat race. With his mountain bike mates, affectionately known as the ‘Swamp Dogs,’ he purchased some land in the Eastern Free State and they created a network of trails for that aforementioned escape that two wheels bring. Wappo loves “proper” trails, choosing to spend his post-race holiday a couple of years ago in the south of France riding the trails made famous by the Trans-Provence.
Being the ‘urban friend,’ as he is referred to in the daily stand-up comedy routines that double as race briefings at joBerg2c, Wappo helps manage the relationships between big business, media and logistics that is essential in order to fully service more than 800 riders and a large support staff. In much the same way, the farmers manage the relationships with more than 100 landowners whose property the route traverses from Heidelberg to Scottburgh.
I would be remiss not to include the trios’ better halves who are the sober ying to the raging yang that drives them to explore new routes and get lost in the hope of finding some new connector or section to increase riders’ enjoyment on the route: Mandy Haw, Nicky Green and Kelly Wapnick.
The organizers dub joBerg2c as “riding the beloved country,” paraphrasing the title Alan Paton’s famous novel “Cry, the Beloved Country.” The 1948 novel was set in Johannesburg and Ixopo, and was written in protest to the social structures that gave rise to the apartheid policies of segregation in South Africa. The race is doing all it can to help integrate and build these same disadvantaged communities up, fostering healthier rural areas.