Old Mutual joBerg2c revisits the Battle of Spioenkop

Once a battle site, then a battle to ride up, the infamous climb of Spioenkop makes a welcome return to the Old Mutual joBerg2c in 2018.

The nine-day ride across South Africa, the longest stage race in South Africa, will once again take riders up and over Spioenkop Mountain. Riders entered into the 2018 event can steel themselves for the challenging climb to appear on day four of their journey from Heidelberg in Gauteng to Scottburgh on KwaZulu-Natal’s south coast.


Day three of the Old Mutual joBerg2c is where riders find their legs. The long stage from Reitz to Sterkfontein Dam takes riders from vast mielie fields to the first sightings of the Drakensberg. The finish of the stage along the Sterkfontein Dam wall is an iconic moment in an event full of priceless scenery. Credit: Em Gatland


After a few years absence from the joBerg2c, the event organisers, inspired by a group of British Army Soldiers who took the detour of their own accord during the 2017 joBerg2c, have decided that this iconic location is a must-ride for all participants.


Spioenkop is of course the famous mountain on which one of the fiercest battles was fought during the Anglo-Boer War. Winston Churchill, who was a war correspondent at the time, reported the scenes of the battle:


“There was moreover a steady leakage of unwounded men of all corps. Some of these cursed and swore. Others were utterly exhausted and fell on the hillside in stupor. Others again seemed drunk though they had no liquor. Scores were sleeping heavily.”


Thankfully at joBerg2c there will be liquor present - and the promise of a good night’s sleep - but only after riders have conquered Spioenkop.


“All Old Mutual joBerg2c riders will have to do is ride the up Spioenkop – not too much to ask compared to fighting and dying in the trenches,” says one of the three race organisers, Craig Wapnick.


Wapnick adds, “We will be giving the English and Afrikaans riders a chance to go up against each other on the day. We want to know if there will be more Afrikaans riders in the first 100 to go over the mountain or more English riders. And if any Zulu, Xhosa or Sotho beat them they too will be rewarded. This could become an iconic mountain bike battle ground for years to come. It also adds an element of good-natured competition to the day’s riding. Naturally all riders will be rewarded equally with a breath-taking descent off the top of the mountain… and if all goes well there will be no bloodshed!”


Riders at the 2017 Grindrod Bank Berg & Bush make their way up the infamous Spioenkop climb. Spioenkop has been a hallmark of the Berg & Bush, while also appearing in early editions of the Old Mutual joBerg2c. This year the short but steep climb makes its return to the nine-day MTB race - but riders can look forward to a stunning 12km singletrack descent as reward for the ascending efforts. Credit: Em Gatland.


The legend of Spioenkop also adds an international flavour to the ride - which itself is already hugely popular with foreign mountain bikers.


There are a number of famous British football grounds with stands named “The Kop” after the battle of Spioenkop. These include Liverpool’s Anfield, Leeds United’s Elland Road, Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane and many others. Interestingly, while the Kop is synonymous with Liverpool, the first recorded use of the name at an English football stadium came in 1904 at Arsenal’s (then Woolwich Arsenal) old Manor Ground stadium.


The Old Mutual joBerg2c is no ride in the park. It is the longest fully serviced stage race in the world – by some distance. It is an incredible way to see the real South Africa if you are fit and willing. Going from city to sea off-road on trails and through more than 100 farms requires the right attitude: ride hard and reward yourself with ice cold beers.


The ride also attracts over 150 foreigner riders (there are 180 foreigners entered so far this year) from all over the globe who love riding their bikes in special places. From Mexico to Australia and in between, the love of mountain biking in places less travelled is universal.


There are limited entries available for 2018. Entries close 31 January 2018 or when full.


With over 250km of single track only open for the event - and some truly rural riding - the Old Mutual joBerg2c is about Riding the Beloved Country, where the journey is more important than the destination.


“The Old Mutual joBerg2c is into its ninth year.” says Wapnick, “And if you ask most riders, it just gets better and better.”