British rider Catherine Williamson will be pedalling for victory in the mixed category title at the Old Mutual joBerg2c international mountain bike race that starts this Friday.
The former champion, who will ride with Johan Labuschagne, said she was excited about the nine-day event that covers more than 900km, stretching from the Highveld town of Heidelberg to Scottburgh on the KwaZulu-Natal coast.
The 34-year-old from north Yorkshire – who will be riding for The Bicycle Company-Mitas team – said she was looking forward to the strong competition in the mixed category.
“There has always been a strong mixed field at joBerg2c and so the organisers have put more emphasis on this category. While it makes for a tougher week, it’s much better to race in a competitive category.”
In an exciting change, mixed teams will receive equal prize-money to male-only teams this year, thanks to sponsorship from commercial law firm Lanham-Love Attorneys.
The top mixed team could earn a R50 000 bonus, a decision aimed at attracting more female riders, said race director Craig Wapnick.
“Johan has a lot more experience in the mixed category, so what he says goes. He managed the Sasol team last year and is the reason I’m still racing in South Africa.
“He is a very strong partner. He can drive the group along the flat and is also good to follow on the descents.”
While the pair want a win, Williamson said their main goal was to make the most of the experience.
“We obviously want to race as hard as we can but, as with any stage race, there are many things that can go wrong. So it’s best to go in there with the intention of enjoying the experience, while racing to your best ability.”
“Racing for me isn’t just about the outcome and the result, it is about the memories you take from each race, the friendships you make, the scenery and the atmosphere in the camp.”
Williamson has spent the last few weeks at home, practising for the cold starts.
“I’ve stayed on the road to get a bit more speed in my legs for the flatter stages, plus the fact that any off-road training in Yorkshire at the moment requires a snorkel.”
She said she was happy about the route changes in the joBerg2c, which includes a shortened day four and an entirely different sixth stage.
“Each year the route is slightly different, which is great. I’m sure the tweaks will be for the better.”
Williamson said that American Sonja Looney and Japan’s Yuki Ikeda were one of the teams to keep an eye on.
“I think Sonja and Yuki will be very strong together. They have tons of stage race experience and I regard them as two of the best in the world.”
Another team on the radar are South Africans Grant Usher and Amy Beth McDougall, who placed second and first respectively in the inaugural Munga event.
For more results, photos and news see joBerg2c.