The 2017 J2C proved a bitter pill to swallow for defending champions Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck.
After the 8th stage and final day of official racing the Nad Pro MTB Team riders pushed through to finish the race in second position overall.
The top step belonged to Phil Buys and Matthys Beukes and were crowned victors at the official finish in Scottburgh after 900km of sublime riding and racing.
“Yeah, it is obviously not the result we wanted, but we are still happy that we could race our bikes and enjoy the beauty that South Africa has to offer. Finishing second place is still a great achievement” - Nico Bell
The race kicked off in Heidelberg on day 1, covering 114km of riding that would not affect the overall standings. The neutral day gives riders the opportunity to have some friendly conversations and find their legs for the 7 days of racing to follow.
Team NAD knew the implications of being out on the stage for longer than they need to be and used the opportunity to sharpen up the legs for stage 2. They rode alongside the Pyga team who won the race overall.
“It was a great day out on the bikes. We even took a boat ride over the Vaal. The route is great and the people are even better. One of the best supported races in terms of water points. The hospitality of the hosts are second to none” - Gawie Combrinck
On day 2, the racing stated. The elite men were separated from the rest of the field early on and got on with the racing. Unfortunately team Pyga suffered a mechanical and lost some time, but Nico and Gawie rode a flawless stage to take the victory and move into the first position on GC. After one day of racing, Team NAD were just over 2 minutes up on the second placed team.
Day 4 was were the magic happened for all the riders of the J2C. It was the day that included the infamous drop from the escarpment and some of the best single track known to riders in the world.
Between all the great single tracks, there was some hard racing and none of the teams were able to make inroads into their competitors. Nico and Gawie managed to control much of the pace in the trails and finished the stage off with a sprint finish and stage victory.
“It was hard from the start. The first single track is amazing, but it takes quite a bit of concentration and effort. We managed to take the stage win and consolidated our race lead. We knew what the stage had to offer as it was the first stage of the great Berg and Bush race. We were happy to stay in the lead after stage 4” - Nico Bell
Unfortunately this is where the 2017 race would fall apart for our riders. On the 5th stage Nico and Gawie encountered three separate mechanicals and lost the race lead to team Pyga. Team NAD lost more than 14 minutes on the stage, a time deficit that would put them out of contention for the victory.
“These things happen. We have to deal with it. This is racing. An unfortunate day where most things that could go wrong went wrong. We worked well together and learnt a few things about ourselves on the stage. At the end of the stage we knew that failing a major technical, the race for first was out of sight. A bitter pill to swallow, but these things happen” - Nico Bell
Our riders used the last few days of racing as preparation for the upcoming Sani2c which covers exactly the same route as the last three days of J2C.
The final day was another neutral stage and gave the teams an opportunity to ride mid pack and experience the race from the other end of the field.
“It is tough being out there for that long :) We saw some dodgy line choices and quite a bit of walking, but it was fun to talk to some of our friends and fans while on the route. We assisted some guys with mechanicals and was just great to give back a little” - Gawie on the final day of J2C
Next up we face the Sani2c, 3 day stage race. While the result from J2C was not the desired one, the team is positive and busy preparing to make the race a great one.
Gawie Combrinck is coached by PCG Elite/Master coach Hunter Allen