By Quintin van Jaarsveld
Sibling synergy helped Hayley Smith and Darryn Purtell onto the podium in the gruelling Old Mutual joBerg2c mountain bike race, which culminated in Scottburgh on Saturday.
Fuelled by a fourth place finish in their first joBerg2c as a team last year, the South Coast cousins made the leap to the podium this time around.
Racing as Team Bell Equipment, the duo finished the demanding nine-day, 900km journey that started in Johannesburg in third place behind Valencia’s Samantha Sanders and Justin Victor (39:21:28) and the triumphant Seattle Coffee team of Carmen Buchacher and Billy Stelling (39:01:21).
It took teamwork, skill, steely resolve and a total of 41 hours, five minutes and three seconds for them to achieve their goal.
“I am really happy with our result…I think we performed well over the nine days,” Uvongo mountain bike star Smith told eHowzit.
“Nine days is a long time to keep things together. When you start to get tired, it is easy to make a mistake that could cost you the race, but we stayed focused and were extremely lucky not have any major setbacks or injuries.”
“The third place is just a bonus really,” added Southbroom product Purtell, a former national Under-24 triathlon champion.
“I think we did really well as the competition was very tough this year.
“The two teams ahead of us were pretty evenly matched and were racing flat out the whole way, which made things difficult for us, and the two teams from Australia behind us seemed to get stronger every day.”
The duo got off to a consistent start, which saw them make fourth position their own over the first four days.
The complexion of the race changed on Day Four when leaders Johan Labuschagne and Leana de Jager suffered a bad crash which took them out of the race.
Smith and Purtell went on to place third in the following three stages and finished second on the final day, which earned them third place overall.
“The first three days were the hardest as the Free State has long, flat roads,” said two-time KwaZulu-Natal women’s Under-23 mountain bike cross-country champion Smith.
“It was a constant grind to stay with the batches and got quite tiring.
“The more technical KZN tracks are more suitable to our riding styles, so once we got into KZN we were able to kick on.”
They said the benefit of a full training programme (both were undercooked heading into last year’s race due to injury) played a key role in their improved effort.
“I definitely did more training this year and tried my best to prepare for the event with doing some longer training rides as well as some shorter, intense training.
“The fitter you are, the more you enjoy the event and I had a great time,” said Smith.
Purtell said: “My riding in Durban with Jono Downham and the guys from ChainWorx really helped lift my level of cycling, especially over the first few flat days where I think I was able to go harder and help Hayley a little more than last year.”
The experience they gained as a team last year also aided their surge, but their greatest strength they said was the bond they share as cousins.
“Hayley and I have been riding together for much longer than just last year’s race, so we know how the other person will react to a change of pace or terrain, which makes racing a lot easier,” said Purtell.
Smith said there’s something special about racing in the longest fully serviced mountain bike stage race in South Africa.
“The organisers are fantastic and do such a great job that you can’t help but love being part of the race.
“I love spending time with so many passionate people that all love riding mountain bikes.
“It was a real privilege to be able to take part in this race.
“A big thanks to Bell Equipment for giving me the opportunity to be part of this event and to live my dream.”
The more experienced Purtell, with five joBerg2c races under his belt, said it remains one of his favourite events.
“The whole race was a highlight for me, from the mind-blowing trails and routes to all the new and old friend that we made along the way.
“It was an amazing adventure and a wonderful journey.”