Defending champion Brandon Stewart will team up with old foe Neil MacDonald in a surprise last-minute pairing for the three-day FedGroup Berg & Bush mountain bike race that gets underway on Friday.
The FedGroup-Itec Connect man, who won with Jacques Rossouw last year, will mount his title defence in the 220km event alongside the 35-year-old former roadie as he waits to announce his new team-mate for the 2013 season.
MacDonald placed first and second overall in the last two editions of the Old Mutual joBerg2c alongside usual RE:CM team-mate Waylon Woolcock. The latter will be riding this event with Andrew Hill.
Stewart, 31, said he was delighted to have his old nemesis, who will be making his debut in the race, on his team as they were both seasoned pros.
“Between us we have many years of hard-earned racing experience. For this there is no substitute.”
The Hilton-based rider said they had originally intended to ride together but arrangements had fallen through.
“Fortunately, everything has now come together.”
Stewart said they had a good understanding on the bike, having ridden alongside each other on numerous occasions.
“We know each other’s style and ability well. I think compatibility and a good vibe make for positive racing on all courses.”
MacDonald, who hails from Randburg, has shown good form recently with third-place finishes in the MTN Ride Crater Cruise and Nissan Trailseeker Series race at Van Gaalen.
“I think our chances are good and we’re definitely aiming for the win,” said Stewart. “I’ve rested and am motivated to do well.
“At the end of a long season it’s usually the most motivated team that has the edge.”
Voted the country’s premier race in the past, participants in the competitive Descent will depart from the vicinity of Sterkfontein Dam near Harrismith in the Free State and finish at Winterton in the Central Drakensberg on Sunday.
Stewart said he would then compete as a roving ambassador in the more relaxed Great Trek, which follows the same course from October 30.
“After that (November 3 to 4), I’ll ride with my wife Bridgette in the mixed category of the two-dayer. For the latter two events it’s more about being a brand ambassador than winning.”
Stewart said the FedGroup Berg & Bush would also provide the perfect platform for the announcement of next year’s FedGroup-Itec Connect squad.
Although remaining mum on his new partner’s identity, Stewart said the rider was an experienced international campaigner with whom he was looking forward to forging a successful, long-term partnership.
Currently signed to another team, Stewart said his mystery team-mate would jump ship as soon as his contract had expired. “It’s effectively a done deal and all will be revealed at Berg & Bush.”
In the competitive mixed category, FedGroup-Itec Connect’s Bridgette Minnaar-Stewart and Brad Stroberg will come up against seven-time Dusi canoe marathon champion Martin Dreyer and his wife Jeannie (USN/Hi-Tec) as well as Candice Neethling and Justin Porteous (Cranked4Christ).