There’s something REALLY cool about racing the length of one of the World’s great ultra-distance and endurance sporting nations. Even better, make it an unsupported “continuous” or “non-stage” race and throw in a trip to the top of one of Africa’s highest mountain passes in the middle and you have the recipe for something truly iconic to add to the long list of SA’s great endurance sporting events.
In just over a month from now, on 12 October, the inaugural Trans Afrika Cycle Race will get under way from the country’s main northern border point, Beit Bridge, and the first rider to reach Camps Bay, way down South in the Mother City of Cape Town will take the honours.
Race director Andy Masters explains the concept: “The Trans Afrika is totally unsupported, implying that riders are responsible for their own logistical arrangements, including accommodation, food and running repairs. They are allowed to utilise facilities in the various towns along the route, but may not have organised travelling support.
The riders may select their own routes, but have to travel via 3 compulsory check points. The first section will be completed at the 1st check point at Piggs Peak in the small kingdom of Swaziland. Thereafter, the riders will hot foot it up over the Drakensberg Escarpment and across the Free State Province in the direction of the Mountain Kingdom that is Lesotho. On entering Lesotho, they will begin an epic climb to the top of Moteng Pass, all of 2,820 metres high and one of the highest passes on the African Continent.
The top of Moteng Pass will be the 2nd check point, and thus the end point for Section 2 honours, although the race is a non-stop one. A further “race within a race” will be the King of the Mountains, which will be won by the fastest person from Fouriesburg in the Free State to the top of Moteng Pass.
Down from Moteng Pass at
speed and back out of Lesotho, and the competitors will knuckle down to the “Sprint Section” to Prince Albert in the Western Cape just under 1,000km away. The route will become flatter and faster as the riders head towards the vast expanse that is South Africa’s Great Karoo. South Africa’s largest dam, Gariep Dam, may well
be a feature on many riders’ planned routes as they cross the country’s major river, the Orange River, on their exit from the Free State into the Northern Cape. Expect some big pushes and probably minimal sleep from the competitive riders during this stage as the riders start to sense that Cape Town is getting nearer, says Masters.
After the Section 3 end in Prince Albert, the riders will head down the home strait towards Cape Town a short 400km or so away. “This final push will not be without a few challenging climbs as the riders cross the Western Cape mountain ranges”, says Masters, “but by this stage of the race, and after that mammoth climb in Lesotho, the hills will probably be more like “speed bumps” in the riders minds as the Mother City gets close”.
Although it depends on the routes chosen in between check points, the race route is expected to be in the region of 2,800 km, which Masters believes will make this Southern Africa’s longest non-stage cycle race. It is expected to include in the region of 35,000m worth of ascent, with the Moteng pass climb being the highlight in this regard. The front runners are expected in Cape Town in less than 8 days.
Masters says “Adventure cycling is a growing part of cycling throughout the world and the number of participants in these races grows year on year. The Trans Continental from London to Istanbul is seeing winners cycling 3200km in seven days. The typical entrants are “adventurer types” who like to be self-sufficient and to make their own choices. But don’t underestimate their competitive spirit”.
Yes, Trans Afrika is more than just about pedalling. It is about adventure. “Riders decide where and when they will sleep, what route they will travel and what equipment they will take with them,” Andy explains. “And if they want to navigate badly and end up taking an extra few hundred kms and burning a few extra calories that’s also okay, as long as they make the check points, he says. “This is not everybody’s cup of tea but that’s what makes such races unique”.
“Faster riders will travel light and sleep rough using bivvy bags and carrying their minimal equipment in Apidura type bike bags. Other riders will find accommodation along the route or travel with Arkel type panniers carrying their gear,” he says. “The emphasis is on the riders making their own decisions and race strategies. And equipment/kit decisions will be important, because although the race is well into spring, Moteng Pass area temperatures can sometimes still provide a nasty cold surprise or two at this time of year, and late snow is not unheard of.
For this year’s inaugural event, 17 riders are registered to take on this mammoth adventure, including 15 men and two women. “The oldest rider is 63 and the youngest is 32. “There are two New Zealand entries as well to add some international flavour to the race,” says Andy. “Looking to the future, although such extreme races will probably never attract massive numbers, our vision is to create an iconic event that will contribute positively to South Africa’s already phenomenal brand as an endurance event destination.”
All riders will be tracked via the Nevarest tracking App. The public will be able to follow their progress at www.transafrikabikerace.com. You can also keep up to date on Facebook and Twitter.