Roof of Africa’s Record Books Rewritten

Words & Photos: Elza Thiart

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The Roof of Africa

The Roof of Africa is held annually in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho, and is one of the oldest races in the world. Although it has always been a tough event, it has become even more challenging for dirt bikers - so much so that enduro riders from all over the world want to compete in and conquer this gruelling race.

Presented this year for the 45th time, the 2012 Roof of Africa was once again tackled by 400-odd competitors, including extreme enduro specialist from the UK, Graham Jarvis, who was last year's winner; multiple UK trials champions, Ben and Dan Hemingway; the German enduro competitor, Andreas ‘Letti’ Lettenbichler; and New Zealand enduro champion, Chris Birch, who has been living and racing in South Africa for the past two years and has won the event from 2008 to 2010.

South African riders just haven't been able to clinch a title since 2007, when Louwrens Mahoney walked away the winner in Lesotho for the third time. And so the SA riders rose to the challenge, and they were there in force. Brother Broadlink KTM’s Mahoney and Altus de Wet; another former winner, Darryl Curtis and Riaan van Niekerk, who are preparing for the 2013 Dakar Rally; and UK privateer rider, Paul Bolton. Team Proudly Bidvest Yamaha’s Marc Torlage and Kenny Gilbert were hungry for good results, while Birch’s young teammates Scott Bouverie and Dominic Mantle have been riding and training with him to get ready. The quiet Ladybrand businessman, Wynand Badenhorst (Nomadik Tents KTM), who finished sixth two years ago, as well as Kargo Racing Yamaha’s Brad van Aswegen, Mark Garland and Timothy Young were all aiming for a top 10 finish.

The name Wade Young, racing for Fever Criterion Yamaha, was also mentioned, but as a 16-year-old youngster competing in his first Roof of Africa no one really knew how the kid would do. Young has won two rounds of the SA National Enduro Championship and finished the season in third place overall, but competing in the Roof was a totally different matter. James Hodson has been Team Liquorland Yamaha’s highest scorer and was also aiming for another great result, as were the many competitors and riders who entered to either complete the full race distance (PRO Class), or about 75% (Expert Class) or about half the distance (Intermediate Class) of the 450 kilometre race that stretched over three days in an extremely hot and dry Lesotho.

The ‘usual suspects’ - Curtis and Torlage - had fun with Curtis winning the traditional Around the Houses racing section that took place in the streets of Maseru on early Thursday morning, and Torlage posting the fastest time (like he did last year) after the 60 kilometre time-trial that determined the starting positions for Friday’s racing section.

Wade tackled Friday’s 250 km section from second place, just a minute behind Torlage, and after sussing out the rest of the competition he decided to make a break at Baboon's Pass. After being in the saddle for more than eight hours on Friday, the quiet teenager was about 10 minutes ahead of the 2011 winner, who got lost on several occasions. This young rider from Paddock in KwaZulu-Natal was not really challenged during the last day’s almost 200 km section, which included some extremely challenging passes, such as Push Me Pass and Push Me Down. Even Young admitted that he was really suffering in those sections, but he stood his ground and rewrote the history and record books to become the youngest rider ever to claim a Roof of Africa victory.

Behind him De Wet had overtaken Jarvis, who had struggled with a problematic GPS, and the huge crowd at the finish erupted when the likable 27-year-old KTM rider from Montagu made his way up Bushman’s Pass to score his best result in Lesotho. Jarvis, who has not been beaten in 18 months, had to settle for third place. The soft-spoken Husaberg rider admitted afterwards that the long race distances at the Roof of Africa are like no other event he has competed in, but said that he will be back.

Curtis and van Niekerk have just returned from France where they've been testing their KTMs in preparation for next year’s Dakar Rally. Both said that they were not as prepared for this event as they used to be, but Curtis was very happy with his fourth place. Torlage finished fifth despite an injured thumb, while Gilbert was sixth, a mere eight seconds ahead of Badenhorst after a total race time of 18 hours and 21 minutes! Badenhorst ‘grew up’ on a bike in the mountains of Lesotho and knows how to ‘read’ the route, and so he was trailed by a number of competitors who trusted his navigation skills. He finished just ahead of Mahoney, who also struggled with faulty navigation systems, with Riaan van Niekerk in ninth. Birch had a disastrous race after becoming violently ill on Friday due to dehydration, and was still suffering from the effects on Saturday. However, he managed to hang in there and rounded off the top 10.

In the top 20 were Birch's Comsol BELL ACR KTM teammates Scott Bouverie, who came in 11th, and Mantle 21st. Van Aswegen suffered from a dislocated knee (it popped back in again) when he had the hardest crash of his life and secured 12th, while his teammates Garland and Young clinched 18th and 20th respectively. The Hemingway brothers, who were racing in the colours of cc Gallery KTM, had a great race with Ben finishing in 13th and Dan 17th, while ‘Letti’ had to settle for 14th place after some small niggling problems on his Husqvarna. Hodson was 15th and Gillit finished 19th, while Shannon Frost (FDBR Racing Yamaha) came in 16th.

Those who did not finish were UK’s Bolton, who unfortunately hit a running kid (the kid is fine, but Bolton was rattled) and New Zealand’s Mitch Nield (Liquorland Yamaha), who crashed in the time-trial and injured his shoulder. He missed Friday’s race, but completed Saturday’s racing section.

It was interesting to see the name of an organiser of another extreme enduro event (the Red Bull Romaniacs, which takes place for the 10th year in 2013), Martin Freinademetz on the entry list. Freinademetz was the second last finisher in the PRO Class, a commendable achievement when you consider that only 44 of the 94 entrants in the PRO Class made it to the finish after a physically and mentally gruelling three-day race.

Gary Barton (BELL Equipment/LCS Yamaha) won the Expert Class, with Faan van Deventer (Pa Ma Racing Yamaha) second, and East London’s Stephen Landman (Liquorland Yamaha) in third. Peter Jung (Wildcoast KTM/Umso Ribco), also from East London, won the Intermediate Class that is aimed at the more inexperienced competitors. Craig McGregor (KTM) and Charl Weyer (KTM) rounded off the podium.

Two female riders started the event, with Toni Jardine (RAD Moto KTM) finishing the Expert Class (she completed the Intermediate Class distance in 2011), however Kirsten Landman (Proudly Bidvest Yamaha) had to call it a day close to the finish due to a small technical problem on her bike.

This year's Roof of Africa was dedicated to the memory of Errol Dalton, who had competed in more than 20 Roofs, but sadly died at a Supermoto race. He will be fondly remembered for years to come.

This epic race will be remembered for its challenging route; cheering spectators and supporters along the way; the tight battles fought between the world’s toughest and best dirt-bike competitors; and of course for young Wade, who made history and brought the trophy back to Africa. Well done to all competitors and finishers.