Roof riders check the skies

Spec­ta­tors and riders in this year’s Roof of Africa race have only one ques­tion: is that cloud rain?

The Witness - Wheels - - RACING - AL­WYN VILJOEN

WHILE the Yel­low Brick app al­lows fans to track riders com­pet­ing in the week­end’s Roof of Africa, the app that riders are most us­ing is Ac­cuWeather, with the big ques­tion ev­ery­one is ask­ing: “Will it rain, or not?”

Over 380 bik­ers have en­tered this year’s Roof of Africa, with rac­ing hav­ing started to­day on what or­gan­is­ers say is a “shorter and more compact route”, but with higher lev­els of ex­treme rid­ing for all classes.

Of­fi­cially the riders com­pete un­til Sun­day for a purse of R180 000, but ev­ery­one knows it’s fin­ish­ing that earns you the real brag­ging rights. In fact, just be­ing a Roof spec­ta­tor will earn you a free beer in even the tough­est bik­ers’ bar, for the Roof is one race where spec­ta­tor as­sis­tance is not just al­lowed, but en­cour­aged — as long as it’s not planned.

“The course is so tough that if riders didn’t re­ceive help from by­standers, even fewer would fin­ish,” says race or­gan­iser Peter Luck, who has been in­volved with the race since 1977.

ONLY THE FITTEST SUR­VIVE

For­mer win­ner Chris Birch said riders don’t have to be the great­est in the world to fin­ish, but they do have to be “really fit to do it at any pace”.

The route com­prises sand and “rock tracks with hard sur­faces”, which may sound like tau­tol­ogy, but is not.

Bri­tish cam­paigner Ben Hem­ing­way ex­plains: “There’s a car­pet of grass, but un­derneath it feels like iron. It’s a dif­fer­ent sort of ground to Europe, which is softer and more for­giv­ing. This gives your hands and your body a pound­ing. It’s pun­ish­ing.”

Riders will climb to nearly 3 000 me­tres be­fore plung­ing down val­leys, where sev­eral rivers will have to be crossed. The names of the sec­tions, like Mr Moleko’s Pass, Tha­bang’s Road to Hell, Im­pos­si­ble and Down­town x2, give a hint at the new level of dif­fi­culty which riders will face. As al­ways, the Roof riders have to go slower through vil­lages. “We try to avoid vil­lages as much as pos­si­ble, and we warn the lo­cals not to bring their cat­tle out. In fact, we work with the lo­cal farm­ers on how to best route the race around their vil­lages,” said Luck on the Roof’s web­site.

Lights are op­tional but rec­om­mended, es­pe­cially for those who get lost, a night­mare that haunts even the front riders.

Trail tyres may not be used, but any type of mo­to­cy­cle is wel­come, and this year will see Chris­tini rac­ing their 2x2 bikes for the first time in the Roof.

The con­di­tions favour light two-stroke ma­chines. Past win­ners rode on 250 cc or 300 cc bikes. Bikes are di­vided into three classes: gold, sil­ver and bronze, de­pend­ing on the de­gree of dif­fi­culty of the route they fol­low.

RIDERS TO WATCH

All eyes will be on KZN rider Wade Young, who be­came the youngest rider to win the Roof in 2012, nar­rowly lost to Bri­tain’s Gra­ham Jarvis in 2013, and last year took the ti­tle again, beat­ing Jarvis by al­most six min­utes. Brett Swanepoel and Al­tus de Wet fol­lowed home, and De Wet, who wore the num­ber 2 plate in 2013, is chomp­ing at the bit for a podium this year.

The start and fin­ish for all bikes is at Ha Pa­trick, which has easy ac­cess and a spec­tac­u­lar fin­ish line. Us­ing the track­ing sys­tem, now in its sec­ond year, fans and crews alike can fol­low the bik­ers us­ing the Yel­low Brick app.

Among the fe­male riders, Kirsten Land­man is hop­ing that this year will be just as good as 2014, when she fin­ished a strong 23rd in Sil­ver Class on her first Roof.

“Roof of Africa 2014 was by far the hard­est thing I have ever done. There were many times when I doubted my abil­i­ties, when I wanted to throw in the towel and give up, but I made a prom­ise to my­self that I was not go­ing to quit and that giv­ing up was not an op­tion. Thank good­ness I have really long arms be­cause I had to really dig deep to push through and cross that fin­ish line,” she posted af­ter­wards on her web­site.

“Roof of Africa 2014 was by far the hard­est thing I have ever done”

PHOTO: ROOFO­FAFRICA.INFO

The Roof of Africa en­duro is in full swing un­til Sun­day, with more than 380 riders hop­ing they can fin­ish.

KIRSTEN LAND­MAN Brother Leader Tread KTM Fac­tory Team rider

PHOTO: IN­STA­GRAM

The tal­ented Al­tus de Wet wear­ing the num­ber 2 plate in 2013. Will his in­ter­na­tonal ex­pe­ri­ence make it No. 1 by Sun­day?

PHOTO: IN­STA­GRAM

KTM fac­tory rider Kirsten Land­man fin­ish 23rd in her first Roof in 2014. She is keen to do even bet­ter this time around.

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