With only two weeks left of the longest timed stage race in the world, the Tour d’Afrique, the winner is yet to be decided – a rare occurrence when it comes to a 12 000km race over 94 stages.
As participants move closer to their final border crossing and the finish line in Cape Town Christian Sailer from Switzerland and Raffael Schrof from Germany are still entwined in a battle for first position with less than two hours separating the speedsters.
In total, the participants have travelled through nine countries and just crossed the 10 000km mark.
They have made their way through dust storms in the desert, temperatures ranging from sub-zero to more than 35 degrees, tropical thunderstorms and any other weather event you can think of. Road conditions have gone from tarmac as smooth as ice to corrugated off-road that rattled the fillings from their teeth.
Crossing the border into Namibia the scenery stayed more or less the same until Windhoek but since then the tour made their way into spectacular scenery of wide open spaces, with roads that seem never-ending. Gone are the smooth, paved, straight roads of the Elephant Highway and after just one day of this, the last section of this year’s tour, the Diamond Coast has already proven that this race is not over until it’s over.
Riders face more or less 1 000km of hard-packed gravel and sand-blasting before they reach Cape Town and if today’s headwind is anything to go by it seems as though they’ll have to work hard to accomplish their final border crossing.
As the distance remaining keeps shrinking riders are faced with one last challenge. Though the route travels through some of the most beautiful scenery that riders have experienced yet on their cross-continental journey, the unpaved roads have proved to be more challenging than anticipated. Hard-packed gravel roads covered in loose sand is difficult on any day and after three and a half months of non-stop riding this final section of the tour is proving to be an apt ending to an epic journey.
Another half day race from Witvlei to before Windhoek airport where the traffic becomes thick and fast and defensive cycling is de rigueur. Tour mechanic Doug Percival on his day off won the sprint over Raffa and Chris. This stage also marks the end of the Elephant
Highway section and kudos go to the section winners Adam and Femke.
The current race results:
1 Germany Raffael Schrof
2 USA Bryce Walsh
3 Switzerland Christian Sailer
4 Canada Adam Lister
5 Namibia Alaric Britz
6 Germany Norbert Christ
7 Australia Jonathan Cowan
8 Dutch Jurgen Meijer
9 Dutch Femke Nelissen
10 South Africa Miguel Teixeira
11 Canada Carla White
12 USA Robert Rowley
13 South Africa Steve Smith
14 Australia John Phillips
15 South Africa Allan Emerton
Said Esther Borg, full tour rider:
I never knew Namibia was this beautiful. Today’s riding has been some of the best we’ve had yet. There was such a build-up to the beauty that awaited us at the top of the Pass and when the view appeared we were breathless. Silver grass next to the road and endless views were the cause of extreme emotion in all of us. The beauty of it is really
the desolation that envelopes you as you ride through it. Of all the countries we’ve travelled through this has been my favourite.
Said Douglas Percival, tour mechanic:
The intensity of the racing has surprised many of the racers as they have been pushing each other to the limit every day, no matter what the road conditions or distance. To race at that intensity for this long doesn’t sit in anyone’s cycling shorts. The fact that the results are still so close should give some indication how hard these guys have been going. The good news is that they will keep racing until the last day and the race has been decided.
Upon arrival in Windhoek, Alaric Britz, the first Namibian to take part in the whole tour, was given a hero’s welcome. The Community Hope School, the charity that he is raising money for during his trip treated all riders to a welcome braai to thank them for their effort. Britz was really pleased with the turn-out and said he hoped this would raise more consciousness of the plight of the children in the school.