The British extreme enduro motorcycle rider, Graham Jarvis (Flite Extreme Husaberg) won the 2011 Roof of Africa when he beat the three-time winner, Chris Birch (Comsol Alfie Cox KTM) after his first attempt at this gruelling event that ran for the 44th time this year in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. The South African, Jade Gutzeit (Proudly Bidvest Yamaha) finished third after he lost the close three day battle with Birch a few hundred metres before the chequered flag.
Jarvis added the Roof of Africa race victory to his 2011 list that consisted of four (of the five) world extreme enduro races, but admitted that racing for more than seven hours each day for two days made his first Roof of Africa experience quite tough. They competed in the Gold Class where competitors had to tackle routes that included various treacherous mountain passes with a distance of 200 kilometres on both Friday and Saturday.
Jarvis, Birch and Gutzeit stuck together for the best part of the race with just over two minutes separating them at the beginning of the last day. The UK trials specialist showed his skills on the more technical rocky climbs and took the lead halfway through the day to beat Birch by 22min 10s. The Kiwi crashed hard face first early on Saturday and his bike landed on top of him causing him to injure his foot. He is however happy with the result and gave Jarvis all the credit for winning this edition of the Roof of Africa which he described as one of the toughest ones for him personally.
Riders had to dig deep within themselves and stories of determination combined with physical and verbal support from the crowds, brought tears to many eyes. One such moment played itself off at the top of Bushman’s Pass at the VW Amarok Finish for the Gold Class competitors where more than 5 000 spectators witnessed Gutzeit’s luck turn soon after he appeared as the second rider behind Jarvis. He made a mistake on an energy-sapping incline and lost valuable minutes recovering his bike. This resulted in Birch overtaking him with the chequered flag literally in sight and he eventually finished 7min 41s behind the dethroned Kiwi. It was the fourth consecutive year that he completed this extreme enduro race as the highest South African finisher.
The 22-year old Marc Torlage (Mr Price Yamaha) was happy to finish fourth after he started Friday from pole position as he had posted the fastest time on Thursday’s short 50km racing section. He battled with his bike and lost 25 minutes on Friday, but kept his fourth position. He and Brian Capper (Full Throttle Red Bull KTM) had the huge crowd on their feet with a spectacular 50 metre sprint to the finish line – and he (Torlage) made it by less than a bike length. Capper eventually finished seventh after racing consistently for three days.
The Roof of Africa veteran, Darryl Curtis (Brother Broadlink KTM) was fifth and admitted that he raced “with more care” (if that is at all possible) as he could not risk any injuries before he tackles the Dakar Rally on January 1st in South America. He won an extremely close battle with the multiple UK enduro champion, Ben Hemingway (Fever / cc Gallery KTM) who competed for the first time together with his brother, Dan. A mere three seconds separated them after more than 16 long and hard hours in the saddle under the African sun (and rain and hail!)
Like most of the riders, Curtis’ team-mate, Altus de Wet, also survived some small crashes and he finished eighth overall, just over two minutes ahead of the German rider, Andreas Lettenbichler (Montage Print Husqvarna) who overcame niggling issues with his bike. ‘Letti’ enjoyed the race although he would’ve liked it to be even more technical and vowed to be back for another try at victory.
The New Zealand Under 200cc enduro champion, Mitchell Nield (Gas Gas) also competed for the first time and was ecstatic with his 10th place in the Gold Class. His compatriot, Michael Skinner (Team Liquorland KTM) finished in the top ten last year, but was 13th this year while Karl Power (Shimwells Yamaha) was 15th in his first attempt (his cousin, Chris, finished 33rd) and Philip Cheater (KTM), who crashed last year, finished 29th.
Also in the top 20 were Brother Broadlink KTM team-mates, Riaan van Niekerk, who approached the race with a ‘riding to enjoy’ attitude as he was still recovering from an injury (he finished 11th and was 47 seconds behind Nield) and Gray Dick who also got lost and crashed, but was still happy with his 14th place. Wynand Badenhorst (Nomadik Tents KTM) finished 12th after he lost time on Friday when he crashed hard; Bradley van Aswegen (Kargo Racing Yamaha) finished 19th after a relative trouble-free race; Team Liquorland’s James Hodson (Husaberg) was 17th; Ben Hemingway’s brother, Dan, took 18th place with Stefan Oosthuysen 19th.
Jade’s 16-year old brother, Blake (Fever Yamaha) spent three hours more in the saddle than his brother, but completed his first ever Roof of Africa and rounded off the top 20. He won the 125cc Class in the SA Junior National Off-road Championship earlier this season and competed with the same bike. In a special moment that had supporters going for their hankies, Jade was edging his brother on at the finish and was the first to congratulate him.
Fifty-three riders completed the full race distance in the Gold Class. These also included Mark Garland (Kargo Racing Husaberg) who finished 22nd after starting Friday in 94th place (he drowned his bike during Thursday’s racing section) and making up 69 places to start Saturday from 25th place. Kenny Gilbert (KTM) was probably the Biggest Loser – he was third fastest after Thursday, but lost more than two hours with chain problems on Friday and tackled the 200km route on Saturday from 56th place. He managed to make up 31 places to finish 25th overall in the Gold Class.
The 2011 SA Motocross MX1 champion, Richard van der Westhuizen (Proudly Bidvest Yamaha) competed in his first ever enduro event and finished 50th while Ross Branch (Honda), who has been competing in the national off-road championship this season, finished his first Roof of Africa in 37th place. The multiple SA trials champions, Brent and Bruce le Riche (Insurance Zone/Rockgarden Gas Gas) had some bad luck, but finished their second attempt in 42nd and 51st places respectively.
The Silver Class was won by Wynand Kleynhans (Salley’s Yamaha) who was followed by Rian Ackermann (KTM) and Peter Jung (Wild Coast KTM/ Umso/ Ribco) – there were 65 finishers in this class who completed a somewhat shorter, but tough route. Adrian Werner (Fever cc Gallery KTM) won the Bronze Class ahead of Faan van Deventer (Yamaha) and Dricky Morkel (Nomadik Tents KTM).
Toni Jardine became the first (and at 19 the youngest girl) to complete the Roof of Africa albeit in the Bronze Class. She completed the racing section for the Silver Class on Friday and combined with Saturday’s route, she complete a total race distance of about 280 kilometres of tough riding in the mountains.
The 2011 Roof of Africa was organised by the Lesotho Off-road Association (LORA) in conjunction with Red Cherry Adventures with local Lesotho businessman, Seamus McCarthy, like last year again being responsible for a route that was enjoyed by all – even though he made them suffer!
Visit www.roofofafrica.co.ls for information about Thursday and Friday’s racing sections and complete race results.
Photographs by Grant Page and Paul Geddes.