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Birch rules again

Pascalinah Kabi

SETIBING — New Zealander Chris Birch made it three in a row by capturing the Roof of Africa title Lekhalong la Baroa in Setibing yesterday.

The 30-year-old champion clocked 18:24:05 hours, covering a total distance of about 484km, during the three-day enduro.

His first runner-up Jade Gutzeit trailed by 22 minutes.

But Birch did not retain his title easily.

The rains that pounded Lesotho on Thursday and Friday made the rally tougher.

And Gutzeit appeared set to dethrone Birch as the South African appeared to have the upper hand on the first two days of the race.

When he thought he had managed to take the lead for the Friday session, Birch got lost for about 10 minutes and he finished three seconds behind Gutzeit.

To make matters worse for Birch, his 250 KTM motorbike stalled about 3km from the starting line near the Roma Bridge on Saturday morning.

Birch jumped into the river twice and when he managed to pull out of the river, the bike failed to start.

He struggled with the bike for about five minutes and four other riders who were behind him — Marc Torlage, Lionel Seydoux, Darryl Curtis and Simo Krissi — overtook him.

When he eventually sorted him mechanical problems he was already trailing Gutzeit by 15 minutes.

Birch however managed to close the gap and when the two arrived at Ha Phaloane post, there was a five-minute gap between him and Gutzeit.

Birch overtook Gutzeit in the fields and was leading him by one second when they went past the Masapong post.

The New Zealander however failed to maintain the gap and ran parallel with Gutzeit during their first Lekhalong la Baroa loop.

Birch’s problems were worsened when he hit a rock between Lekhalong la Baroa and Ha Nqheku posts and Gutzeit overtook him.

He however managed to recover and he overtook Gutzeit between Ha Nqheku and the finishing post at Lekhalong la Baroa.

Birch — who looked really worn-out at the finishing line — told the Sunday Express that at one time during the race he thought it was almost impossible to retain his title.

“There was a time in the race when winning for me was almost impossible because this was harder than anything I have ever done,” he said.

The champion said the last three hours were the most difficult time of the race.

“In the last three hours, I did not think it (winning) was gonna happen,” he said.

“I am tired and more exhausted than I was last year.”

Top five positions

1.Chris Birch — New Zealand (250 KTM)

2.Jade Gutzeit — South Africa (Yahama)

3.Adreas Lettenbichler — Germany (Yahama)

4.Paul Bolton — Germany (KTM)

5.Craig Stone — South Africa (KTM)

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