MASERU — New Zealander Chris Birch retained his title in a drama-filled Baboons Lesotho Sun Roof of Africa 2009 championship.
The three-day event — which took place from November 26-29 — lived-up to its billing when organisers were forced to adjust routes on the last day after riders complained they would not be able to complete the course due to exhaustion.
In fact, scores of fatigued riders had to seek overnight shelter from local villagers on the second day, with only 23 of the 102 starters managing to complete the race, popularly known as the Mother-of-all-hard-endures events.
In addition to rough terrain, the bikers had to endure extreme heat of up to 42 degrees celsius and a logistical nightmare where riders sometimes missed marshals, who were supposed to help with route directions.
But Birch, riding a KTM 300 EXC, won the “Roof” by setting the pace as leader on the last day of the race, breaking the tape two hours and 14 minutes ahead of runner-up and compatriot Rory Mead.
“Today I’m very exhausted,” Birch said after winning the gruelling race, which has tested both man and machine for the past 42 years.
“Over three days, the difficulty factor stepped-up drastically every day; I’m tired now but I would like to come back next year to defend my title.”
Baboons Lesotho Sun Roof of Africa organiser, Keketso Malebo, told the Sunday Express the course had become easy over the years, hence their decision to set-up a new route.
“We have tried to set difficult markings to make sure that the race retains its original routes. It is true that we are taking the competition back to its roots by making sure that it becomes the world’s toughest (biking) race,” he said.
“We have managed to achieve 95 percent of our plans this year because the riders say that this was the longest and toughest race, ever,” he said.
All Basotho riders failed to finish the race, with the country’s biggest prospect, Tsépo McCathy — who was recovering from injuries sustained in a car accident early this year — being taken to Bloemfontein for medical treatment, soon after the punishing race.
The other five local riders failed to finish the race due to exhaustion and bike problems.
Overall Results: 1. Chris Birch (KTM) New Zealand; 2. Rory Mead (Yam) New Zealand; 3. Jade Gutzeit (BMW) South Africa; 4. Darryl Curtis (KTM) South Africa; 5. Calvin Wright (KTM) South Africa (1st Senior); 6. Kenneth Gilbert (Yam) South Africa; 7. Shannon Frost (Yam) South Africa; 8. William Gillitt (Yam) South Africa; 9. Mike Morris (KTM) South Africa; 10. Marc Torlage (Yam) South Africa.