Bicycle racing madness through Ethiopian hills.

Posted: February 21, 2011 in Travel and Adventure writing

The Tour d’Afrique bicycle race and expedition is now just over a quarter of the way into its journey.  For the past week the racers have been slogging up, and sailing down, the Ethiopian Highlands.

Peter Lamond by sharita

After 26 stages and 3097 km, the 2011 race is turning into a battle between 2 cycling veterans; 57-year-old Canadian Paul Wolfe, and 48-year-old German Horst Schlenker. Currently Paul holds a 1- hour 50-minute lead, built largely on his having outsprinted Horst on each of 3 Mando stages so far, netting him a total of 90-minutes in time bonuses. 

“Mando stages are a crowning prize, giving the stage winner a thirty-minute time bonus,” explains staff member, Claire Pegler. “These days bring out a competitive streak in even the most casual racers, and are also among the tour’s longest, hardest days. Racers quickly adjusted to the flying speed and humming pace lines of Egypt and Sudan.  The corrugated dirt tracks of Ethiopia are a different matter.  Group work has to be reconsidered.  Pace lines fall by the wayside as line choice, bike handling, and bicycle design, a-la Paris-Roubaix, becomes important. After all of these trials, riding into the Ethiopian highlands brought out the climbers. Now only the contenders are left.”

Another German rider, Dennis Kipphardt, is in 3rd position, 6 hours behind Horst. British Mountain Biker Paul Spencer is 4th, having won several of the off-road stages in Sudan, but he will be hard pressed to make up the gap on the leaders. Among the women, Canadian, Tori Fahey, is in the lead. She currently holds a 14 hour advantage over her closest competitor. 

Women's leader Tori wrestles a broken seatpost.

Any predictions about overall winners are premature.  Many kilometers lie ahead.  The challenges of riding fast, riding safe, and staying healthy will wear down the cyclists.   As the race leaves Addis and heads towards Kenya, riders and bikes alike will be tested by long days on rough roads.


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