Bicycle Tour crosses the equator.

Posted: March 15, 2011 in Travel and Adventure writing

After some tough days in northern Kenya, the world’s longest bicycle race and expedition, has just crossed the Equator, and is now in Nairobi. It’s been 2 months since the cyclists started out in Cairo, and the tour has covered 5008km.

Bastiaan van Meeteren with locals in Kenya photo by Kendra Ryan

The stretch from Moyale to Nanyuki has brought changes on the race’s overall ranking. After winning two Mando Days in a row, on the lava rocks and corrugated roads, British Paul Spencer is the winner of the Meltdown Madness section.

Mando Days are some of the toughest days for racers of the Tour d’Afrique. The male and female winners of Mando Days each get a 30-minute time bonus.  Cyclists are also allowed to drop their 5 worst stages, or daily times, as Grace Days from their overall time. But Mando Days cannot be included among their Grace Days.

Paul Wolfe still has the best overall time and Tori Fahey remains the leader of the women’s race.  She has steadily been increasing her time difference from the other women.

“The infamous “Lava Rock” Highway is over,” says race leader Paul Wolfe. “And not a moment too soon. Yesterday’s stretch was the worst by far, with a gradual climb towards a volcano, and a strong unrelenting headwind adding to the misery.  It was constant concentration on avoiding loose rocks and picking the smoothest track out of the four washboard ruts, which had me pedaling for more than six-and-a-half hours.  My poor planning had me run out of water with about an hour to go to a refresh stop.  I had to go in survival mode for half-an-hour until a Kenyan Red Cross SUV came by. With full water bottles and a Snickers chocolate bar I was back in race mode.  Paul “The Pain Dispencer Spencer” took both Mando Stages for a one hour bonus, plus he left me in the dust for another hour, cutting my lead to about seven hours.  I’m not hitting the panic button yet, but he also has a strong sprint, and when he puts the power down with about four hundred meters to the finish line, I can’t get around him, which makes it feasible for him to grab all the last six Mando Days. Game on!”

Another cyclist, Martin Wambua, a bike mechanic and ardent cyclist from Kenya, agrees. “Man and machine are beginning to feel the challenges of the gravel road. The road itself is so bumpy. It feels like sitting on a massage chair on full blast. Adding insult to injury, the big cattle trucks transporting livestock from Moyale to other parts of the country pass you at a speed of 100kph, leaving in their wake lots of dust and small pebbles which hit you. You feel like your skin is melting.

The thorns are back.  This time they are three times as long as the ones we experienced in Sudan. They are everywhere, on the main road and even on the foot path that runs alongside, which some of the riders took to avoid the bumpiness on the main road.  Losing a water bottle on the Meltdown Madness section feels like losing one of the most important components of your bike because dehydration is always a threat in northern Kenyan heat. Makes you remember the running water from your tap at home and the other things we take for granted.”

Ethiopia is hilly, Sudan and northern Kenya have very tough, unpaved roads, which explain why, halfway through the total of 120 cycling days, the riders have not covered half the distance. It has been a very tough first half. Out of the 64 full tour riders, which are the ones who are going all the way from Cairo to Cape Town, the first half of the tour left only 20 EFI’s.  An EFI is a person who has cycled ‘Every Fabulous Inch’ of the way without hitching a ride on the support truck.

In a couple of days, the Tour d’Afrique rolls into the fifth country along the route, Tanzania, home to the famous Mount Kilimanjaro.

Check out their journey on http://www.tourdafrique.com

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