In the early days of bicycle racing there was a time when plucky riders took on long hard stages alone with no team cars and no soigneurs to look after them. They were hardy and desperate men who ate what they could get, slept when they could and rode all day. They weren’t professional athletes or men of means, they were “mavericks, vagabonds and adventurers” who picked up a bicycle and went to seek their fortune.
The founders of the Tour de France wanted to create a race of thousands of miles of cycling, whatever the weather and road conditions where “even the best will take a beating” Often they would race through the night to distances of over 400km each day in stages that would take more than 18 hours. Henri Desgrange, the father of the tour once noted that “the ideal Tour would be a Tour in which only one rider survives the ordeal.”
Running from the border of Zimbabwe and South Afrika, to Cape Town, the Trans Afrika is part Brevet, part Ultra Marathon and part Bikepacking Race. Call it what you will, it fills a need for those who want to see a distance race of a magnitude and difficulty that would rival the so called toughest races on earth but without the ecological footprint of vehicle support and a cost of entry that would exclude Desgrange’s tourist routiers. For us though it also pays homage to those courageous souls of yesteryear and re-kindles the adventurous spirit of the early grand tours.Due to Beit Bridge access being restricted, the race now has a peloton ride from the border on the Saturday and the race goes live at 03h00 on the Sunday race day.
Redeeming features include…
One stage – The clock never stops. Racers chose where, when and if at all to rest.
No Support – Racers can only use what they take with them, or what they can find en-route at commercially available services.
No Route – Between Beit Bridge and Cape Town only three mandatory controls ensure that racers visit some of the most famous pieces of road in Afrika and connect with the suffering of their forebears. The only routes out of bounds are the National N1 N2 N3 and N4 roads. The rest is up to them.
Live Tracking – Unlike the races of the 1900s, which featured much skull-duggery and deviousness which eventually saw the stages made shorter and more controlled and bike racing become more professional, through the miracle of modern GSM technology and the interweb we can check up on our riders progress wherever they may be. So too can you wherever you may be. Don’t forget to share.