Kiwi Chris Birch (KTM) recently secured his third consecutive and well-deserved victory at the legendary Roof of Africa Extreme Enduro Rallye in Lesotho, South Africa, ahead of Jade Gutzeit (RSA, Yamaha) and Andreas “Letti” Lettenbichler (GER, Husqvarna).Almost 300 riders from all over the world were attracted by the 43rd edition of the Roof of Africa, which also carries the tagline “The Mother of Hard Enduro” and takes place in the Kingdom of Lesotho, located centrally in South Africa. The who-is-who of Extreme Enduro was present but three big names were missing: Taddy Blazusiak (PL, KTM), Dougie Lampking (UK, Beta) and Graham Jarvis (UK, Husaberg) competed at the Indoor Enduro in Genova, Italy, which unfortunately clashed with the Roof.
The qualification run is named “Round the Houses” and leads the pilots through the streets of Lesotho’s capital Maseru. With almost 100% asphalt streets, the three high speed laps posed a challenge to the pilots on their Enduro bikes with Enduro tires. South African Enduro legend Darryl Curtis pushed harder than the rest, his GPS showed a max of almost 95mph and his courage on asphalt made him start as the first rider into the “Time Trial”, the Roof’s first off-road stage with a distance of 75 miles.The pilots had to find their way through the Lesotho backcountry using their GPS devices. The track only had few makers so besides endurance and technical skills, an extreme Enduro rallye requires solid navigation skills. Navigation errors can be especially costly in extreme terrain and we will see later on that the Roof does not forgive those errors.
The Time Trial was designed in a way that gave the high speed guys used to ride flat out on gravel roads a chance to gain some time. Even though there were few difficult sections on the first stage, it didn’t really lack excitement since the heavy rain in the days before made up for slippery surface and nasty dips caused by little rivers crossing the track. So there were a few crashes due to high speed but luckily none of them was serious. The top 10 pilots averaged 32mph, which is a pretty fast pace for an extreme Enduro race.South African Jade Gutzeit pushed his Yamaha to the limit and was the fastest on the time trial, closely followed by Chris Birch whose approach was pretty obvious: Follow Gutzeit, who knows the area around Maseru inside out, not pushing too hard to save the deadly attack for the last and most technical stage.
Andreas “Letti” Lettenbichler, who won the Red Bull Romaniacs in 2009, came back to Africa with high ambitions and some anger originating from the 2009 edition of the Roof when he was leading on the last stage and only about three miles before the finish line his bike broke so Chris Birch was able to pass the German BMW rider. For the Roof, Letti was only given a standard Husqvarna WR300 two-stroke bike three weeks prior to the start. During the preparation there were few chances to modify the bike in a way that would provide him with the best possible setup for the rallye in Africa. But the likable Bavarian never really blames the bike but says that in extreme Enduro the rider really counts. Letti took it easy in the qualification and the Time Trial coming in 11th knowing that the difficult sections would kick a bit more in the second stage and really hard in the third and last stage.
Even though it has not been officially announced Letti’s appearance on the Husqvarna at the Roof shows that Husqvarna is serious about closing a contract with him.The same goes for Finland’s Simo Kirssi, who dominated the German Cross Country series in the past years on the BMW G 450 X and who decided to race the Roof on a WR300 as well. Simo, being used to push fast from the Cross Country series, came in 7th after the first stage.
On the second stage with only a few technically challenging sections Gutzeit still acted as Birch’s guide through the Lesotho wilderness and maintained the overall lead at the end of the day. One rider however attracted the attention of the many fan at the spectator points: The South African Marc Torlage was able to advance to the third place on the leader board at the end of day 2. Being only 19 years old Torlage showed impressive riding skills also in the difficult terrain and clearly made his mark to become a great and very successful rider in the near future.The second stage was also a good example of how navigation errors can ruin a pilot’s efforts. Letti narrowed his deficit of almost 11 minutes after day 1 to just 3 minutes after the first DSP on day two. But he made the mistake in the middle of the day which pushed him back by 45 minutes on the leading Gutzeit at that time. Clearly carrying the “never give up” attitude, Letti was able to again reduce the deficit to less than 22 minutes at the end of the second day.The third stage brought the showdown as expected by many insiders prior to the race. A distance of roughly 100 miles with a number of grueling and rocky mountain passes, one of which was given the name “please push me pass”, was to take even the top riders to their very limits.
Letti once again showed an incredible performance by narrowing down the 22 minutes and 11th place from day 3 to only nine minutes and 3rd place after the first half of the race. But the second last extreme section made him recognize that he had used a lot of energy catching up before and that the bike still needs some optimization: “I am very happy with my overall 3rd place here at this legendary event, especially given the stupid mistake I made on the second day. I was about to give up in that nasty section with endless rocks mixed with wet soil going uphill all the time but giving up has never been an option for me. So yes, I am proud and happy to get to the podium on a new bike after very limited preparation.”Chris Birch however mastered that section in a highly convicing way using his technical skills and playing out his impressive physical condition, leaving Jade Gutzeit no chance to follow and securing a 20 minutes lead on Gutzeit in the finish. Birch took a very intelligent approach by following Gutzeit in the first two days taking no risk and attack in the perfect moment on the third and most difficult day: “Winning the Roof the third time in a row means a lot to me. Jade has given me almost no chances to pass him and after the victory at the Red Bull Romaniacs winning the Roof certainly is a great finish of the 2010 season.”Results – Roof of Africa
- 1. Chris Birch (NZ), KTM, 18 hours 24 Minutes 25 Seconds
2. Jade Gutzeit (RSA), Yamaha, 18:43:34
3. Andreas Lettenbichler (GER), Husqvarna, 19:05:57
4. Paul Bolton (GB), KTM, 19:12:56
5. Craig Stone (RSA), KTM, 19:29:34
6. Wynand Badenhorst (RSA), Yamaha, 19:33:22
7. Darryl Curtis (RSA), KTM, 19:41:52
8. Lionel Seydoux (CH), KTM, 20:18:10
9. Altus de Wet (RSA), KTM, 20:29:05
10. Michael Skinner (NZ), KTM, 21:04:58