Blood, sweat and tears in Ha Ramabanta

Blood, sweat and tears in Ha Ramabanta

MASERU  – The roar of motorbikes will reverberate through the chilly Ha Ramabanta air on Saturday when 280 riders begin their quest to reach the 2018 Roof of Africa scheduled for December.
In the end only a select few will earn the right to enter this year’s Mother of Hard Enduro but, for all taking part, this weekend promises to be one of blood, sweat and perhaps some tears.

As always, riders have no idea what to expect from the gruelling qualifying course which will cover almost 100 kilometres of unpredictable Lesotho mountain terrain in just one day.
Even so, for the participants – many of whom are off-road novices – Saturday’s Bronze Qualifier not only offers valuable experience but is a golden ticket to join the famous likes of Great Britain’s Graham Jarvis, Spain’s Alfredo Gomez or South Africa’s Wade Young when the main race takes centre stage in December.

The weekend’s qualifiers, for the record, are only for the Roof of Africa’s Bronze class with the more seasoned Silver and Gold riders only needing to register online to enter the race.
That puts the onus on the 280 hopefuls that will descend on Ha Ramabanta this weekend to perform because only the top 150 finishers will be afforded entry into the 2018 Bronze Class.

It is for that reason why Saturday’s qualifier – despite essentially being a curtain raiser – has quite a lot at stake.
Thankfully, according to race organiser Tiki De-Jesus, all preparations are complete and what is left is for riders to test their wits against a course that has been modified to offer contestants a greater challenge in preparation for the main event later in the year.
This year’s Bronze qualifier, De-Jesus revealed, will have two stages – referred to as loops in enduro language – with the first beginning at 7:30 in the morning and noon set as the cut-off time.

“The second loop is a bit longer than the first because it is actually 54 kilometres,” De-Jesus added.
“The route will go from Ha Ramabanta which is where the start and the finish points are located. It will then go through Nyokosoba, then a village called Mofutisi, then Thabana-Li ‘Mele until the riders get back to Ramabanta. For the second loop the last person is expected to arrive (at the finish line) by 5pm.”

This year’s Roof of Africa is the 51st edition of a race that has grown from a random gathering of motoring enthusiasts when it started in 1967 to being recognised as the ‘Mother of Hard Enduro’ and Africa’s flagship off-road endurance race because of its toughness.
As the Roof of Africa has flourished, so has interest from riders and today it attracts the world’s best enduro racers. Indeed the race’s reputation for toughness has grown to such a level that there are riders who just enter so they can claim to have finished the Roof of Africa.

“We will see after the (qualifying) race how many qualify and if the number will be the same as last year or if there will be a difference,” De-Jesus said.
“However, in terms of the riders participating (in the qualifier), the number is still more or less the same as last year because I think we had about 290 riders in 2017 and this year it is 280.”

Despite the growth of the race and its increasing importance to Lesotho – organisers estimate millions are injected into the country’s economy during the Roof of Africa week – one major worry remains the lack of local participants.
Last year only four Lesotho riders took part in the main race – Joseph Motenane in the Silver class and Tobatsi Maseatile, Teboho Moretlo and Basia Maseatile in the Bronze – and that number appears unlikely to increase this year.

De-Jesus admitted off-road motorbike racing is an expensive sport and that those who can afford to buy equipment are from well-off families.
One Mosotho rider who will race on Saturday is Timello Tšolo who lives in South Africa. He is a member of a Sandton-based racing club called Ikageng and has competed in several races in South Africa.

However, this will be the first time Tšolo attempts the Roof of Africa.
“It’s difficult in this sport if you don’t have a sponsor, I have a sponsor, it’s my team, Ikageng, based in Sandton. They are the ones supporting me,” he said.
“This will be the first time to enter the Roof of Africa starting with these qualifiers, but I have been going to different races in South Africa to prepare and test myself (and see) if I am ready for the Roof.”

Tšolo’s preparations have seen him take part in the South Africa National Motocross season opener held in Port Elizabeth in February and a Gauteng Xross Country Club stage race last month where he finished in 38th position.
However, like everyone else, Tšolo knows tackling the Roof of Africa is a different beast altogether.

“It will be my first experience and my aim is to finish, I have never quit before and I am not planning to this weekend,” he insisted.
“If I don’t qualify I am aiming to finish and learn from this race just like I have done with other races.”

Luciah Phahla

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