SA’s best gunning for glory in 50th Roof of Africa

The stage is set for what promises to be a MOTUL Roof of Africa unlike any other when the 50th edition of the Mother of Hard Enduro gets underway in Lesotho today. The eyes of the hard enduro world will be on the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho, where the 2017 class of competitors will converge from all corners of the globe.

The weather has delayed the start of the Roof of Africa in Lesotho this morning.

Close to 300 riders are expected to compete in the three classes (Gold, Silver and Bronze), ranging from hard enduro elite to enthusiastic amateurs.

The action gets underway with the ever-electric ‘Round the Houses’ – five three-lap races through Maseru, the event headquarters, followed by two full days of gruelling riding through the menacing mountains.

(Tyrone Bradley/Red Bull Content Pool)

For half a century, the iconic three-day race has been where heroes are born and legends are made.

Barry Broady set the benchmark in 1969 when he became the inaugural winner of what has since evolved into the oldest and most revered off-road race on the African continent.

Its unrivalled history is full of magical moments: Alfie Cox cementing himself as the undisputed king with nine Roof titles to his credit, Lourens Mahoney and New Zealand’s Chris Birch completing a hat-trick of wins from 2005-2007 and 2008-2010 respectively, Wade Young shocking the world as the youngest ever winner at just 16 in 2012 and reigning champion Graham Jarvis’ recent domination.

These are just some of countless performances and accomplishments that have become the stuff of legend.

One of the toughest hard enduros in the world, the Roof is notorious, imposing, gruelling and unforgiving.

It’s the ultimate test of man and machine on treacherous terrain that’s gotten the better of the majority of riders who’ve taken up the character-defining challenge over the years.

Those who’ve gone the distance in the respective classes all speak of pure ecstasy that can only be experienced by conquering the Lesotho litmus test, while Roof royalty – the select few remarkable riders who’ve won the event – have attained racing immortality.

The latest chapter in the history of the extraordinary extreme event will be written this week, and organiser Peter Luck says the 50th anniversary promises to be special.

“The Roof has a fantastic legacy as the biggest motorsport event in Africa,” he told eHowzit.

“It’s such a unique event and part of the world to race. It’s hard, in-your-face and pits you as a rider up against the mountains.

“We’re going to have a fantastic fight for the top position. We have about 10 riders in with a chance of winning it.”

Route director and two-time winner Darryl Curtis also lauded the legacy of the Roof, saying, “There is no other off-road race in South Africa that has a 50-year history.

“It has grown to be an iconic event, with many famous names on the winner’s list. It’s world famous and has become a household name in off-road circles around the globe.”

The title race is expected to be one of the most enthralling and unpredictable in recent times as a star-studded foreign invasion go wheel-to-wheel against an equally elite group of South Africans for a place in history.

Jarvis (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing) will be chasing a third consecutive title, while Spanish duo Alfredo Gomez (KTM Factory Racing) and Mario Roman (Liqui Moly Sherco Racing) and the German father-and-son duo of Manuel and Andreas Lettenbichler (both Brother Leader Tread KTM) will be determined to dethrone the Brit.

Leading the South African surge will be Young, the Liqui Moly Sherco Racing supernova who won his second title two years after his historic maiden triumph.

Brett Swanepoel

South Africa’s other title challengers include Blake Gutzeit, Brett Swanepoel, Scott Bouverie and Travis Teasdale.

The Roof is where a teenage Young launched his career in 2012. He’s since proved himself as one of the world’s best hard enduro riders with spectacular performances in extreme events across the globe.

The Paddock prodigy’s 2017 highlights include winning the Wiesel-X Hard Enduro in Germany, as well as the King of the Hill Hard Enduro in Romania and the Extreme XL Lagares in Portugal, a career-best fourth place in the Red Bull Hare Scramble in Austria and a podium finish in the Red Bull Sea to Sky in Turkey.

His latest win came in the Wildwood Rock Extreme Enduro in Australia less than a fortnight ago, a timely confidence booster ahead of his much-anticipated Roof return after missing last year’s race through injury.

“I’m strong and I’m feeling good and ready to race,” said the 21-year-old.

“My aim is always to get the win. As my home race, I always look forward to the Roof. It was very disappointing that I missed it last year, so I want to do my best to be at the top this year.”

Gutzeit celebrated a career highlight to kick-start the year when he became South Africa’s first-ever superenduro world champion at the FIM Maxxis SuperEnduro Junior World Championship finale in France in March.

The Bidvest bLU cRU Yamaha rider has rode the momentum of that monumental win all year, finishing second in the South African E2 Championship, and he’s focused on improving his career-best fourth place in 2013 to cap off 2017.

“The excitement levels are always high for the Roof and even more so this year with the quality of riders that’ll be racing and it being the 50th anniversary. I hope the organisers have something special planned with a lot of hard stuff. I really enjoy when it gets hard and tough,” he said.

Having competed across the world, the 22-year-old said the Lesotho mountains have a distinctly unique mystique.

“It’s hard to put into words. As soon as you get there, you feel the tension – a good tension – in the air. It hits home that it’s Roof time and that all the year’s hard work comes down to one weekend.”

Gutzeit feels he’s in peak physical condition and it’s clear that the Oslo Beach star’s focused on achieving the goal he’s set for himself.

“I’ve been working extremely hard with my new coach Russell White. I’ve never put this much effort in and never had this much form.

“I’m gunning for a podium, but I’m focused on the process, not the outcome. When you work hard on the process, the result will take care of itself.

“There are so many things that can go wrong in the race that it’s impossible to know 100% if you’re going to win, but I’ve done my best to make sure I’m fit and healthy and I know my team will sort my bike out, so hopefully that’s a winning combination.

Swanepoel is a force to be reckoned with, especially when it comes to the Roof.

The Pepson Plastics Husqvarna Racing star boasts two Roof podiums – a second place in 2014 followed by a third in 2015 – and has all the tools to take top spot this time around.

“I’m excited for this year’s Roof as I feel really good on my bike and my fitness is probably at its best,” Ballito-based Swanepoel said.

“I also think that it’s going to be a great one as Darryl has assisted with the routes, so I’m looking forward to it. Physically, I feel in great shape; I’ve been working hard on and off the bike and my trainer Gina Mazzoni has made sure I’m strong and fit.”

The 22-year-old welcomed being considered as one of the favourites to win the race.

“It gives me even more motivation to go out there and do the best I can and with the backing of my team, my family and friends, I believe we’re going to have a good one. The competition is going to be tough this year, and I plan on being right up there.”

Bouverie’s enjoying a rich vein of form this year that’s steered him to two significant achievements ahead of the Roof.

He’s always been a top-class competitor, but injuries have hampered the Harding star’s rise, particularly in the international arena.

Fortune seems to favour the Brother Leader Tread KTM rider this year, and as a result, a fully fit Bouverie stormed to an impressive maiden Erzbergrodeo finish in 12th place, and won his second South African title when he came up trumps in the E1 Championship.

He’s another rider who delivers big in the Roof; he was the top-placed South African last year and landed a place on the podium, replicating his third place finish in 2013.

With his experience and proven track-record in the rocky Lesotho mountains, the 24-year-old is a serious threat and knows exactly how to approach the race.

“I’m very excited and I’m hoping extra effort goes into a good route. The terrain is very demanding and there’s not much rest time, but I enjoy the harder rocky passes; they seem to suite me,” he said.

“I’m feeling strong and I’ve had a good year. I’ll just take it as it comes and attack one day at a time. I’m focused on having a consistent two days of racing with as few mistakes as possible to stay in contention the whole time.”

Bouverie’s Brother Leader Tread KTM brethren Teasdale has also been on a tremendous tear this year.

The Pietermaritzburg rider made a major statement when he finished fifth in the Red Bull Romaniacs in July, a result that helped catapult him into fifth position on the World Extreme Enduro rankings, and was crowned South African E2 champion.

The 20-year-old is relishing returning to Africa’s biggest hard enduro stage, and has steeled himself for a titanic tussle.

“I’m always excited to race the Roof of Africa. It’s a very tough three days in the Lesotho mountains and being the 50th, I think it’s going to be a big one, especially with more international riders on the start list,” said Teasdale.

“I’m feeling very good on the bike and mentally. My trainer Juz Freeze has got me in good physical shape for this event.

“I think with being one of the favourites, you put more pressure on yourself. It’s a big home race and I have a lot of support and family who’ll come out to support me.

“I set goals for every race and my goal for this one is to be on the podium.”

Credit: Story by Quintin van Jaarsveld. Published in