Roof of Africa is one of the world's toughest off-road motorcycle races. Picture: supplied

Maseru, Lesotho - The Roof of Africa is not only one of the toughest but also one of the world’s oldest off-road motorcycle races. This year, in fact, will see the 50th edition of what has become known as The Mother of Hard Enduro.

The 2017 Motul Roof of Africa will be run from 15-18 November in Lesotho and will also be the final round of the international Red Bull Hard Enduro Series, attracting entries from a large contingent of overseas competitors as well as pro and amateur local riders.

The Roof starts with a day of ‘Round the Houses’ racing in and around Maseru - five races of three laps each around a course that starts at the Maseru Club, goes into Kingsway towards the US Embassy, onto John Paul II Road, past the golf club and UN House, and back to the finish at the Maseru Club.

Vertiginous mountain passes

Then there’s a time trial, starting at an oxygen-starved 2700 metres above sea level, to determine the starting order for the main event - two whole days of sand roads, jeep tracks and rocky footpaths over vertiginous mountain passes more than 3000 metres above sea level (they don’t call this the Roof of Africa for nothing), in temperatures as high as 35 degrees.

In between the route drops into steep valleys, each with a river at the bottom; depending on the weather over the past few days, these can be anything from ankle depth to more than a metre of rushing water.

Riders to watch

Among the top international entries are four times winner, Briton Graham Jarvis (Husqvarna) and the man who lost out to him in 2016 by a heart-breaking nine seconds, Spanish KTM rider Alfred Gomez Cantero.

They’ll face off against another hard-riding spaniard, Mario Roman, on a Sherco, as well as KTM’s German father-and-son combo of Andreas and Manuel Lettenbichler.

Not a fluke

Leading locals are likely to be Sherco rider Wade Young (the youngest Roof winner ever at 16 in 2012, and who proved that wasn’t a fluke by winning again two years later), Brett Swanepoel (Husqvarna), who has finished on the podium twice and reckons he’s earned a win this time round, World Junior SuperEnduro champion Blake Gutzeit (Yamaha) and his older brother Jade (KTM), roof winner in 2003, as well as 2017 SA Enduro Champion Travis Teasdale (KTM), KTM privateer Scott Bouverie, third in 2016, and Multiple SA National Off-Road Motorcycle and Enduro Champion Altus de Wet from Montagu in the Cape, on a Sherco.

Keeping the boys honest will be lady riders Kirsten Landman (KTM), known as “the iron woman of Hard Enduro”, the first woman to complete the Gold Class route in 2016,  and 2016 Women’s Superenduro World champion Sandra Gomez Cantero, younger sister of Alfred.

IOL Motoring