Kharkhorin, Mongolia - One day past the halfway point of the 2018 BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy in Mongolia , the wildest and most inaccessible place the event has ever visited, Team South Africa has stretched its overall lead to 56 points.

After five days of sand, rocks, vast deserts, near-impossible special tests and insanely unpredictable weather (including snow on the ground with the ambient temperature at 32 degrees) the three South African riders - Chris Meyer (39) from George, Eugene Fourie (39) from Centurion and Mark Ian Dickinson (33) from Magalieskruin in Pretoria - are on 195 points to Team Latin America’s 139 and Team Korea’s 131.

Day 5 started with Special Test 12 - Ongi River, a classic multiple river crossing. The challenge here wasn’t the water, which was shallow, but the deep shingle banks! The best run of the day came from Team Ausamerica, the second female team, not because of their speed but thanks to exceptional teamwork.

Then came a 100km ride down Telegraph Road - not a romantic as the song by Dire Straits suggests, with many sections of the gravel track rippled by trucks and a 35 kilometre section at the end that between grassy tussocks where again dust clouds and loose sand meant the riders needed to stay alert.

But the hard yards paid off as the GS riders entered the mountains and green valleys of the Khangai Nuruu National Park, where clay mixed with the sand (instead of rock) made for gentle trails that climbed and descended one valley after another.

A second special test late in the day, called ‘Orhon View’, saw the riders challenged to a trials ride around some giant stones on a high peak (with spectacular views) - and then, when the riders finally reached camp, some as late as 7 pm after having started at 7 am, they faced a third special test, the ‘Metzeler Challenge’, a tyre change against the clock.

The first four days were all about desert and dust on the Mongolian steppe - a plain so vast you can see the curvature of the earth when you look at the horizon - with a succession of Special Tests, some in deep sand (the worst possible conditions for a big off-roader) and one that included running up and down a steep cliff, using GPS co-ordinates in a treasure hunt - and then climbing back on the bikes for several more hours of riding.

The International GS Trophy is an extension of a South African initiative, the 2003 GS Challenge, so it’s not surprising that South African riders have always done well in the world arena; Team South Africa has finished as runners-up twice and won the Trophy outright in 2016.

Meyer, Fourie and Dickinson are also not the only South Africans on the 2018 GS Trophy; there are two ladies teams, consisting of the top six amateur female off-road riders in the world - and two of the three riders in Team Eurafrica are Ezelda van Jaarsveld from Pretoria and Linda Steyn from Kempton Park.

Overall standings after Day 5

1 South Africa - 195

2 Latin America - 139

3 Korea - 131

4 USA - 130

4 France - 130

6 Mexico - 114

7 Argentina - 106

7 Russia - 106

9 UK - 103

10 Germany - 98

11 Australia - 80

12 Canada - 76

13 China - 75

14 Southeast Asia - 74

15 Japan - 65

16 Eurafrica Ladies Team - 43

16 India - 43

18 Ausamerica Ladies Team - 40

IOL Motoring