Dongola, Sudan. January 30, 2011 – Two weeks into the longest annual bicycle race from Cairo to Cape Town and the 71 riders are rapidly learning to appreciate the real value of water.
For five days, cycling from around 130 to160 kilometers per day through the sweltering Sudanese desert, the riders’ intake has been limited to drinking and cooking water only. Showering is a distant memory. Crawling dirty and sweaty into the tent after a grueling 160 kilometers through the desert takes some getting used to.
Despite tough water rations, punishing head winds, emotional breakdowns, and the constant challenge of staying healthy and injury free, the racers are still going strong and they are in high spirits. Many of them get to the evening’s camp before noon, after cycling more than 130 kilometers in less than 3 hours. “It’s not only about the cycling. It’s about staying in one piece to be able cycle”, says Canadian Andre Marcoux, whilst pushing his bicycle into the desert camp on the second rest day in Dongola.
For many racers, becoming one of the elite EFI’s (someone who has cycled Every Fabulous Inch of the way from Cairo to Cape Town), is the ultimate goal. However, the reality is that less than 20% of riders achieve this goal. Victory depends on fitness, equipment, strategy, self-knowledge and luck. A broken part on a bicycle, a tasty local dish that doesn’t go down well, head winds and many other unexpected details challenge riders every day.
After losing his EFI status this week, Leonard de Moss from the United States says he is very frustrated knowing that he will not achieve his dream of being one of TDA 2011’s EFI’s.
However, Hardy Grune one of the Germans who also lost their EFI status, sees things a little differently, “It’s not all about the EFI. Right now, it’s a half day that you are missing, If you push yourself too much while not feeling very well, you might end up having to ride the truck for a week, or even stay in a hospital for a couple of days.”
After 8 stages of the race, Canadian Paul Wolfe is leading the pack of 25 men and women. He has averaged just over 30 kilometers per hour thus far, and currently holds a 47 minute lead. Germany's Horst Schlenker and Dennis Kipphardt are in 2nd and 3rd place respectively.
Among the ladies, Canadian Tori Fahey is the leader and she is in 10th place overall after 997 km. However the race has really just begun and anything can happen in the desert and mountains ahead.
The riders are now around 600 kilometers north of Khartoum. They will pedal with the Nile River as their companion, and pass through ancient Sudanese villages, and a desert landscape where mountains of black boulders flank the roadway.