Birch Tops Roof of Africa

Cycle News Staff | November 30, 2009

Extreme enduro whiz kid Chris Birch of New Zealand topped the Roof of Africa once again, besting some of the world’s top off-road riders in the 2009 running of the three-day event. Taking place November 26-28, the Baboons Lesotho Sun Roof of Africa actually saw South Africa’s own Jade Gutzeit cross the finish line followed by Rory Mead of New Zealand, but after a organizational complication, Birch was announced the winner on adjusted time followed by Mead with Gutzeit collecting third.

From the start of the event, it looked as though BMW rider Andreas Lettenbichler, aboard a G 450 X, would dominate the entire competition. The tall German was racing his first Roof of Africa, and was off to a tough start after getting lost in the time-trial. As a result, “Letti” started off Friday in 81st place, but he quickly made ground. Six hours later, he was into third place – 35 minutes behind leader Chris Birch on adjusted time.

Aboard a KTM 300cc two-stroke, Birch held on to the lead all day on Friday. “I am knackered,” Birch commented. “This was the toughest day I have ever raced!”

Mountain pass after mountain pass, riders kept battling the course, the high altitude and the sweltering heat topping 100 degrees. “The day was just too long,” one finisher commented of Friday. “The front runners were in the saddle for ten hours today going up a mountain, over the top, down the mountain and then up the next moungain and down. It was endless, as if the nightmare was never going to stop!”

Roof of AfricaAt the finish, Lettenbichler appeared to be in the best shape – ready for Saturday’s challenge. Fellow BMW rider Gutzeit also looked strong at the end of the day, but commented, “I hope they make the stage a lot shorter tomorrow. We cannot do two days in a row such as this. No one will survive!”

KTM’s Darryl Curtis was not sure he’d be able to continue on Saturday, but for a rather unique reason. The South African Red Bull KTM rider was suffering burn marks on his shaven legs left by his knee protectors. “I wore the same protectors I always do, but they must have moved around so much that I have something like raw burns on my legs,” Curtis commented. “I am really in pain.”

The Clerk of the Course announced a shortened route for Saturday, routing competitors around the “Ha Joel loop” and the “Pied Piper Section.” Unfortunately the word hadn’t quite gotten all the way around,

however, and as the first rider on the course, Birch went the wrong way. To rectify the problem, Birch was returned to the start at Roma and re-started the race (hence his win on adjusted time).

Kyle RedmondLettenbichler was off to another strong day, but had a disappointing end to his maiden effort at the Roof of Africa. A mere 15 miles from the finish, and close behind Mead, Letti was forced to retire after a mechanical problem, handing third over to Gutzeit.

Another disappointing finish went to American rider Kyle Redmond (pictured right). After finishing Friday in sixth and running as high as third on Saturday, the AmPro Yamaha rider – aboard a Shimwells Yamaha Ramco Racing YZ250 in Lesotho – succumbed to heat stroke and was also forced to retire.

At the end of the three-day event, Birch successfully defended his title when he dominated the Roof of Africa by an astounding two hours and 14 minutes.

“It was really tough,” Birch said. “I am not as tired as yesterday, but I worked hard today. All I could do when I re-started was to focus and ride my absolute best. But I am very happy to take the trophy home this year.”

Mead finished second on his Shimwells Yamaha Ramco Racing YZ250 ahead of Gutzeit – the local racer and former champion collected third.

Only 23 racers out of 102 starters finished the race, with a number of riders reportedly spending Friday night in the mountains of the course accommodated by some of the local villages. “These people are fantastic,” one competitor commented when he arrived back at Ramabanta in the morning. “They gave us food, place to sleep and really took care of us. Although we really struggled to communicate, I quite enjoyed it out there.”

2009 Babboons Lesotho Sun Roof of Africa

Overall Results

1. Chris Birch (KTM) New Zealand

2. Rory Mead (Yam) New Zealand

3. Jade Gutzeit (BMW) South Africa

4. Darryl Curtis (KTM) South Africa

5. Calvin Wright (KTM) South Africa (1st Senior)

6. Kenneth Gilbert (Yam) South Africa

7. Shannon Frost (Yam) South Africa

8. William Gillitt (Yam) South Africa

9. Mike Morris (KTM) South Africa

10. Marc Torlage (Yam) South Africa