The team’s plan was to cover an average of 300 to 350km per day, riding SwiftCarbon’s Ultravox Ti carbon road bikes — the same race proven bicycles ridden in major professional races around the world by teams like Drapac Professional Cycling. But nothing goes according to plan in Africa.
SwiftCarbon founder, Mark Blewett didn’t just opt to put the bikes’ reputation (along with the brand and the company’s) at stake by sponsoring all the frames, he’s riding the event too. “We’re confident enough to put our bikes on the line here—this is a true reliability test. When we’re done, we know they’ll survive anything.”
As if to foreshadow the team’s mammoth undertaking, Stage 1 kicked off with a little bump in the road: no support vehicles – they only cleared customs in Alexandria at 22:00 the night before. So with the bikes having to be built in a car park and, along with an Egyptian sandstorm blanketing Cairo, the decision was made to postpone the start by one day.
Undeterred, the postponed start on Friday saw the CAROCAP team put in a massive first day effort averaging 40km/h for roughly 313km and burning a total over 10 500 calories a piece.
After making good progress on the 1st and 2nd days, the team were forced to take a shorter day 3 — well, relatively shorter at 170 km — as they were not permitted to camp on the side of the road in Egypt. They reached Luxor after cycling from the great pyramids of Giza and down, skirting the Red Sea, then turning back into the desert and braving piping-hot headwinds. No mean feat, to be sure.
Finally out of the heat of the desert, the CAROCAP guys were faced with some new challenges: even hotter temperatures! A 4:30am wake-up call and dreadful road surfaces as they exited Egypt set the scene as they pedalled 298km on through to the Nubian Desert.
The end of day 6 saw Mark and the team reach Northern Sudan after having gone hard and fast, clocking in 285km and averaging 40km/h again. The team ended the long day passed out solidly under that stars—a smart move, considering the mercury registered 42 degrees at 7 in the evening. “Carocap is a bit like doing a Paris-Roubaix, for 35 days straight,” said Mark, before his body shut down for the night.
Just north of Khartoum, Sudan, they had to contend with yet another bump in the road: Mark fell ill and the team stood in solidarity, electing to wait for his recovery as they do not want him to leave the race. This will ultimately put great pressure on the team later on as they aim to reach their final destination in Cape Town in record-breaking time. At this point, they were already running approximately 350km behind schedule as a result of their troubles in Egypt, as well as a route alteration due to the extremely high temperatures. On the upside, the farther South they ride, the cooler it gets —or so we hoped.
The team left the Sudan and crossed the border into Ethiopia on Monday, 19th October, barely making it in time before the border post closed. They had battled a relentless headwind for over 240km, riding 9 hours on a journey that had already seen them cycling in 40+ degree heat (Celsius) for days.
As the temperatures dropped, the climbing started and the team headed into the mountains: the highlands of Ethiopia. The inordinate beauty of the surroundings, described by the team as ‘Alpine-like’ came at a price: arguably the most treacherous roads they had yet encountered. “This was categorically the most dangerous, hectic descent of my life. Rutted roads, trucks, kids, donkeys, heat, huge potholes. And the climb out was 19km,” said Blewett.
They had been rising and falling (over 3000m of climbing each day) on a magically scenic road that took them into the Nile Gorge and saw them camp under the stars at night overlooking the Rift Valley. Although incredibly beautiful, the team was glad that the harsh highlands was almost behind them.
However, nothing could prepare them for what was to come. The stage to Hawasa, Ethiopia had to be cut short because after 285 km they had hit what can only be describe as barely-rideable. A day where they had hoped to cover 350km ended at the 316km Mark as the riders simply had had enough. “It was brutal.”
Unfortunately, the road still had to be ridden and so day 16 dawned and saw the team spend over 5 hours on getting through only the first 100 km. They had stones hurled at them and were punched by people on the side of the road as they cycled by. This is the African pavé!
Into week 3 of CAROCAP and the team battled through the last day of the Ethiopian leg, with roads so bad they were almost impassible. Day upon day, Ethiopia had delivered the harshest conditions imaginable and morale was at a low point. They all breathed a sigh of relief as they crossed the border into Kenya.
“Ethiopia. Nice in a white, air-conditioned UN Land Cruiser, but different on a road bike!” Said Blewett.
Though the Kenyan roads now allowed them to get back into a rhythm and claw back some of the time lost at the start of the race (when logistical issues delayed their progress), Kenya still presented them with some challenges.
They needed armed support getting through Northern Kenya due to heavy bandit activity. The roads literally came to an end in places and the team was forced to ride ‘off-road’ in order to progress.
But, all in all, the ride through Kenya was smashed in just 3 days! The team rode 940km, crossing desert, through the Samburu, up to the highlands and finally descending to the foothills of Kilimanjaro.
Of course, nothing is ever easy in an untamed Africa and their hard 300km days through Kenya were cut abruptly in half as they crossed into Tanzania and back again to sandy, rutted roads washed away by the elements and time.
“Day 23 and 24 have been absolutely savage. Rough rocky sandy loose roads on road bikes has knocked the hell out of us. We have done way fewer miles but have got through the worst that has been thrown at us so far. It’s a tough place southern Tanzania but one step closer after getting through the worst of it,” Mark Blewett said.
On day 25, the riders covered a massive 375km, in a move to scrape back some lost time and deficit kilometres. It was a record distance for all four of them, even though they’ve competed at an international level. 375km is a big day out in anyone’s cycling career, let alone after three and a half weeks and 6000km. A Facebook post by Mark said it all, “This day will last forever in my memory. We fought our heart out for this and we got to the point we needed to be at. I just don't know how to describe the emotion that went into this effort but it's done. No words really… We left at 5.30am and finished at 8.45pm in Northern Zambia. Headwinds, rain and rough roads all day. Some hectic accidents and some tendinitis to go along with it. Not surprising when you have ridden 2 Tours de France in 25 days.”
On the bright side, the SwiftCarbon Ultravox Ti bikes are holding up to the harsh conditions extremely well. These are the very same bikes you can purchase at SwiftCarbon Concept Stores and dealers, not modified in any way except for the custom CAROCAP green paint. The team has opted for Vittoria Pavé 27C tyres to deal with the unpredictable and varied road surface conditions in Africa.
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