Let them know what you like in a stage race here: https://goo.gl/forms/qFzhX5Sl0FaFkhAk2
This year, riders taking the camping package were rewarded with colourful Basotho blankets at registration. Each different pattern has a story behind it, and a significance in Basotho culture. The colours on each side of the blanket are inverse- and in some cases are meant to be worn by men or women. It is an ever-present symbol of Lesotho as you ride through the country and a thoughtful reward for those suffering the inconveniences of tent life.
The riding is truly free. It’s the same sense of freedom you experience as a kid when you first explored the neighbourhood on your bike by yourself. Most events have a strictly defined route with purpose-built trails. In Lesotho, it’s more of a case of getting yourself from the top of the hill to the bottom with countless possible lines to choose from. It’s entirely up to the rider to create their own path. And you’ll never get stuck behind a slower rider.
Day 1: Getting into the swing of it
After a years absence, there was no gentle introduction, stage one threw us straight into typical Lesotho riding (which actually involves lots of hiking and carrying your bike). The single track in Lesotho is unique. It’s a mix of fast donkey-carved flow and loose rocky chaos with surprises around every corner. Dirt roads are rare and more often than not a sign of an impending mountain pass.
It’s not always easy to take your eye off the treacherous trails and your GPS route navigation, but when you do the sights are fantastic. The first day treated us to views of the enormous plateau of Thaba Bosiut where the king of the Basotho settled to defend his people from invading armies.
After many whoops down the single the track, conquering fierce inclines and some grumbling about portage sections, we dropped down to the Metolong Dam. The dam supplies much of the Lesotho lowlands with water. We crossed via a 250-metre long pedestrian bridge spanning valley with handrails set to horse rider height (rural Lesotho’s chosen transport method).
Never trust a river crossing in Lesotho. One crossing in particular sent fair few riders head over heels. In one case, the mud swallowed a bike with no intention of letting go. The unlucky rider had to enlist the services of nearby herdsmen, as his teammate was incapacitated with laughter.
The last challenge of the day was a heart-stopping descent skidding down a bare sandstone face to the finish in Roma. With the white slab littered with black skids marks, it wasn’t a place worth taking any risks. One wrong move and you’ll be tumbling down the rock face.
Day 2: Darol makes enemies
A fast, flat start lulled the field into a false sense of security. Although riding through stubble fields no doubt sapped a lot of energy. After stuffing in more than a few brownies at the first waterpoint we headed straight into a monster climb, and the sufferfest began.
They don’t call it Desolation Valley for nothing. The temperature rises several degrees as you enter, the wind is bone dry, and every inch of ground seems to embedded with sniper rocks or craftily hidden dongas waiting to catch you out. This area breaks riders every year. And results in many curses aimed at the route director, Darryl.
Forget training and technical abilities, the key skill required at Lesotho Sky is navigation. The race has no route markers which is usually not a problem but in Lesotho an intersection can have multiple trails all leading off in different (but confusingly similar) directions. An ordinary cycling GPS computer is well out of its depth. Every day we lose or gain minutes depending on who is making bad guesses. And an incorrect decision can see you at the bottom of a valley in no time.
The last climb of the day dragged our tired legs through The Gates of Paradise. It felt like anything but Paradise as a stiff wind blew our broken bodies up and over before plummeting down to Malealea (our home for the next three days).
Day 3: Malealea
Malealea has been our favourite stop on the Lesotho Sky roster over the years. It has a relaxed vibe, tasty food, and a coffee shop with great carrot cake overlooking the valley below.
Day three offered us some respite with only 37 kms and 700 metres of climbing. Don’t discount the Lesotho terrain, there is no easy riding with the rough descents and punchy climbs but the shorter distance allowed us to attack, enjoy the trails and a solid day of recovery afterwards.
This morning we ride the Malealea Monster stage before taking on the long slog back to Roma. We'll have an update after the final day's riding at Roma.
Day 1 Moments: