Tour de Tuli is a ride, not a race. It is about traversing a route of 300-oddkm through a swathe of pristine wilderness where Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa rub shoulders in a rough and tumble of rocky hills, sandy rivers and arid plains.
The problem is, nobody seems to have mentioned this to guys like Nick Bester, Patrick Baransky, Andrew McClean and the likes, who still pedal at around 30km/hr along the endless elephant tracks making up the Nedbank Tour de Tuli route.
Fortunately I had a whippet by the name of Peter Kirk on hand this time around, and our cunning strategy meant one of us could sneak a Landy lift at some stage of the day in order to connect with the sharp end of the field when necessary. Pat Black, our motor bike shooter, and Grant Roddan in his Landy could rove around, too, which took a lot of pressure off when you’re high-tailing through thick mopane in search of a bunch of mountain bikers cranking through lion country.
Groups set off 10min apart from 6ish every morning, pedalling into the murky pre-dawn, with the best time for pix generally about half an hour later. Epic sunrises are part of the deal up in this neck of the woods, with the baobabs and flat-top acacias of Mashatu providing a spectacular backdrop upon which to position the riders.
With around 64km to cover, Day 1 promised to be relatively easy, but this did not mean that there was none of the usual pain, suffering and general kakking-off at the back of the field. Group 19 took eight and a half hours to make it to Amphitheatre Bush Camp, and looked like they had only just survived a pitched battle in Iraq.
Faces covered in dust and grime, arms and legs raked by sickle-thorn, sweat-soaked kit and on their last legs … in other words, nothing an ice cold St Louis Lager could not sort out in about 30sec flat.
Highlights of the day? Too many to count, bru … Group 2 bumped into lion; an elephant just about ate off the tables at the tea stop while I waited for riders; zig-zag elephant track through bristling croton forest (fever trees, not the stuff that float in soup); and superb sandstone riding through a region reminiscent of a Moab-ish Karoo.
Day One – in the bank!
Click here to view the pics