On A (Long) Dark Desert Highway

The inaugural Bicycling Karooburn was a ripper, with non-stop headwinds, mountain passes and desert heat making the finisher's medal hard-earned.

By Tim Brink/Photoes by Zoon Cronje |

Well, for most it was a dark desert highway, as brutal headwinds and searing heat made the chances of finishing the inaugural Bicycling Karooburn event before sunset somewhat unlikely.

Held over 242km, from Calvinia to Kaleo, just north of Ceres, Karooburn follows most of the longest gravel road in South Africa, the R355, and was purposely scheduled for the end of February to catch the challenging desert conditions at their brutal best. Jaco Davel and Bennie Viljoen mastered the conditions to take the win in a blistering (sorry) 9h53, an average speed of 25km/h on a rugged, sometimes hilly route that saw temperatures reach the high 30s, with matching headwind speeds.  Desert riding is not for the faint of heart.

desert riding at its best - headwind, or not!
Zoon Cronje

“This was one tough event- mentally and physically. Bicycling The Karooburn is going to become the benchmark of ultra endurance events.” Yolande de Villiers

Second place was filled by Francois Vernooy and JN Smit, in 11h14, just a few minutes ahead of third-placed Christiaan van Rensburg and Johann de Wet, with the first mixed team of Bianca Cooper and Abraham Swanepoel just getting the better of Yolande and Henties de Villiers after a titanic struggle, to fill fourth and fifth overall.

Jana von Backstrom and Wilmien Chamberlain topped the women’s podium, in 14th overall after 14 hours on the bike… finishing in the darkness was a reality for the entire field after the 10 am start in Calvinia, although there were a few who finished after witnessing a fine desert sunrise, getting full value from what is sure to become a benchmark Karoo gravel event.

There is hope for next year, if the Karoo desert wind fails to pitch, of a daylight finish… a sub-nine might just be possible. No pressure, boys and girls.




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