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by SS at 11:02 am on Wednesday 7th July

Apologies for the delay in posting this. I have no real excuse, being currently unemployed and not having much else to do!

I will add to and amend this post if I think of anything further.

Equipment Recommendations
Although the packing space you have is limited, it is worth bringing spares of just about everything. Even if you don't need it over the course of the trip, there is a good chance another rider will.
Besides the spares listed on the Equipment page, the following bike items failed and I had not brought spares of:
- GPS unit (failed when I landed on it by accident - preventable and also not entirely necessary.)

- Cycle computer (failed in the rain. Vital item, bring two! Cheap ones are fine.)

- Jockey wheels (several riders had worn out their previously new jockey wheels by the end of the trip. Bring spares for sure.)

- Pedals (either bring new ones from the start or bring spares.)

- Bottle cages + bottles (I went through 5 bottle cages! Bring a couple of spares. A spare set of bottles is useful too - they tend to fall out.)

- Worth bringing two spare chains and a spare cassette. Also bring a few Powerlinks (or equivalent) - useful for repairing your chain on the road.

- I wouldn't bother bringing more than two sets of spare brake pads (for v-brakes; riders with disc brakes wore through their pads quicker) - I used the same set of Kool Stops for the whole trip.

- Bring a tonne of tubes and enough for all sizes of tyre that you have. Don't bring Schwalbe tubes - all of mine failed at the valve and were unrepairable. (Be wary of using the 'bad' TDA pump - probably replaced by now but the bad pump killed all of my early tubes.)

- Bring a decent pump for use on the road. Don't bother bringing a tiny pump for the sake of saving weight - if you're trying to race then spending an hour pumping up your tyre will outweight any time gain from saving a hundred grams!

Tent-
Bring a tent that has two doors. My tent had one door and it was a pain when that one door's zip failed. If buying a tent in England, I would recommend against a Terra Nova tent - their customer service charged me to repair my under warranty tent on return. It's also worth bringing a roomier tent if you can manage it - you'll appreciate the extra room a three man tent offers after a few months on the road!

Sleeping Mat-
Several riders had UltraLite Cots. I borrowed one for a night and it was quite comfortable but unless you have back problems or absolutely can't sleep on a normal sleeping mat, I don't think it's worth the space lost in both your tent and your locker. A normal Thermarest mat is adequate. Some people punctured their Thermarests but if you use a decent quality tarp or groundsheet, you should survive. (You could also bring a foam sleeping roll but again it takes extra space.)

Sleeping Bag-
This was the largest single item in my bag. Worth bringing a smaller bag - you don't need the warmest bag ever - a two season bag should be fine. (On colder nights you might need to layer up.)

Recovery Drink-
As I posted before in my blog about being vegetarian on the Tour, it's worth bringing recovery drink. This probably applies to non-vegetarians too.

Bicycle
A lot of thought went into the bike that I rode but there are still a few things worth changing.

Bike Fit
Get fitted to your bike before you buy it. It's worth the expense. Most bike fitters will be able to suggest suitable frames / bikes when being fitted. I had no knee or back problems on the trip.

Suspension
BRING SUSPENSION! It'll help you a lot on the unpaved sections and you almost certainly won't regret it. I was unaware that you could buy suspension forks for cyclocross type bikes (with 700c wheels). Find one and fit it. Enough said.

I took a Thudbuster Long Travel seatpost with me but took it off after Sudan. I found it heavy (it made bike handling less agile) and sometimes caused knee pain. The Short Travel version may be preferable. If you have front suspension then it's probably not worth bothering with it at all.

Tyres
I was unaware that the size of my rims dictated the size of tyre I could fit. Bear this in mind - you'll need specific touring rims to fit larger tyres. 29er rims may be preferable. Bring as fat tyres as you can. If you're ordering your own frame, ensure that the rear stay has enough clearance. Generally a larger range is preferable. I think the perfect combination would be:
27c tyres for smooth pavement
35-40c tyres for smooth unpaved
2.0" tyres for rough unpaved or sandy sections

The Schwalbe Marathon Extremes were superb tyres for the unpaved sections and the Marathon Racers excellent for the paved sections (some riders also used and liked the Durano tyres). I didn't have anything bigger than a 35c and just about survived.

Saddle
As readers of this blog will be aware, I had severe saddle issues right from the early part of the tour which continued until the end of the trip. Most other riders had issues too but generally these were only in passing.

I've heard good things about the Brooks saddle I took but ONLY if broken in first. (You need to ride on it for 1,000 kilometres or so to get it fitting nicely. You can also soak it in oil to expedite this process.) The Specialized body geometry saddles work nicely too. Bring a DECENT spare saddle too, which fits well (my spare was the wrong size because I didn't think I'd need to use it.) It's worth having a fair amount of padding too - especially on the rougher roads. Whatever you think about how race worthy a saddle is, it's worth the extra bulk to have a bit of comfort.

Handlebars
If you're bringing drop bars, it's worth having top bar brake levers such as these. You'll enjoy it much more on rough downhills!
STi shifters seemed to be slightly problematic - it's worth steering clear and getting bar end shifters.

Pannier rack/Handlebar bags
Don't bother. You should be able to fit everything you need for the day in your Camelbak. Most riders ditched their pannier racks throughout the trip.

Lastly, regarding your bike- it's worth spending time and money (unfortunately) to make sure you get a steed that fits well, is reliable and has been well thought through.

Preparation Before The Trip
I didn't personally train much before the trip. Training on the bike was impossible so I did some light cardio indoors for a few months. This is not a problem if you are young - and in general the younger riders seemed to recover much quicker. If you're a bit older, it's worth making sure you're fit enough before you start - it'll make the trip much easier on your body.

It's worth getting to grips with your bike. Most maintenance tasks you'll have to perform yourself. Practice patching a few tubes - once you get to Africa, they'll be in limited supply!

On The Trip
Some camping tips which you might find useful:
- Use your laptop/netbook at night. You'll save battery life that way! (Lower screen brightness).

- Put your groundsheet / tarp inside your tent. This will stop water pooling on top of it (as it would if it was underneath your tent). Added bonus of preventing Thermarest puncture.

- Fill up bottles / Camelbak the night before. The morning is always a bit of a rush.

- Put items that you don't need in the morning away in your locker before bed.

- Don't change shoes while loading your locker in the morning. Massive faux-pas.

- Take your dish kit to Rider Meeting. You'll get to the dinner queue quicker :-).

Achieving E.F.I.
Every F**king Inch is an arbitrary status based largely upon luck. The riders who achieved it were fairly fit and incredibly determined. However, a bad crash, extenuating circumstances or any number of things can halt your conquest of Africa in a heartbeat. If you're intent on achieving it, be aware that you need to be a decent cyclist, consistent and cautious. The oldest rider who achieved EFI this year was 45 years old.

On (Those All Important) Electronics
Lastly, a word on electronics. I was quite apprehensive about the charging capabilities available before leaving. While there are periods where there is no electricity for days on end, you'll largely survive as long as you accept you won't be able to use all your gadgets every minute of being awake.

My charging situation was such:
- Netbook, charged whenever there was power. It lasted about 10 hours more or less which was good enough to spend 30 minutes to an hour writing up the day's events and sorting photos each day.
- Mobile phone, you really don't have many people to call - I brought an old Sony Ericsson K750i and any old GSM mobile will suit you fine. A smartphone lacks utility without a data connection which you'll be hardpressed to find. I charged this from my PowerMonkey (a useful rechargeable charger - definitely worth getting. Alternatively, they also do a PowerGorilla, a larger rechargeable charger capable of charging laptops).
- Sansa Fuze, topped up daily from my netbook. This worked superbly and I only ran out of power when I forgot to recharge it the night previous.
- Cameras, battery life was good enough to charge these once weekly on rest days.
- GPS, used borrowed rechargeable AA batteries. Worth bringing several good quality batteries.

I found the solar charger I brought to be useless and many riders struggled to achieve decent charge from their solar charges. I don't think it's worth the expense - I managed on rest day power alone. As you get further south, you start visiting more campsites where it becomes easier to find power sockets to charge from.

It's worth bringing a fair complement of power adaptors - up north they use the round two-pin adaptors, from Kenya onwards they use square three-pin and then from Botswana a strange gigantic round three-pin. (Bringing a four-way is also useful - these can be cheaply picked up in Egypt too. Get one which has multiple types of sockets so you can share / daisy chain with other riders' appliances.)

My netbook worked superbly for the trip - get one with decent battery life. It's worth bringing a flash disk with a Live version of Linux (e.g. Ubuntu Netbook Remix) just in case your hard drive dies. Also worth bringing a decent external hard drive to back up photos (and to share photos at the end of the trip).

If you insist on bringing an iPod, either bring a cheap one (a Shuffle or similar) or bring two. A lot of people had problems with iPods dying or battery life.

Bring a couple of pairs of cheap headphones for use while riding. I went through four pairs of headphones. Possibly bring another decent pair for use in camp (if you're anything of an audiophile).

Bring plenty of Ziploc bags - useful for sealing electronics you carry on your bike!

Bring two cameras - a cheap one to take on the bike and a nicer one for rest days. Alternatively, bring a shockproof camera - these worked very well (they didn't break) but the picture quality isn't so great.

A Word On Safety
Africa is unreasonably regarded as a dangerous place. I felt in no harm at all on the trip. The biggest threat to cyclists is, as always, from passing motor vehicles. In areas with heavy traffic, the Tour organisers made excellent provisions for our safety and organised convoys. Theft is always a concern but being a prudent traveller and generally vigilent will keep your possessions safe. Campsites were fine in general - in areas where locals took elevated interest in us, boundary ropes and local watchmen kept us safe.


If any other Tour riders have any advice please contact me to have this post updated or drop a comment down below. Likewise for anyone with a question!

2 comments posted so far
Chris wrote at 1:10 pm on Tue 13th Jul -
Sunil,

First of all, your blog and in particular this type of post are invaluable for myself as a rider next year. However, I was all set to buy a thudbuster for my Jamis Novapro until this post.....any links for suspension forks for cross bikes?

Thanks!
SS wrote at 7:10 pm on Wed 14th Jul -
Hi Chris,

If you've got the budget, it might be worth bringing the Thudbuster anyway as well as a rigid seat post to switch to.

You'll want a 29er suspension fork - it's worth checking with your bike shop. The geometry of cross bikes and 29ers is different so you'd need to find a fork that wouldn't significantly alter your bike. Sorry for the lack of information - I haven't personally looked into it at all.

Make sure it locks out too!

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by SS at 9:38 am on Monday 28th June

I sporadically took a variety of short clips while cycling. Coverage isn't complete (I miss a lot of Northern Kenya because of a broken camera and South Africa because of apathy).

Apologies for the sketchy soundtrack.








1 comment posted so far
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by SS at 7:49 pm on Tuesday 1st June

(A long overdue post for reasons previously explained.)

As it approaches the enc of the tour, many of the riders question their ability to transition back into their everyday lives in the real world. German woman's race leader Gisi suggests that she could ride her bike everyday and live in a tent everynight forever. I like to think that this doesn't apply to me (looking back over the last few weeks, this showed itself to be true). I look forward to being connected 24/7, having easy access to clean, running water and sleeping in a bed. No doubt I'll grow to miss the adventures and experiences of travelling through Africa with time but the generational gap probably accounts for difference in opinion (or perhaps even just the vast difference in age). We are the internet generation - being surrounded in technology is the norm for us.

Our last week of riding contained shorter riding days - around 130 kilometres per day. The road was beautifully paved (a phrase that seems to have been overused on this blog) but the flat days of Botswana were clearly far behind us as we tackled roller after roller into prevailing head/crosswinds. After freezing our way from the border to camp, a caravan park in the town of Springbok, we were greeted by most winterly temperatures for the first time since I left England in January. As it approached zero degrees Celsius, most riders donned their heaviest jackets, hats and gloves. Crawling into my sleeping bag, I left my jumper, hat and gloves on until emerging into the chilly morning sleet (personally I swear it was snow but my meterology skills are apparently suspect).

The next day, riding south to a town called Garies, the cyclist Gods of Africa through yet another perilous danger and EFI threat towards me - my crank fell off. Fortunately, it wasn't a serious mechanical failure, merely caused by loose screws (quite how those screws worked themself out is a mystery) and was easily remedied. Unfortunately my rusty Park Tools multitool couldn't supply enough torque to tighten the screws enough and it fell off twice again. Regardless, I made it to camp and Paul (initially grudgingly and then) willingly helped me tighten them up, using a spare screw to replace one of the screws that had stripped. In other news, rider Erin (who was 4th in the women's race) received her first stage win - a superb effort and brilliantly timed with just two race days left.

Dinner that night was a gourmet event - tacos, burritos with refried beans and a thick, chocolatey dessert. Henry Gold (founder of TDA and visiting staff member for the last section) donated a few boxes of white wine. Remembering that I needed to take my malaria prophylactis and not having water to hand, I washed it down with wine - a severe error in judgement.

All I recall when I woke up was a vague image of trying to escape from my tent. According to Paddy, my campground neighbour, he woke up, alarmed at the sound of what appeared to be someone in danger. As he went to assist me (I was struggling to open my tent door - all he could hear was the continuous sound of a zipper), he heard me laugh and realised it must have been some sort of sleep-escape. Bizarre.

On the last day of the race, we had a surprise. More dirt! Our route to Cape Town in South Africa started off on a main highway (the N7) but at Garies we took a turn towards the coast before following it into the city. A good 70km of the day was dirt - we had breakfast at Wimpy's before making the fateful turn onto rough dirt for which we were not prepared. My skinny tyres sunk deeply into the sand and the first part before lunch was hard work trying to keep the bike from slipping out under me. The heavy wind and drizzle made it a miserable experience.

After lunch though, things improved considerably. It was much quicker and I must have averaged well above 30kmph. Once the dirt ended though, we hit the pavement and turned right into had been a considerable crosswind and was now a considerable headwind. This lasted for a few kilometres and we eventually ended up on another private road that followed the coast. A combination of the salt water spray and dirt being kicked up from the ground made it hard to see and I road a fair chunk of that part of the day with my eyes shut (or open and watering profusely). Towards the end of the dirt road, I stopped to take a photo and when on my bike and accelerating again, my shorts (three pairs, to offset the effects of a lack of suspension) caught on my saddle, causing me to veer left (while trying to disentangle myself) and stop dead in the sand. Thrown off my bike onto my recently healed knee, the wound opened up again and gushed blood onto my damp and sandy leg.

This was our first sight of the sea since Egypt and it reminded me wholeheartedly of why the British public who frequent the seaside are so terrible misguided. The campsite was dire and about 80% of the riders deserted to the hotel next door after arriving in pouring rain. The campsite was part of the beach and hence sandy - a lot of riders who did stay were flooded out of their camps overnight. I managed to stay dry in my tent and slept beautifully to the roar of the sea. It frustrated me that they held two riders meetings - one at the hotel and one at the campsite (why should they cater to the wusses?)., especially when Dave and I were trying to announce the results of the Decathlon: won by Gert of Indaba. (In other news, like Erin, Rick also went for it and won the stage. Unlike Erin though, he isn't 4th in the women's race.)

The day into Yves Fontein, the last campsite of the tour was a fairly bleak day (what's new) and I tried (on a non-race day, it must be said) to be the first rider into both lunch and into camp. This, I managed and I was proud to overtake all riders who rode from lunch too. That evening, we had a few celebrations - a prolonged rider meeting and another rider's birthday. I celebrated with a bottle of Amarula (the leftovers were donated to the hot drinks table the following morning - in such cold, even a cup of Milo needed some help).

The final day we woke up with damp and cold kit but it didn't matter. We rode, leisurely, to lunch at the beach, pausing only to fix the puncture that threatened Jason's EFI. At lunch we took photos - Table Mountain in the background and the Atlantic ocean behind us and we gorged - James had laid out a beautiful buffet of cheese, crackers and BISCUITS! After changing into my tuxedo (four months of continuous cycling requires a stylish arrival), and a few more photos, the convoy began.

1 comment posted so far
wrote at 2:44 pm on Thu 3rd Jun -
u suk

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by SS at 3:05 pm on Sunday 11th April

The Tour D'Afrique is officially the world's longest bicycle race (this can be verified in the Guiness Book of World Records) and I'd like to offer some tips to anyone who is thinking of racing it in the years to come. These are based on my experiences and observations of the last 3 months and are based entirely on the current race format. At the beginning of the race there were 35 racers (IIRC) and at the time of writing less than 25 remain.

A brief explanation of how the race works in 2010
The Tour is split up into 96 individual stages (although this is 95 because of the extra rest day we had when the truck broke down) and each stage is raced individually. In addition to individual stages, there are a number of sections comprised of many stages - usually but not always from one capital city to the next. There are separate results for each stage, for each section and for the overall race.

Each day every racer, equipped with a timing button, will clock in and out upon leaving and arriving at camp respectively. Timing is to the nearest minute and stored for each stage. The riders are ranked by time, the winner being the rider with the shortest time. This gives rankings for individual stages, sections and the overall race. If not participating in the entire race, any Tour rider can choose to race particular sections and will appear in results for that section but not the overall race.

The race may not always taken the entire length of a stage and the Tour Race Director may choose to end the race earlier on days where for some reason or another it would be logistically implausible or even dangerous to race - i.e. border crossing days, or entering big cities. Occasionally for similar reasons entire stages are not raced and everyone is given the same time for that stage.

If a racer does not finish a stage for any reason, they are given a 12 hour time for that day. In addition, when calculating the overall results, each racer is given three grace days which cancel out their longest three stage times. Finally, there are several mandatory stages which are particularly difficult or long. These 'mando-days' are not considered when applying grace days. The winner of each mando-day is also given a 30 minute time bonus. In addition, any racer who finishes with EFI status intact is given a 6 hour time bonus.

Racing the Tour differs from merely riding it in many ways which I'll identify below.

1. Take Fewer Photos
Usually you'll need to slow down to take any decent photos, or even stop entirely. That's not generally an option if you're concerned about your time for the day or especially if you're riding with other people (see 3.). The racer's mentality is such that nothing may impede progress.

2. Eat Short Lunches
There is no mechanism for clocking out at lunch - this seems more of a technical failing on part of Tour D'Afrique rather than any deliberate race addition. However long you choose to stop and eat for counts as part of your overall time. This means that on days you are trying to rank well, you won't want to waste time eating. Some racers don't even stop for lunch, others will check in, grab some water and hit the road again. It's not fair but crucial when minutes matter.

3. Work Together
It's necessary and extremely beneficial to ride with other riders. On some stages (hills and dirt) this isn't always possible but on the longer road days it'll be the difference between ranking well and merely surviving the day. You'll save a lot of energy when drafting and in a 120 day long race, you'll hit the wall often - the more you can minimise energy loss, the better.

4. Pick Your Days
It's a long race - illness and exhaustion will probably strike at some point. No racer can race everyday without burning out and the best strategy seems to be to pick the days which you want to rank well. On the other days, it's still necessary to be fast (to maintain your overall standing) but you don't need to work at 90% in order to save an hour and rank high. On some days it's a case of survival - just trying to reach the end of the day.

Jethro, one of the fastest riders here, picks his days - on hilly days, where he is particularly fast, he'll go hard and blitz the competition. In between, he'll ride slower and recover. As for consistency, Rod and Juliana are consistently quick and will be as quick as the fastest racers on some day. They'll ride at a pace that is comfortable for them and as a result can maintain it day in and day out.

5. Choose Your Equipment Wisely
Mechanical failure is something that can be easily avoided by the right choice of equipment and a suitable array of spares. One of the fastest racers here was plauged by punctures because of his insistence of riding on extremely skinny tyres, even on the thorn littered dirt days.

In addition, cater to your strengths. If you're not so great on dirt, pick a bike that will make your job easier. It helps to have interchangeable parts - a Thudbuster seatpost for the dirt sections and a rigid seatpost for the paved sections. If you can, bring a suspension fork - you won't regret it. Most riders are on cyclocross bikes, or at least ride with drop bars - bring inline brake levers which can mount on the top of the bars as well as drop levers. Bring fat tyres for the dirt sections, they'll give you extra confidence which will make you faster.

6. Ride Safely
Crashing will probably end badly, resulting in lost days and 12 hour times or even having to leave the Tour. It's easy when racing to get carried away in the competitive spirit of it all and take unnecessary risks. I was extremely lucky when I crashed not to have to take time off but several other riders have been less fortunate.

7. Leave Late
A favourite tactic of racers is to leave (as a group) late from camp in the morning. In a group, it's easier to set a faster pace and catch slower racers - once you've caught someone who you left after, you've effectively beat them for the day. If you leave early and are able to maintain a fast enough pace, you won't get caught but there's a very real danger that you will get caught.

8. Don't Get Ill
This is easier said than done but illness will drag your race time up and make it much harder to finish the stage. Stomach issues may destroy your appetite and not being able to eat enough is a recipe for disaster. Likewise, having to stop regularly because of diarhoea will make it harder to be competitive. Nearly all of the racers have been ill at one time or another.

Given the option, I'd probably choose not to race the Tour if signing up again. While the race has been fun and if I finish, I can say that I've raced the longest bicycle race in the world, I'm not competitive enough of a racer to make it fully worth the sacrifice. I'm going to try and take more photos over the remaining five weeks while trying to maintain my number 10 rank. That said, racing, as well as EFI, is a great motivation on the harder stages.

If you think you can win the race, or even win a section, sign up to race. If you're more concerned with experiencing the African continent then stay as an expedition rider and perhaps race individual sections - it doesn't mean you have to cycle slower, just that you're not always in such a rush.

2 comments posted so far
kelsey - tda race director wrote at 5:40 pm on Sun 11th Apr -
Great post Sunil!
Ash wrote at 10:32 pm on Mon 12th Apr -
Thanks a bunch, Sunil. It is good to know what current participants of TDA think. If and when I sign up (only God knows when) after reading this I will not sign up as a racer. There are so many once in a life time opportunities to see and enjoy than winning a a race. I would like to see your gear/equip/bike recommendation. How open are you to take part if there was a return (reverse) ride opportunity? Same route or may be going to the west? Can you ask others this same question? I would like to know the one thing that will make them decide negative. Money? Time? Fatigue?Timing? etc.
Keep up the good job. Enjoy your vacation on bike from North to South Africa - Ciao

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by SS at 2:35 pm on Friday 5th March

I don't know where to place the cause for the events of today. It was unexpected, a first in my life and yet for every second of it I had the sweet mesmorizing thought of victory in my head. For the not inconsiderable period from 73 kilometres (lunch) until 128 kilometres, I was leading the race for stage 32 of the Tour D'Afrique.

Yesterday I was with the lead group, one of the late starters (which meant my day's time would have been less than anyone in that group who had started before me) and trying my hardest to stay with them. This is something that would have unfathomable at the beginning of the tour but which was made achievable by nearly 6 weeks of cycling. Early on in the day we had a crash. We were riding in a group and it was my turn to pull (so I was at the front).

As we entered one of the first of a number of villages, we widened our group, slowed down a bit and prepared to dodge pedestrian, vehicular and animal traffic. It was a group of unruly youths whose alpha male swagger led them to touch shoulder with Dan that caused three quarters of the peloton (i.e. the three people after me) to go down. Besides Dan, Stuart and Marcel went over their handlebars into each other. I managed to glance back quickly enough to see them just as they all collided with each other. The group of youths scattered, presumably suspecting they'd caused an accident and not wanting to get in trouble.

The aftermath of the accident was mainly centered on Marcel - his rear derailleur had bent into an unnatural angle and his wrist was damaged. After an x-ray today, it seems he won't be riding for a few days because it is strained - luckily not broken.

Now, I hate to sound so conceited (?) but this meant that the next few stages were open. Marcel is a fantanstic cyclist, both on road and off-road. I don't think I might be able to beat him, at least not for the foreseeable future. Having ridden the last two days hard, most riders (and therefore racers) were slower today. In addition, stage 32 was the longest stage of our five day week, at 133km. From the morning, it was obvious in my mind that today would be a day to push the boat out a little and try for a good ranking.

In the morning I tried riding by myself but was soon caught by Dan and Gisi who are usually part of the fastest group. I joined them since they were going at a reasonable pace and it seems that this pace was faster than most of the field as we were quickly overtaking other riders. It was useful riding in a group as there was a heavy headwind in the morning and drafting provided some protection (although I gather that I should have drafted less). When we arrived at lunch there were just three riders ahead of us, Rod, Juliana and Tim, all of whom who had left earlier than us.

I stayed ahead of the group (now Dan, Gisi and Stuart) as we returned to the road after lunch and waited for them to overtake me as usually happened. For some reason, it didn't. The first climb was long, straight and on a narrow road which was being refurbished. I went at a pace that seemed workable to me and just kept pedalling. Soon, ten kilometres had passed and there was no sign of the trio. I had overtaken Rod and Juliana and Tim had left after us at lunch - I was at the front of the pack.

I kept going at a pcae that seemed comfortable to me, pushing myself every now and then to up the speed a little bit. The road got worse and worse, at some points being rough and pot holed, at others being smooth but with bumpy patches of tarmac which would throw your bike all over the road. The children were as annoying as usual but I was in the zone and concentrating enough to ignore them.

Every minute I would think to myself that I'd be overtaken any minute soon - that I should just prepare myself for the possibility. My brain fixated on the chance that I might just win the stage, winning something truly meaningful for the first time in my life. With each passing kilometre the chance that I'd be overtaken seemed to reduce in my mind.

At 120 kilometres I ran out of energy. This happened at 100 kilometres the previous day, about 10 kilometres from the finish (I wonder if this is a mental issue) and I continued to consume an energy bar in chunks. At 128 kilometres I was finishing this off and from the corner of my vision came Stuart on his bright yellow (or 'golden') bicycle. The probably of winning the stage shrunk considerably in my head and I put everything I had left (not much at all at this point) into trying to catch him.

He had gained about 250 metres in the overtake (I was going slowly as I ate) and we raced through a village and down the road. I lost sight of him as a considerable 'valley' approached (a downhill followed by an uphill).I cranked up my speed to 60 kmph on the downhill whilst realising that the orange finish flag lay at the bottom of the hill on the right. Coming in hot, I braked as hard as I could near to the flag, locking my rear wheel for several metres and then pelted down the grassy embankment, veering into the side of the water trailer at the back of the dinner truck. Touching my i-Button against the reader attached to the truck, the day was over.

The time difference between us has yet to be determined. We both left in the morning at virtually the same time and so the overall result depends on how the afternoon reading was processed. My guess is that the best result (for me) would be a draw. Alternatively, Stuart will have won by a minute. I'm looking forward to finding out from Kelsey, the race secretary, tomorrow.

Post race, my stomach has been acting up a bit. Not wanting to be another statistic, it has of course happened - I have become ill in Ethiopia. Luckily I think I've avoided the bug going around camp still and my problem is related to acid reflux, a problem I've had for several years and most certainly caused by the buffet breakfast at the Sheraton. I'm certain the buffet is also one of the reasons behind my racing energy over the last three days.

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by SS at 2:31 pm on Friday 5th March

Our convoy out of Addis Abeba was as unofficial as the convoy entering it. The only difference was this time we were riding on a Tuesday morning and not a Sunday evening - this brought the added challenge of heavy traffic. The traffic brought with it the pollution I remarked upon yesterday - a putrid layer of black smog that we had no choice but to breathe in. Our new sectional riders found it difficult to breathe with the combination of poor air and altitude.

The smog didn't ease up as the convoy came to a halt (nearly 20 kilometres out of our campground) and with a brief gathering of riders, we were given the all clear to take off. The rest day (incorporatimng the Sheraton buffet) has had a positive effect on my speed and I was able to push it quite hard, keeping up with Marcel, Jerry (a new sectional rider) and a group of Ethiopian racers from Addis Abeba. This was going terrifically well until we got to a railway crossing and my bottle decided to jump out off my bike in its usual fashion. One of the Ethiopian riders waited for me, we managed a good 10-15 kilometres before I stopped to pee.

Just as I was getting back onto Calamity Jane, the second fastest convoy passed by, I was unable to catch them, lacking the drafting advantage. A couple of riders dropped out though (Viv, another new sectional and Tony - both British) and I rode with them to lunch.

When we arrived at the lunch bus, lunch was only just being laid out and this eroded any time advantage the group in front had. I managed to leave with the first group out of lunch and kept up with them for the relatively short 40 kilometres to camp. My heart rate was pushing a good 170/180BPM, on the extremely high side - I highly doubt this will be achievable tomorrow!

Riding in a peloton was useful today since we had a strong head/cross wind and it shows in the average speed of 30.7 kmph for the day (bearing in mind that the convoy was pretty slow for the first fifth of the day). As we got closer to camp, it was clear that no one was going to overtake us and that we were the fastest group. It came to my turn to pull the group, about 5 kilometres from camp and after a short while I was puzzled to see some of the riders overtake and sprint past into the distance. Soon though, it became clear that we had reached the trucks, although for some reason they had sprinted some distance down the road (apparently looking for a Finish flag).

Because of the short day, the flag hadn't reached camp yet and Stuart, Dan and I were first to the scanner on the side of the truck (this is what records our race times and determines the race winner). Conceivably I could have tagged in first and 'won' the stage but seeing as Stuart and Dan had done the majority of the pulling in the group, they tagged in first and Stuart was our new stage winner! My highest ranking yet - third.

We had the whole afternoon to ourselves, we played a game of Settlers of Katan (a board game of conquest similar to Risk), I took a nap, read more of 'The Life of Pi' and photographed the large number of storks nearby. At dinner, I contemplating trying some of the meat. Today it was less processed that normal (chicken wings versus some sort of curried meat) and I couldn't bring myself to eat something that looks so close to an actual animal part. I remain vegetarian.

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by SS at 2:53 pm on Thursday 4th February

We're on the eve of our rest day now and I've finally had a chance to glance at myself in a mirror. Shockingly, my appearance remains fairly decent, aside from a fairly haggard beard and fairly messy hair. Neither are a problem though, given the lack of reason to look respectable and having to constantly wear some form of hat (either a helmet or a baseball cap to keep the sun at bay).

This next week of riding is going to be tough - it is one of the two longests contiguous riding weeks we have, seven days of back to back riding. We begin the week with two 160km days of road riding followed by our first (beautiful, hopefully) taste of off-road as we head through Dinder National Park. This park has been shut to the public for nearly a decade and we are quite privileged indeed (we were invited by the minister of that state). We're camping one night in the park, in the fine company of lions (we're told).

After this, we head to the border with Ethiopia, where in addition to kids throwing rocks at us (more on this later), we can eagerly anticipate our first mando-day. Mando (or mandatory) days are race stages which racers must compete in and cannot use their grace days (we are given three grace days to use for our worst three stage times) to cancel. They are mandatory because they are known to be difficult and this first mando day is no exception. The entire day involves 2500m of climbing. I'm hoping that there will be some nice downhill sections but I fear being struck with rocks whilst freewheeling could potentially be catastrophic, if not for the rider but for the bike.

Khartoum has been an interesting rest day. Woken up by the usual prayers at 5am, I was unable to sleep and ventured out to the intersection with the main road near the campsite where several kiosks and stalls have been set up. Walking on the street with my 'Africa-tan' was great for blending in with the locals (if not Sudanese, I at least looked Arabic) and I ate a sugary fried breakfast similar to that in of Dongola - the bread is sometimes called mandazi elsewhere in Africa and is usually topped with sugar.

After laundering our clothes (back to 80% of being completely clean, I'm beginning to think 100% cleanliness is impossible for a non-professional launderer like myself), Adrian and I began our hunt for a post office from which to send postcards back home. At first we flagged down a rickshaw and tried to make the concept of post (Adrian showed him a letter, then made some flying motions and tried miming a stamp) clear. When this appeared not to work, my Lonely Planet African Phrasebook came to the rescue with the Arabic spelling of post office and our rickshaw driver, having asked many other people for further direction, took us to the DHL office relatively nearby.

Once we were there, I queued to ask the DHL receptions where we could post a letter and they gave us the address of their DHL head office in the centre of Khartoum. Another taxi ride later, and we walked into the office to find out that it would cost 210 Sudanese pounds (approximately 50) to post a letter to Australia. Resigned to failure and not wanting to spend much more on the overall act of posting items back home, we were about to leave but asked if they knew of an actual post office - the answer, 'yes but it's far away'. Determined to finish the task we had started, we asked a taxi driver to take us there and to our surprise we arrived at an actual post office in Sudan.

At this point we didn't actually have any postcards with us, having not managed to find any shops that sold them (Sudan is really quite far from the popular tourist track) and it was yet another surprise when we saw stalls in front of the post office selling postcards. It became really obvious that tourists rarely come to Sudan (or at least don't send postcards) because the majority of postcards on sale looked like they had been printed ten or twenty years ago. They also had a variety of tourist guides on offer, 'Sudan - 1999 Tourist Guide'. Anyway, if my parents actually receive my postcard, I'll be satisfied.

Onwards now, Eastwards out of Sudan.

P.S. If you would like a postcard from any particular country that I have yet to visit, drop me a message via the contact page with your postal address and the country you'd like a postcard from. I'll try my best!

2 comments posted so far
wrote at 9:59 pm on Tue 9th Feb -
You are doing brilliantly loved your blog on the tour d Afrique website

keep on going
wrote at 4:06 pm on Sun 14th Feb -
Good Luck with rest of the tour :) I am enjoying reading your blog and all the places you have visited and the adventures you are experiencing.;)

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by SS at 7:59 pm on Wednesday 3rd February

Since my last post there was another long day - 155 kilometres, a fairly uneventful day. I rode with Sam again for most of the day, leaving quite early (for quite a large distance we were at the front of the entire tour group) and it took about 70km for the fastest peloton to overtake us.

Today was our last riding day for this section, officially the longest section in terms of distance (whether or not it's the hardest, we'll find out). We started off with a 20km time trial and then rode the remaining 46km to lunch in our own time. After lunch, it was a 40km convoy into central Khartoum to the National Camping Residence, our campground for the next two nights.

One of the other riders commented yesterday that a time trial is known amongst serious cyclists as the 'truth test' since it's a true test of a cyclist's ability and fitness - discounting all the tactics that usually come into road riding (e.g. group riding or drafting). This morning Dave and I went for a short 10 minute warm up before we tapped out and began the time trial in turn. In retrospect, 10 minutes wasn't enough and it was a pretty slow 20km, 35 minutes with a tailwind and I was just outside of the top 10.

I really started warming up 35km into the day - after trying to ride with the semi-fast peloton for a bit and giving up because of saddle pain. Rage Against The Machine was on shuffle on my MP3 player and just after I'd dropped out of the peloton, Killing In The Name came on and with it, a sudden forward momentum. Within seconds I was up and rolling at 50kmph and decided it was easier to keep the pace for the remaining 30km than to take it easy. I zoomed past a good number of riders and reached lunch at 9:20am.

The convoy into Khartoum was easier than the last few convoys since I am now able to sit on my saddle. It was pretty warm and the traffic was heavy but the tourist police did an excellent job of ferrying us through the city. A lot of riders have decided to stay in hotels away from the campground. Those of us who are left are sharing with a huge number of Sudanese youths who are in Khartoum for an under 17s football tournament, taking place all of tomorrow. The youngest rider of the group, Steve, an 18 year old South African, has organised a match of our riders against one of the competing teams. I won't be joining them but might go and cheer the cyclists on.

This afternoon we visited the Afra Shopping Complex, a prominent mall in Sudan. After my experiences of Gurgaon's many malls in India, I wasn't quite sure what to imagine a Sudanese mall as. It was airconditioned as we had been promised but aside from a fast food court (much food was eaten), a large supermarket and a plethora of money exchanges, there wasn't really much to do and we soon left with large boxes of custard creams under our arms. Those small packets in which I bought 64 biscuits in Dongola also come packaged in boxes each filled with 50 packets of 4 biscuits each. Hopefully these 200 biscuits will last me until Ethiopia, to be accompanied by hot chocolate courtesy of a large box of cocoa powder.

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Camping
Camping
Before a bike race. Love it.
12:36 am on Sunday 22nd March by SS
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Light, people and a bicycle
Light, people and a bicycle
Race day
2:42 am on Monday 12th February by SS
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