Safaricom Mount Kenya 10 to 4 Mountain Bike Challenge Report
A team of three cyclists and our “support” driver just returned yesterday from an exhausting whirlwind trip to Mt. Kenya and the 10 to 4 mountain bike challenge. The following is a summary of the event from my perspective.
In Africa, the main event is rarely just the “event,” so it seems fitting to provide a bit of the context in which the event took place.
For me, the race sort of blurred in with the myriad of other responsibilities going on at the time, but started in earnest the day before (Thurs) when the van I was supposed to be borrowing for the trip seized it’s engine while making a short trip up the road. With transportation is so difficult and expensive in this country, it was a minor headache to finally line up on the day of our travel (Friday) another vehicle which we ended up renting from it’s owner. Although the replacement vehicle was in bad need for an engine rebuild (lacking power in a big way), it actually worked out fine in the end and we were able to take off relatively on schedule, but way later than we should have by 4pm on Friday.
Of the four of us in the car, none of us had any real idea where we were going other than having a semi-useful map and good working knowledge of Swahili with which to ask directions.
The trip was good for the first few hours, with lots of beautiful scenery in the central Kenya highlands. In spite of having to crawl up many hills in low gears, we seemed to make decent progress. Unfortunately, by 7pm, things are pretty dark in this part of the world, and along with the light seemed to go our sense of direction.
After many detours and solicitations for direction, we finally climbed up to and arrived at the start camp (9500ft) by around 10pm. One final climb required all the passengers get out of the vehicle and push so that we could make it up the hill.
After setting up tents with flashlights, we all climbed in sleeping bags and attempted sleep on clumpy mountain grass and temps in the low 40s which we were ill prepared for (Summer sleeping bags in Africa makes sense, right???)
Fast Forward…Daybreak was extremely welcome. The view from the mountain slope was truly beautiful, but hardly even noticed as everyone was busy readying themselves and bikes for the 52km race ahead. By 7:30am, about 200 riders from every nationality stood around for a pre-race meeting. The course was to be “well marked,” riders would be staged according to ability, everyone self-sufficient, and there would be three water stops on the way. Start in the 40s and end near 90deg F.
Let me chime in about our setups.
Myself – Lenz Leviathan, Reba @100mm, Jones H-bar, Avid mech front, avid ultimate v-rear, Jones XR front tire, Nano rear, 30psi each with SLIMED tubes.
Joseph – Rigid, geared Karate Monkey, Nano Front tire, XR rear with tire liners.
Les – 26” slingshot w/ Judy front
Somehow, in spite of this being my first race in Kenya since childhood, I was given a great front-line position, next to Kenya’s National road riders. My colleague, Les, and my Kenyan friend Joseph were lined up behind. By 8:30am, we were off, bouncing and fishtailing across a furrowed field. I managed to reach the first tight corner in second position, avoiding a lot of low speed carnage that happened in the ranks behind (which I never saw.) Within the first 2km, we found ourselves flying mainly on dirt and gravel roads. Without much technical, the Kenya road guys soon found their big gears and put on a blistering 22+ mph pace. There were four of us in a small group. About 8km in, Davidson Kamau (a national rider and super strong,) decided to attack solo on series of hills. Once well off his wheel, there was no way to catch him in the headwind we were facing. During the brief chase, one of our remaining three was dropped, leaving only two of us to work together. This lasted only a brief time as my “partner” took a wrong turn, leaving me on flat roads by myself (just waiting to get picked up by groups behind.) Minutes later, I had to kick myself as David Kinjah (Kenya Team Captain) went flying by with my former “partner” on his wheel. I was caught sleeping and they were making sure I didn’t get on board the train. This race had a LOT more wide open flats and climbs than I was expecting, giving the roadies a real advantage.
Over the next few kms I watched the duo gain at least 500m, with Kinjah doing all the work, but I myself never got caught by another group. Finally, almost 20km into the race, we got into some rocky technical downhill (not singletrack, but really rough doubletrack.) All of a sudden, I caught Kinjah and his partner and passed them. Both were riding hardtails, and were tentative on the downhill and rocks. Unfortunately, the downhill was short-lived at that point, and Kinjah caught and passed me again as we climbed out of the valley.
The last half of the race followed a similar pattern. There was just enough downhill and technical sections that would allow me to catch 2nd place and once 1st, only to be passed again on the climbs or open flats.
The course was truly beautiful, although with a heart rate frequently over 180 and sweat constantly dripping into your eyes, there’s not much sightseeing to do. Not only that, but the course was poorly marked (by Norba standards, anyway.) There were white chalk arrows on the ground, but often only AFTER the turn had taken place. I did go briefly off course at least twice, and had a very hard time picking lines ahead of time on some of the fast downhills.
By kilometer 50, my legs were getting pretty “crabby” and I was relieved to find myself at the top of the final hill. The guy who had originally taken a wrong turn in the beginning of the race was now the benefactor of MY wrong turn, and caught me near this point. Unfortunately for him, he had apparently blown himself on the last climb and was unable to make a pass as we headed down the final hill.
Super steep and rocky for the last two miles, I was able to make up some ground and came to within about 100meters of Kinjah and 200m of Kamau at the finish, taking 3rd place. I was very happy with the result, knowing that the two ahead were much stronger riders
Here are the essential details from my GPS:
Starting elevation: 9600ft
Ending elevation: 4600ft
Total elevation gain: 1500ft
Total Distance: 52.5km (32.7miles)
Total Time: 1:48
Average speed: 29kph, 18.1mph
A couple of technical notes: Due to a problem with my wheel setups, I had to run a v-brake in the rear for this race. Let me say that I HATED the feel of the vbrake compared to my normal Avid mech setup. Modulation seemed to be non existent, always locking things up back there.
Secondly, I ran a nano in the back thinking that it would be a bit faster than the Jones (which it may have been.) However, I felt like I gave up climbing and braking traction with that tire, and probably would run prefer a Jones if things were more technical.
The Jones H-bar continues to rock.
Many of you will be interested in how my Kenyan riding partner, Joseph did. First of all, thanks to Lance Pope from MTBR, Joseph was fully sponsored to do the race. Joseph finished in 28th place, his first race ever. He also got to visit a part of his own country that he has never before been to. As we were leaving, he told me that he was sad that he might never see something like that again. He completely and thoroughly enjoyed the experience and is anxious to improve his racing. In his own words, “today, I proved to myself that I can ride the bike. Next year, I am going to take your position!!!” Hopefully, Joseph will soon be riding one of the bikes that some of you donated a few months ago. Thanks again, Lance, for giving Joseph the experience of his lifetime.
My friend, Les, managed in the top 5 in the 40+ category, and had a great time as well.
All in all, the 10 to 4 was very well organized and a fun time for all. I am very grateful to the sponsors and organizers for putting on the event.
It is a bit sad (and ironic) to me that Kenya’s premier “mountain bike event” did not have any true singletrack. Technically, there a few difficult sections, but the long stretches of open road seemed to favor the race to roadies.
I am more determined than before to help organize an event which more closely resembles a typical Olympic or world cup event. Kenya’s riders have a lot of potential and desire, but good mountain bikes and true mountain bike events are almost non-existent here. Both are needed for the development of the sport.
Thank you all for reading.
PS - I don't have much for photos, although I will try and locate some others from spectators. Photos are:
1. elephant checking us out at the finish before bringing his whole family down the hill
2. Pic of myself, Joseph, and Les (left to right) at the finish
3. Myself and Ian, a guy who I started road-racing with in Kenya as a kid
4. Mount Kenya
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