The Rift Valley Odyssey – what a cool name for a race, wouldn’t you agree? It implies adventure, excitement and a deep sense of fulfilment for completing a journey most people won’t even attempt! Indeed this year’s edition of the RVO had several of these features but cast in the South African mindset of ‘racing’ mountain bikes it wasn’t easy to define what exactly the RVO was, where it fit in and who it was for.
Most cycling events are referred to as races being timed events where the personwho covers the distance between the start and finish line the quickest is declared the winner. This in turn means success is defined in terms of time, often just fractions of a second separating winner’s from the rest. The Ride RVO, as it is known, is something completely different. There is no timing of participants which means riders must ‘find success’ in other ways.
With an optional prologue and 5 long stages the Ride RVO poses a substantial physical challenge for mountain bikers with most riders spending between 4.5 and 7 hours on the bike each day, covering distances between 80 and 100km per stage. The terrain is extremely varied, ever changing from the Alpine forests and tea plantations of the Kenyan Highlands (some as high as 2700m above sea level) to tropical jungles and semi desert plains where the Maasai cattle and wildlife peacefully graze next to each other as if in one great herd.
Merely completing this challenge meant success for some while spotting wildlife and other distinctly Kenyan attractions rated highly on other participants’ agenda.
For Team Garmin MTB it was the 4th and penultimate leg of our #AfricanMTBSeries. As there was no timing our aim was to immerse ourselves in the event and embrace every opportunity as it arose to make the best of our time in Kenya.
In terms of Mountain Biking, the course created from Nairobi to the border of the Maasai Mara was spectacular to say the least. Along the way we stopped at famous Kenyan landmarks such as Lake Naivasha, the dormant volcano of Mount Suswa, the Ewaso Nyiro River, the South African/Maasai camp Olkoroi and finally Cottars Camp on the banks of the Sand River right across the Maasai Mara itself.
Along the way the scenery was stunning with some uniquely African vistas from remote vantage points only accessible by foot or bike. As we sped past the local Maasai people cheered or scattered depending on the particular individual’s mix of total bewilderment, awe and grasp of the situation.
Of course this is Africa and things don’t always go to plan as we found out on days 3 and 4 when our finish of stage 3 and the start of stage 4 were delayed by ‘African toll gates’, spontaneously erected by the local tribesman demanding money for each bike, car and truck to pass despite these negotiations having been concluded weeks earlier.
Support vehicles also often got held up due to the bad roads leaving most riders stranded in their cycling clothes after stages while waiting for the luggage to arrive. Although somewhat uncomfortable, we all tried to make the best of these situations often doing things we normally wouldn’t as racing requires such dedicated focus and commitment. It’s quite amazing how much a mere dip in the river can lift ones sprits after a long day in the saddle.
A particular highlight of each day was the catering, especially considering how remote our camps were. The 2 catering teams used for the event went out of their way to accommodate everyone – even managing to please Marco and Bebo – our Italian vegan/vegetarian duo who completed the event on e-bikes complete with handlebar baskets full of nuts, leaves and other plant based nutrition!
Back to the riding and a lot of the trails used were on the best cattle paths available, also selected by boda boda (motorbike taxis) for their ‘flow’ and then unwittingly sculpted by these overloaded motorbikes going at just the right speed to give the trail a feel of flow often only reserved for hand built, MTB specific singletrack.
Taking into account the obvious challenges of hosting a MTB stage race in remote parts of Africa, the event ran off reasonably smooth but judging by the lofty standards set by South African events where the competition is so fierce, the event needs some refinement to justify its hefty price tag. That said the race has a lot of potential and if managed correctly it can become a must do ride on the African continent and beyond.
Back to the opening question of what exactly the RVO was and for who it catered, well that doesn’t really matter as long as you love riding your bike, enjoy adventure and can go with the flow – this ride is for you!