Kerio Valley Enduro 2018.
The movement for Enduro MTB in East Africa is gathering momentum. There are a core group of riders in the region who live to rip it up on the trail and they all live across the region. Sculpting and refining their backyard trails for an annual event means we are slowly pulling together a series of legitimate Enduro events around Kenya and Uganda with a diverse mix of location, terrain and riding style.
The latest event was the Kerio Valley Enduro. The brainchild of Simon Blake - the coach and manager of the Kenyan Riders road cycling team, a lover of rigid singlespeeds and a pinner on a mountain bike, this event is based in Iten, Kenya ‘the home of champions’.
If you follow athletics you will know that almost all the best distance runners in the world come from or have trained in Iten, and indeed while we were riding Eliud Kipchoge from Iten broke the Marathon World Record in Berlin with an incredible time of 02:01:39. Iten sits at 2300m and the Kerio Valley falls away from it into a swathe of hot savanah below. Beyond that the landscape rises again with the town of Kabarnet lying across from Iten, each ridge line rising some 1200m above the valley floor.
While Enduro is still new and a relatively unknown format in the region, Kenya does have a strong MTB community, and this event saw a pick of riders both looking forward to the challenge and opportunity of more serious trails and looking to push their limits, as well as enthusiastic riders doing their bit to promote MTB in Kenya and supporting their friends event. We saw 17 riders line up on the start line. A great turn out for this young event.
Day one saw four stages on the Iten side of the valley. Shuttles after stage 1 and 2 brought us back to the top, and a peddle into the Singore forest for stages 3 and 4 with a shuttle home at the end of the day.
Stage one and two were fast, technical and fairly loose, they were super fun to ride with rock rolls and small drops. Stage 3 was a pedaly sprint through the forest - and called ‘dark woods’ - a respite for those struggling with the steeper start to the day. Stage 4 was a perfect end to the day with the fastest and steepest section yet with some tech corners and super cool rock rolls.
At the end of Day one, Will Clark had a lead of almost one minute with Peter Horsey in second and Simon Blake bringing in third. A few mechanicals and some great tales of epic moments kept the post race talk exciting - the award for best crash of the day going to James Savage, who on stage 2 fell off the trail and found himself uninjured yet hanging upside down from a bush for more than 6 minutes while he managed to lower himself down and climb back up to his bike and the trail!!
Day 1 finished with nyama choma (local BBQ) at the Kenyan Riders base- and the pump track challenge. Local youngster Dan took the win and showed off his skills jumping over 3 bikes on the last jump on his old steel bmx! Incredible skills. He won a goat and his proud mother was there to watch him collect his prize!!
Day two started early and a 6am meet to load the bikes. We were driving across the valley and up to Karbarnet. An hour and a half drive as the sun broke free above the horizon and we were ready to go in the land of rocks! Kabarnet descents are incredible. It’s basically just rocks on rocks - it’s a tough place to ride, and it’s hot and there are almost no villages until we make our way all the way to the valley floor. It is a committing place to ride.
With this in mind the order of the day was be conservative. This all went out the window when the first rider on the first stage (me) couldn’t see the trail and took a wrong turn, hitting a barbed wire fence at about 50kph and taking a huge slam. I broke my full face helmet in 3 places, bent and partially snapped my cranks and bent my chainring. Dazed and confused I thought my day was over, eventually running down to the end of the stage and getting a time 10+ minutes later. After the dust settled I took a better look at the bike - by removing the chainring, bending it back to shape and flipping it around on the cranks (I had snapped one of the bolt arms on the crank) I managed to get it working enough to ride! I had anticipated going home and no more riding but it seemed I was still good to go. I was a bit battered and bruised, but I popped 2 ibuprofen and pushed back up to the start of the stage, though I was out of the official race I could still have fun - and I managed to get the Strava KOM for the stage! I had taken about 30min to sort myself out, so at the end of stage one I had to sprint to the start of stage 2, catching Paul the back marker doing the timing just in time to give me an official start for stage 2 - with no time to spare I hit stage 2 - a great rocky stage and was re-united with the rest of the gang at the bottom! They were happy to see I was still riding and I certainly won the crash of the day award for that one!!
Stage 3 was super fun with a little punchy climb in the middle and then stage 4 was a balls to the wall full gas descent where fortune favoured the brave and not touching your brakes was the order of the day! Peter Horsey absolutely pinned it on stage 4 taking the win by nearly 30 seconds.
After stage 4 the crew were a little walking wounded, some injuries, lots of crashes and some pretty hectic mechanicals - One of the guys - Jason having his rear derailleur go into his wheel and take out almost a quarter of his spokes! We still had a way to go and a fun ride down to the main road and the first signs of civilisation. A welcome stop for water from the local duka and then a nice easy ride back to the truck waiting for us at the junction. A cheeky swim in the local river was an incredible way to freshen up after the dust and heat of a full day riding Kabarnet.
And that was that!! An incredible two days of racing Enduro in Kenya! A few guys had to head straight to the airport for flights home and those of us who had managed to take more time retired to Kerio View - the local lodge - for some incredible food and drinks and an afternoon of stories and future plan hatching!
Prize giving was done in the sun and the incredible backdrop of the Kerio Valley, Peter Horsey taking top honours in the Men’s race with Simon Blake in second and Will Clark still managing to take 3rd. It was a family affair at the top step of the podium with Lauren Horsey taking the women’s title!
Enduro has a bright future in East Africa, this is just the beginning - it’s going to be an incredible ride!!
Shout outs - Fly 540 for a prize of two flights for the winner and allowing easy travel for everyone flying into the event with bikes. USN Kenya and Trinity Bikes for support and prizes. Photos courtesy - Peter Horsey, Will Clark, @kimeshpictures