PRESS RELEASE: Kingdom Enduro
Kingdom Enduro is a 3-day stage race through the Kingdom of Lesotho, Africa. It's the first ever Enduro World Series qualifier on African soil, set in an incredible mountainous country with a huge network of paths and trails used for centuries by the Basotho people and their animals. It's also wild, raw and totally unique in terms of the trails, scenery and atmosphere.
The race is based out of an old trading post
in Roma dating from the days when Lesotho was a wilder frontier land where merchants cut deals with local farmers and shepherds for goods. Little has changed really, as (apart from a few tar roads) the lush countryside is still completely unspoiled and the independent nation has never been particularly modernized or industrialized. The Kingdom Enduro stages criss-cross the stunning local peaks that rise up to 3,000m+ and start each day with racers taking local bush taxi uplifts to mountain passes to gain a head start on the descending. Race stages number up to six daily and vary from 5 mins long up to around 15mins. The sheer distance travelled and tough climbs make Kingdom Enduro pretty challenging even before some steep, rocky and rough timed stages, and the weather during this year's debut event was untypically wet too with thunder and lightning, so organisers reduced the race duration due to safety concerns.
Geographically, Lesotho's landlocked inside South Africa and consists of little but mountains. Having a low point of 1,600m (that's higher than any other country in the world) presumably helps explain why the Kingdom and its people have never been fully conquered. It's rugged and beautiful in every direction; something even South Africans who've never visited will be blown away by. The terrain in Lesotho makes for some awesome mountain bike trails too with so much space, freedom to roam and elevation. Plus, there's every surface imaginable from slickrock to loam to mud to loose rocks, all dumped on gradients ranging from fast and flowy to suicidally steep.
Most of the Lesotho population have few material possessions, but there is an openness and warmth that's almost shocking coming from a more westernised society. You can't expect five star luxury or to remain isolated from Lesotho's beating heart like on some exotic riding trips, and that's the beauty of Kingdom Enduro; you're right in and among the people and end up experiencing the location in such a way most riders found it impossible not to let it get under the skin.
Outside the capital Maseru, the majority live straight off the mountainous land as subsistence farmers, bushmen and horsemen with few shops or services, other than a local bar or rough and ready 'shebeen' (sometimes with an electric atmosphere of beers, house music and dancing, which is something the racers get to sample at the end of each day's riding).
Pink Elephant Shebeen sound system
In the wild open terrain between settlements huge hike-a-bike climbs and pedal liaisons snake through mud hut villages to access rough, rocky paths where one minute you're completely alone and the next there's people and animals everywhere. The race stages have everything from hand-cut berms and ruts like steep European or Alpine riding to completely open rock slabs or even simple pieces of tape across huge open spaces pointing you in the right direction. It's part of the game staying on course and staying safe in a country where even the paramedics have to be shipped in from over the border.
Crossing thigh-deep rivers, cruising through meadows rammed with wild flowers or smashing along rough mountain paths, at times the Lesotho scenery feels something like the garden of Eden. You might be feeling like you're on this red earth anywhere at any point in time, but the locals always seem to know where you and the race is headed, and point you in the right direction, even if you're not sure yourself.
In some cases, the tracks raced down are the same paths children walk miles each way to school and back on, and it's crazy to think while kids in the west almost exclusively get driven to school, Lesotho boys and girls frequently trek several hours there and back in a day often barefoot.
Kingdom Enduro's trails have everything from steep rocky riverbeds to Utah-style slickrock, steep loamy forest sections to wide open dirt toboggan runs often tackled while gawping across endless vistas. Every corner brings a new view and a new type of terrain - all of it originally scouted, designed and adapted by Rene Damseaux, the man with the vision to stage an enduro event in such an out-there location.
The man with a plan, Rene Damseaux
Rene has been out in Lesotho since last October building trails, finding new ways down steep slickrock rollers and slabs, the vast majority of which has never seen shoe soles on it, never mind a bicycle tire. The result of his hard work is a growing network of crazy trails unlike anywhere else, many of which got threaded into the event, even if only a handful of riders could ride every section on his hardest routes.
The Roma Arena has miles of slickrock trails and wide open rock slabs.
Epic scenery is probably justified when you're talking about Lesotho
Rene's trails are a crucial part of the Kingdom Enduro, but more so than any other world-level enduro, the whole African experience makes the event - being so freestyle in terms of both the trails and the location is what's so unique and different. This is a stunning place with an unpredictable charm where you never know what is going to happen next, and if that sounds like your bag, then simply don't miss this event next year. And if you just want to race truly blind, raw trails and footpaths in magical country where you're guaranteed to feel welcome yet also more like a foreigner than anywhere else you've visited then sign on the dotted line too.
Kingdom Enduro was an incredible experience and might well herald the start of a lot more action and coverage for the growing mountain bike scene in this part of the world. This year's racers are privileged to witness and visit a place that's largely untouched by commercialism, tourism and commerce yet, and in today's world that's a pretty compelling reason to visit if you're looking for a proper adventure on your mountain bike.
Race winner Keira Duncan on Pyga Bikes
You can read more about Kingdom Enduro, the full results and the race's origins in Lesotho as well as our other event, Lesotho Sky, over at the Kingdom Enduro website