GRAVEL RACING IN THE HEART OF THE KAROO

13.07.2024 | Graaff-Reinet, EC, South Africa

TWO ROUTES TO CHOOSE FROM

Rocky columns extend their crooked fingers heavenwards as we stare out over the Valley Of Desolation. A vast eden nestled on the edge of the dry expanse of the Karoo in South Africa. The little town of Graaff-Reinet sits neatly on a bend in The Sunday’s River. Shafts of light spear down and illuminate puddles dotted across the scrubland while small black dots on green hint towards shapes of wild animals. The skies seem endless, vast and mighty as distant thunderstorms litter the scene. 
This forms the backdrop of our race. The Road To Desolation is a gravel race through the semi-desert area of the Karoo in South Africa. No exact definition of what constitutes the Karoo is available, so its extent is also not precisely defined. So too, our Race is slightly ambiguous and its rigours speak to the area itself. With two options available to test your mettle against the environment and other riders, The Road To Desolation is no mean feat.
 
Two unique choices face interested participants, Road to Desolation (178km) and A Taste Of Desolation (65km), to choose your course and your approach. They can be raced on anything, as long as it doesn’t have a motor! No matter which you choose, the last 7km’s will be a reminder that you have taken on The Road To Desolation.
Rocky columns extend their crooked fingers heavenwards as we stare out over the Valley Of Desolation. A vast eden nestled on the edge of the dry expanse of the Karoo in South Africa. The little town of Graaff-Reinet sits neatly on a bend in The Sunday’s River. Shafts of light spear down and and illuminate puddles dotted across the scrubland while small black dots on green hint towards shapes of wild animals. The skies seem endless, vast and mighty as distant thunderstorms litter the scene. 

This forms the backdrop of our race. The Road To Desolation is a gravel race through the semi-desert area of the Karoo in South Africa. No exact definition of what constitutes the Karoo is available, so its extent is also not precisely defined. So too, our Race is slightly ambiguous and its rigours speak to the area itself. With two options available to test your mettle against the environment and other riders, The Road To Desolation is no mean feat.

Two unique choices face interested participants, Road to Desolation (178km) and A Taste Of Desolation (65km), to choose your course and your approach. The longer version will only be open to drop-bar Gravel Bikes, whereas the shorter version can be raced on anything, as long as it doesn’t have a motor! No matter which you choose, the last 7km’s will be a reminder that you have taken on The Road To Desolation.

Play Video

“A guy that rides 700 million miles with a bicycle likes bicycle riding.” –that’s how Johan from the Odesa nursery in Graaff-Reinet sums up our race.

Routes

Choose between ROAD TO DESOLATION (179KM)
& TASTE OF DESOLATION (66KM)
Finish at top of the valley!

32°25’12.2″S 24°53’44.4″W

Johannesburg
Capetown
Port Elizabeth

Road to Desolation

179KM  |  2773M Elevation

R.T.D The race

As its name suggests, this one is going to empty the tank. An onslaught of 179km’s with nearly 2800m of vertical gain. Road to Desolation is a true test of racing in these vast expanses and is a real test of attrition. Restraint is key as the mountain-top finish up to The Valley Of Desolation will decimate anyone who hasn’t left a little in the tank for finale.

The race leaves the small town of Graaff-Reinet in a North-Easterly direction. After a 3km neutralised start, the race flag drops as the riders make a right turn onto a gravel road at dawn. The smooth gravel and the fresh morning air may lead some into a false sense of security but the slight incline of the first 40km’s and the inevitable attacks are sure to put some in trouble early on.

 
The first waterpoint will await riders at Erasmuskloof at 41km’s. With nearly 1000m of climbing in the legs, selections would’ve been made and groups will be littered across the landscape. A welcome respite follows with around 20km’s of rolling downhill terrain, however the fast speeds and loose terrain could well catch a few out as mechanical issues could play a huge part in the final selection. The landscape opens up  before a second water point greets the riders at a Windmill at around 78km’s. A shortish tar meander takes the riders over the N9 before a punchy climb to the summit of Witnekpas. Pure bliss follows with some of the smoothest and fastest gravel terrain in the country as riders descend for the next 10km’s before the last rise and a sharp descent into the small town of Nieu-Bethesda located at the foot of the Sneeuberge. 
 
This will form the third waterpoint and is a great place for family and friends to have breakfast and watch the riders come through. A short, steep climb out of the valley takes you up and over into the Riverdeen farm. This 40km rolling stretch is best ridden in a group and anyone who finds themselves alone is gonna pay dearly by the end of the day. The final chance to restock on supplies takes place at 154km’s just before riders turn South-East onto the tar towards Graaff-Reinet. This exposed section could well distance riders falling off the wheel.
 
A right turn at around 172km’s takes the riders onto the road up to The Valley Of Desolation. A brief moment to take in the surrounds and contemplate what is to come. The road rises up viciously and doesn’t really let up until the mountaintop summit. The brutal gradients and the levels of fatigue will find the riders out immediately. A slow-paced onslaught awaits as riders toil up the final test. The view of the town below at around 175km’s will take your breath away if the savage slopes haven’t already.
Distance:
178.98km
Elevation:
2,773m
Surface:
85% Gravel 15% Paved
Start Time:
6:00AM
Cut Off:
4:00PM for anyone entering the Climb to the Valley of Desolation
Refuel:
41km, 78km, 107km, 154km
FKT:
06:31:03 h (Marc Pritzen ’23)

TASTE OF DESOLATION

66KM  | 1287M Elevation

The experience

At over 1200m of vertical gain in 65km’s suggests, this is no walk in the park, again a climb out of the valley awaits those who opt for the ‘easy’ route. With a later start and unique route, this one is going to sting. But it is not a race, we encourage you to see this more as an experience to say you too conquered the Karoo, and by no means the easy way.

The route leaves the town of Graaff-Reinet in a North-Westerly direction. As the riders climb out of town and pass the Dam on the right the environment opens up into the Camdeboo National Park. With game dotted all over the horizon, riders will veer off the tar for a short section of single track. This will surely create some major splits in the groups. Six more kilometres of paved surface lead us to a left turn onto The Roodewal Loop, a pristine private road that starts out smooth and fast and culminates in a long, technical rocky climb up to the top of Ouberg.

Here the riders will have a chance to refuel at the one waterpoint shared by all participants of the race, its a vibe & you might even get lucky with cheeky beer or a boogie in the veld to shake the legs out before the final section. Back towards Graaff-Reinet. This portion of the route borrows from the long version of the race. Exposed and fast, wind can play a huge part in this section heading towards town. You take yours earlier than the long route and get to spent some more time on jeep track in the park before the right turn to The Valley Of Desolation. You don’t want to be isolated here, rather wait for your maatjie to climb up to the Valley together.   

It’s a beautiful climb up the tar road through the national park, tough but its doable even if you walk parts, so we encourage everyone who can cycle to give it a go, and make yourself proud. Climb to the top for the Taste Of Desolation. Remember to look down! This is an experience!

Distance:
65.46km
Elevation:
1287m
Surface:
60% Gravel 40% Paved
Start Time:
09:00AM
Cut Off:
4:00PM for anyone entering the Climb to the Valley of Desolation
Refuel:
36km

’23 Results

Done and dusted is what we would usually say in the Karoo but this year was quite the opposite.
Thanks to everyone making this race a memorable day out. See the results below.

Rules

Important: Please read the rules.

§1.1 You will ride across some fragile Ecosystems and protected areas, leave nature unchanged.​

§2.1 As the event uses roads open to traffic you must always know, obeserve and comply with local laws.
§2.2 Helmet and front+rear lights are mandatory.
The organisation strongly recommends you to make sure you are prepared for cold in the morning and high heat during the event.

§3.1 Just use your bike, that’s all

§4.1 This is a semi self supported event. We will have depending on the route one or four water points.

§4.2 You must bring the following documents for the accreditation: ID document and the signed official rider agreement and the following gear: helmet, rear and front lights, Race number board on the seat post, Tools and spares, Nutrition and hydration, survival blanket.
The Organisation strongly reccomends you always bring, SOS kit, food for at least 6 hours of riding, sunscreen, leg/arm warmers and gloves

§5.1 You must follow and complete the full official route. You can temporarily leave it (to find food, rest etc.) but you must return to the same point you left off to continue the ride.
§5.2 The Organisation will send you the handbook and the track files some weeks before the start. You must strongly prepare and study it.

§6.1 You will be punctual at the accreditation, the briefing and the start.
§6.2 After the official time limit you can’t expect any official service or support, but although the event ends your ride can go on… so just relax and enjoy the route.

§7.1 You must have liability, death and health insurance valid during the event, covering emergency extraction and repatriation insurance.
§7.2 Be aware that all liability rests on you. The organization won’t provide you any kind of insurance for the ride and will not held liable for any damage whatsoever that may occur directly or indirectly to you or other parties.

§8.1 This project is possible thanks to the enthusiasm and commitment of all our volunteers. Please be nice to them, they have been working hard spending their time and effort to support this ride.
§8.2 follow the crew indications, they just will do it just for your safety and the good progress of the event.

§9.1 The Organisation can impose time penalties for violations which will be decided once the event is finished. But this shouldn’t happen.
Ride Safe and nice. Let this be a fair event.

All participants must hold a current Cycling South Africa (CSA) license. Proof of this license must be presented at race registration. The Gallows is a CSA-sanctioned race.

Faq

12 July (Friday) 2pm – 7pm at LOT44, 44 Sommerset street, Graaff-Reinet

Desolation (178km): The course is approximately 85% on unpaved gravel surfaces. The surface varies from hard-packed and fast to loose and rocky. There are several river and stream crossings that can be tricky. Water can be ankle high in places. The first 1/4 of the course constitutes more than 1/3 of the climbing. There are three climbs amongst the gradually rolling terrain. The last 1/3 is more downhill than uphill but finishes with a very steep tar climb to the Valley of Desolation.
 
A Taste Of Desolation (65km): The course is approximately 53% on unpaved gravel surfaces. The surface varies from hard-packed and fast to loose and rocky. The Roodewal Loop begins on beautifully smooth gravel but culminates in a long technical climb before rejoining the tar. The route finishes with a very steep tar climb to the Valley of Desolation
ROAD TO DESOLATION: (178km):  Gravel bikes with drop handlebars will be the best choice on the route. But all bikes are allowed. 
TASTE OF DESOLATION (65km): All bikes are allowed, Mountain Bikes are good, but you will be fastest on a pure-bred gravel bike.
NO E-BIKES! – Unless you have a medical condition – please speak to us. 
Overall the course is favourable for 1:1 gear ratio. But with the climb at the end we recommend something slightly easier.

Yes! There is Prize money available for the top three Men and Women. The total amount is R10.000. The winner will receive R3000 second place R2000 and third place R1000. 

Yes, at the water points we allow to have technical assistance from a team vehicle. The route can be accessed from two directions but most of it is on gravel with some rather rocky low water bridges so the team vehicle should have significant clearance when wanting to be there for the 1st water point. The second, third and fourth water point can be easily accessed by almost exclusively driving on tar roads or at worst some great gucci gravel.

The weather in the Karoo can be unpredictable.
In Graaff-Reinet the weather in July is generally perfect, with pleasant temperatures and low rainfall. July falls within the winter season. Throughout the daytime, temperatures often hover around 19°C (show in °F). However, as the sun sets and evening approaches, there’s a noticeable cool-down, with temperatures gently dropping to a more temperate 5°C. While this is the time of year with slightly cooler averages, it remains comfortably warm.

Graaff-Reinet in July usually receives low rainfall, averaging around 19 mm (show in inches) for the month. Rain is expected on roughly 3 days.

It’s mandatory to wear a helmet, the race number and have fully charged front and rear lights fitted on the bike. Everything else is hard to say, it’s the Karoo, and the weather is unpredictable. At the time of year, there could be strong winds but most likely sunny skies. There are low water bridges so your feet might get wet. On a great day shorts and short sleeves are terrific but bringing arm warmers and a gilet or jacket is always wise as things can turn in a matter of minutes. 

We encourage all participants to treat The Road to Desolation as a self-supported race/ride and entry is at your own risk. The safety and well-being of our riders is however paramount. There will be a medical support vehicle & ambulance en route in case of emergencies. Please be sure to save the necessary emergency contact numbers provided via email and at registration.

Yes. The course will be marked, however it’s important to load the route onto your cycling computer if possible as we’ll be riding on remote roads.

There will be 4 water points in the long race and 1 water point in the short race. We urge you to bring the nutrition you normally use. That said, the water points will be stocked with fluids, gels and assorted food. Please make sure you have what you need in order to fix mechanical failures out on the course. Things like extra tubes, plugs, pump, hex keys, etc.

Reception in the Sneeuberg Mountains is sparse. However, we insist that all riders carry their cellphones and keep them on at all times. Should something happen out on course, it’s important to be able to ask a rider to call course staff at the next available spot. 

Riders will finish at the summit of the valley of desolaiton where their times will be recorded. Here they can grab their warm clothes (drop off spot will be at the start),a beer and cheer on the remaining riders battling the climb. We might as well enjoy sunset since we are already up here. Once riders are ready to head down, we ask them to cautiously descend back down to Graaff-Reinet (keep left, go slow and be aware of riders coming up.) Cowbells welcome.

The best way will be by car but Graaff-Reinet has a Private Airport as well. The closest commercial Airport is Port Elizabeth about 2.5hrs away. Please contact us to arrange a shuttle.

Graaff-Reinet, surrounded by Camdeboo National Park, is classified as a malaria-free area. It is, however, recommended that guests contact their local travel clinic for advice on the necessary precautionary measures for visits to this region.

Graaff-Reinet is a small town, and importantly, does not have a bike shop. However, there are very limited spares available at Botha’s Garage in town. Please bring what you need. You’ll find convenience stores, gas stations and restaurants but be aware of opening hours. The stores will not be open before the majority of riders head out on race day. Make sure to get what you need in advance.

We don’t offer accommodation as part of the race entry to make it accessible to anyone. Graaff-Reinet has plenty of options of accommodation for any budget. From 5 Star hotels to a Campground. Everything in town is within 5min cycle to the start. Nonetheless here are some reccomendations: 

Hotel 
Drostdy Hotel | from R1763 pp

Guesthouses
Langhuis guesthouse | from R1350 pp

Toer Boer Cottages | frpm R700 pp

Camdeboo Cottages | from R850 pp

Far Far away house | from R1200 double room

Middle street manor | from R1600 double room

Cypress cottage guest house | from R800 pp

Camping
Camdeboo National Park | from R150pp

We reccomend to spectate in Nieu Bethesda as well as up to the finish on top of the The Valley of Desolation. We will offer a shuttle to the top of the valley for all day guests on raceday free of charge. – since we are welcome in a national park all you will have to cover is the conservation fee on the day. If they don’t care about the race – The town has a great opportunity for walking and running and numerous other interesting things to do from Museums to shops and restaurants.

Still got questions? Drop us a message here

RAD COMPANIES THAT SUPPORT ROAD TO DESOLATION

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Friends of ROAD TO DESOLATION

Maurten-Logo-White
P+L
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Bitchybites

local supporters

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Afrikanis
Coldstream
Lot44
Plasticity
Waenhuis
Wellwood

FAQ