Bike racing is not my thing. But if a race happens near where I am, I become the first one to register. And that’s why I started at the Great Rift Valley Challenge (although I didn’t finish it).

GRVC uno

The Great Rift Valley Challenge (GRVC to make it shorter) is a one-day bike race that started in Kenya in 2017. It doesn’t look long with its 120 kilometers but it’s rather hard, very hard. It contains two hors categorie climbs and a hot valley that melts you down.

The start is punctual at 7:30 at the Biretwo petrol station. Biretwo is a small center almost at the bottom of the Rift Valley, at 1200 meters above sea level. At that time, the temperature is gentle and the race starts with an easy-to-follow 15 kilometer stretch until the Cheloch Gorge (a curious touristic attraction where the “Chebloch Divers” jump from the bridge to the crocodile infested waters once the tourists have paid for it). But, since it’s quite early by the time that we cross there, nobody is jumping, and nobody is watching. And we start the first climb.

It will take 15 kilometers of continuous climb until the city of Kabarnet. The average grade is 5,6% and the summit sits just above the 2000 meters. But after Kabarnet, and with a very short interval of downhill, we continue climbing through a secondary road which is not only peaceful but extremely beautiful and humid, thanks to a kind of rain forest that we go through.

The road turns gently here and there until a random U-turn point at 2384 meters above sea level where we can refill our empty bottles. For the last 10-kilometers or so I have been meeting the riders that were ahead of me, already on their well-deserved way down. I lose count about how many are in front of me but I celebrate it when I finally reach the U-turn and I can, finally, go down.

The road wasn’t closed to traffic but being Sunday morning, we see very few cars. During the descent, we feel safe to go fast and chose the perfect way to take the next turn. I am riding a gravel bike and I score a maximum speed of 71km/h. According to Strava, Salim Kipkemoi (the winner) has reached 87.

As the descent continues and the sun keeps shining towards the midday, the temperature hits good highs. With barely more than 1000 meters of altitude, the bottom of the valley is a deserted area only supported by thorny bushes and gracious goats. It is impressive to see how the surrounding changes in a matter of few kilometers: less than one hour ago we were riding inside a rain forest; now we are in the desert.

GRVC dos

Almost at the 100-kilometer point, we are back at Biretwo. It’s a check point and refilling station before starting the second hors categorie: the Iten climb. But it’s also the place where I had left my car… because I knew that I wouldn’t have much strength left to continue.

The organizers suggested the riders to park the cars in Iten and ride downhill until Biretwo to start the race. And most of them did it this way because it was the clever way if you want to do the whole Great Rift Valley Challenge. But my challenge was done at reaching Biretwo. I skipped the 25 kilometers climb at 4,4%. A climb that I already did some time back and spent 1h42.

GRVC profile

All pictures from this post are by Enock Kirop (Kimesh Pictures).


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