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Off the start line we had a short neutral zone leaving the Ramabanta Trade Post Lodge. Before long we met a tar road which signaled the end of keeping things civil and the start of the mean climb up Nkesi Pass. While tarred the gradient was on the edge of discomfort and the front runners quickly whipped up the pace.

Heading swiftly down the other side of the pass we turned off-road onto some bumpy gravel-ish roads. Keeping with our nearer competitors we set off to a comfortable pace. The gravel roads gave way to some fun windy hard packed dirt. Finding lines down the steep rocky sections was a bit hit and miss at times, but we quickly learned to spot the path of least resistance and roll with it.

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Photo: Cherie Vale / Lesotho Sky

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Photo: Cherie Vale / Lesotho Sky

Things were going well. After a quick trip through a river and a precarious portage up a rocky hillside we continued up. The path up took us over some solid rock with a few easy step ups. Or not. Wham! Awkwardly I land almost face first on the rock ahead, my bike clanking down beside me.

Up on my feet it's status check time. Me: slight graze on my knee, all good to go. Bike: a few scrapes, but looks in order. After a pedal stroke something is off, chain maybe? Nope, a thoroughly twisted derailleur cage. Disaster.

While we struggle to delicately straighten it, all but the last two teams in the race pass by offering assistance. Twenty odd minutes later the jockey wheels are functioning again and my newly reduced 2x3 gearing is good to go.

Finally setting off again we head onwards and up some steep loose climbs, eventually catching up to another team. We're not completely alone! The day seemed to be all about ups and downs - literally. If we weren't tackling a technical climb we were headed down a most often tricky descent scattered with loose rocks.

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Photo: Cherie Vale / Lesotho Sky

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Photo: Cherie Vale / Lesotho Sky

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Photo: Cherie Vale / Lesotho Sky

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Photo: Cherie Vale / Lesotho Sky

Midway through the day we did have some respite with some gently undulating hard packed trails. Taking the breather to briefly look around and absorb the incredible scenery one thing comes to mind: The sheer beauty and remoteness aside it is clear that one or more of the many sizable hills in the distance is our route home.

Sure enough we were soon heading up, and then down, and up again. And repeat. Having limited gears I had little option, but to power up most of the climbs. After the barrage of hill repeats and occasional postage the legs and knees began to feel the additional effort.

Nearing the tar road we had come down just a few hours earlier we knew the finish and an ice cold Maluti Lager were not far. Over the top of the hill and speedily down towards the tradepost. To give an idea of just how steep the tar climb we’d started the day with was - guys were clocking 95-105 km/h coming down with little more than an aero tuck.

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Photo: Cherie Vale / Lesotho Sky

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Photo: Cherie Vale / Lesotho Sky

With the finish within reach the route had one last sting in it’s tail thanks to a chap called Bruce. More climbing, more rocks and some more really tricky descents just to make sure we were still awake.

Over the line at least an hour slower than anticipated it was a tough day out, but an incredibly rewarding one.

Tomorrow we head into even more remote areas on a route that’s said to be quicker (mile for mile) than today. One thing is for sure: the Lesotho Sky will no doubt continue to test, impress and reward us in equal parts.