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Tour d’Afrique 2013 by Laura Holms by Laura Holms: Sports & Adventure | Blurb Books


Tour d’Afrique 2013 by Laura Holms by Laura Holms: Sports & Adventure | Blurb Books.

On January 11, 2013, exactly 1 year ago today, the 2013 Tour d’Afrique began in Cairo.

A couple of weeks ago, my sister Laura surprised me by giving me a book for Christmas that compiles all of my blogs from the ride plus a collection of photos she gathered from other riders.

It looks great and brings back many good memories.

You can have a look at it and order it you wish by going to:

Yesterday the 2014 Tour d’Afrique riders left from Khartoum. I hope they enjoy their ride as much as the 2013 crew did.

Bike Review – Genesis Croix de Fer, 2013

What the bike had to put up with

The 12,000 km of the 2013 Tour d’Afrique, bike race from Cairo to Cape Town, about 25% of which was off road.

The Frame

The frame is made of Reynolds 725 steel. I am 1m73 and I used the 54cm frame.  The geometry was great. I was very comfortable on the bike after it was fit for me. I had no nagging aches or pains at any time. The paint chipped and abraded down to raw steel at several places. I chose steel because it can be repaired just about anywhere. But no repairs were needed. We were advised not to take carbon but several people did and not one of them had a problem. You can do some repairs to carbon anyway. Alloys seem to be less reliable. One alloy frame had a break and had to be scrapped.

The Wheels

The Croix de Fer comes with Alexrims XD-Lites. These were excellent. They took a real pounding and stood up to it. I had them trued twice but just as part of preventive maintenance. They never went really out of whack.


I used Schwalbe Marathon Plus – one set of 40mm and one set of 28mm They were superb. I had no punctures on the road. I did have one mysterious puncture in camp one evening. The bike came with 35mm Continental Cyclocross Race tires. I didn’t like these at all. I had several punctures while training before I left for the Tour. They are lightweight and thin and not suited to long rides in tough conditions. I didn’t even take them with me.

The Brakes

The bike came with Avid BB7 mechanical disk brakes with 160mm rotors. They worked very well. They are easy to adjust. The original brake pads disintegrated in wet and muddy conditions. I replaced them with resin pads, which held up better.  When the break pads disintegrated one of the rotors became very scarred. I replaced it.

Front and Rear Derailleur

The bike came with a Tiagra group set. Both derailleurs bent under the tough conditions and handling. I replaced both with 105 derailleurs. The front derailleur performed better, not much difference in the rear derailleur.

Front Chainrings and Rear Cassette

The bike came set up for racing, with two front chainrings (52/34) and an 11/26 ten speed rear cassette. I stayed with the front chainrings but soon switched to a 12/32 rear cassette. This helped on the hills but I still didn’t really have a granny gear. There was lots of sustained climbing of 12% and more. In future I would get three chainrings on the front.


The headset is a weak point on this bike. It is a cheap 1 1/8th threadless headset. Fine dust and sand gets in easily. I repacked it 4 times on Tour. It was not up to the very tough off road conditions. The headset became pitted and scarred. By the end, a couple of ball bearings had come out of one of the bearing races and the bearing race was bent and twisted.

Front Fork

The front for is a fixed fork. This made off road riding unpleasant. You could do it. But you suffered, especially your ulnar nerves. There is also not very much top clearance. The tube that goes into the headset extends down into the fork. I had to file this away to put my 40mm tires on. Even then I only had a few mm of clearance. In dry conditions this is ok. In wet and muddy conditions it means you are always stopping to clear away the mud that is acting like a break. In future I would fit a front suspension fork. Genesis should consider making this available as an option.

Rear Stays

Once again there is a problem of clearance. I could fit the 40mm tire but there was a real problem in muddy conditions.

Crank and Bottom Bracket

The Crank is Tiagra and came with SPD pedals. Both were fine. The bottom bracket is a standard English threaded one. The first one lasted only 5,000 km (about 1000km pre-Tour and the first 4000km of the Tour). I might have expected a bit more out of it.


I had no problems with the chains. There was a standard bit of stretch. I used three chains over the 12,000km. I changed it as part of regular maintenance rather than because of failure. I used Shimano 10 speed 105 replacement chains. I cleaned the chain and used dry lube very frequently.

Cables and Cable Housings

I had no problems with these but I did change them during the tour s part of routine maintenance.


The bike came with Tiagra Brifters. They worked well. I had no problems at all. They were sometimes were infiltrated with sand and grit but were not difficult to clean.

Bars and Bar Tape

The bars fit me well and I liked them. The cushion in the bar tape didn’t last very long in wet conditions. The tape became hard and crusty. I soon replaced it with better bar tape with good cushioning – and in bright orange, with goes so much better with the black frame.

Seat and Seat Post

The seat was a Genesis own brand. I found it very comfortable and had no saddle sores for the 6000km+ that I rode it. Unfortunately it broke on tough off road conditions. I had to ride 26km to the finish line on sharp rocks corrugation and sand with no seat. By the end of the Tour the seat post was firmly rusted into the seat bar. I had put some lubricant in at the beginning but it obviously didn’t last and I hadn’t checked it over the course of the long ride. But this is now a real pain.

Kit Review – Stuff I took, stuff I used, stuff I didn’t use


1, 55 litre soft duffel bag – the bag that everything else went into when I had to get on a plane; worked well, could fold up into almost nothing and store in my locker without taking up too much space.

6, 10 litre dry bags – one each for 1) bike clothes, 2) casual clothes, 3) cold weather stuff, 4) spares and tools, 5) medicine, 6) washing and hygiene stuff – this worked very well; stuff was easy to find quickly; it made packing the locker quick and easy and made setting up and tearing down camp efficient.

1 small backpack – I took a small North Face Borealis bag. I used this for my computer, electronic stuff and valuables. It worked well.

1 post bag – I took a Topeak 5 kg seat post bag. The fitting broke on the second off road day. Waste of space. I borrowed a small, camelback sized backpack that I used for the rest of the trip that I carried spares and stuff in. I don’t like carrying things on my back when I cycle but ended up doing it for lack of any alternative.

1 top bar bag – I took a small Topeak top bar bag that velcroes to the headset and the top bar.  I put sanitizer, a Swiss army knife, ORS sachets and lip balm in it. Worked well.


1 cable lock – served its purpose. Locked the bike every night.

Multi tool – I only took 1, it had allen keys and screw drivers on it. It was useful. I left behind the one with torque wrenches on it. I could have used this when I had to replace a disk brake rotor. But it was easy to borrow one.

Assorted small tools – small screw drivers (slot and Philips), 4 tire levers, small pair of needle nose pliers, spoke wrench, chain tool -mostly stuff I carried with me on the bike. The Tour is well equipped with tools for major and minor work.

Chain lube – I took one bottle of wet lube. I didn’t use much. The Tour people give everyone a bottle of dry lube. Given the conditions this worked better and I used a lot of it.

4 one-litre bottles – broke 1 the first day out but never again. The other 3 lasted me well for the rest of the tour.

Mini pump – good quality pump; no flats on the road so didn’t need it myself but did lend it to others who did.

Spare bottle cage – I did not take a spare bottle cage but should have. I broke one.

Cable ties – a few dozen of varying sizes. I used several and gave many more away. Very useful for quick fixes.


4 sets of BB7 Disc Brake Pads  – used two sets.

Disk brake rotor – needed one but didn’t take any so had to get one off a sectional rider who had an unused spare.

2 Schwalbe marathon plus 700 X 40mm tires – used these off road. They were great. Only 1 puncture and that was in camp not on the road.

2 Schwalbe marathon plus 700 X 28mm tires – used these on road. They were also great. No punctures.

2 Bontrager cyclcross tires – 7700 X 35mm – didn’t use these at all since the Schwalbes worked so well.

15 spokes – had my wheels trued twice and didn’t brake a single spoke, so didn’t need them. But have broken many spokes before so would always take them.

3 Patch Kits and 2 dozen extra patches – didn’t use any myself but gave almost all of them away.

Bar tape – took and used one extra but could have used two.

1 Seat Clamp and 1 seat post – didn’t use either.

1 Saddle – I broke a saddle in Kenya and was glad I had a spare.

1 Shimano10-Speed Cassette 12 – 32 (original was 11 – 26)– I used this and was glad I did. I only had two chain rings on the front (52 and 34) so didn’t really have a granny gear. The larger rear cassette helped. But I still had to work harder than most on the hills. I would rethink gearing if I did it again.

4 sets of derailleur cable – I used three and gave one away. Very useful.

4 sets of brake cable – replaced brake cables once.

2 metres of derailleur cable housing – used half and gave some away.

2 metres of brake Cable housing – used half.

2, 10 Speed chains – used both and bought another en route to have a spare.

8 Tubes 700×28/32  – didn’t’ use any but gave a couple away.

12 Tubes 700×35/42 – used one, gave a couple away.

1 Shimano 105, 10 speed front derailleur – used it and was glad I had it. Could have used two since the spare got bent and had to be hammered back into shape.

1 Shimano 105, mid-cage rear derailleur – I didn’t take this but needed it and had to order one to be delivered en route.

2 bottom brackets – I needed one after only 4000km. I needed another about 3000km from the end when a mechanic tightened the existing one too much and mashed it. I had to order one en route.


1 MEC Tarn 3 person tent with groundsheet and fly – glad I had the extra space. Poles and pegs were good quality. The mosquito netting ripped early on. I sewed it together and it worked fine. The fly also ripped early on. The material was not the non-rip type so it ran on for a bit until I repaired it. The zips were nylon and did not work well. They were a total pain. I gave the tent away at the end of the Tour. I would choose something else next time.

6 extra strong spare tent pegs – somehow I didn’t lose or break any pegs so didn’t need them, but I did lend them out on several occasions.

Small rubber mallet – very useful; there is some tough ground out there.

2-season sleeping bag – I chose to go with a 2 season very lightweight (rated at 5C) sleeping bag. It worked quite well but I did have to wear almost everything I owned on some of the colder nights – but then so did most people.

MSR plastic dishes, 2 high sided plates (1 big, one average), 1 cup – these worked fine; it was good to have the bigger sized dishes with sides on them; you eat a lot and you balance things on your knees – no tables.

Plastic Ikea cutlery, fork, 2 spoons, knife – worked fine.

Swiss army knife – always good to have, especially the bottle opener; but after carrying it with me for four months I forgot to pack it away and had it taken away from me at the airport when I flew home. Sad, but my fault.

1 LED headlamp – had a powerful one, worked very well; used 15 AAA batteries in it over the four months (it takes 3).

1 stuff bag camping pillow – packed up very small and was a very welcome thing to have. Sleeping well is very important.

1 silk sleeping bag liner – I didn’t use this very much. Some people used theirs instead of a sleeping bag when it was warm. But since I live in Africa and am tropicalized I didn’t feel the heat as badly and used my sleeping bag every single night.

1 thermarest luxury-lite cot – a bit of a phaff to set up and take down every day bur very comfortable to sleep on, so a very welcome bit of kit. After 4 months though it is very much the worse for wear. Wont’ last much longer.

1 lightweight, mutli-fibre towel – not the fluffiest towels in the world but did the job and took up very little space.


1 rain jacket/windbreaker – I forgot to take this and wish I hadn’t.

1 warm wicking jacket – forgot to take this and bought one en route. Very much needed.

1 long sleeve cycling jersey – I used this a lot; very much needed.

1 long sleeve base layer – I used this a lot and could have taken two. They are lightweight and don’t take up much space.

1 pair of arm warmers – I used these a lot as well.

5 short sleeve jerseys – I used them all. You sweat a lot and they get smelly and filthy.

3 pairs cycling shorts – I should have taken at least 4 pairs. Some times you ride for 8 days straight. This meant I had to wear my shorts 3 days running. Two days is ok. Three days is less than ok.

1 pair long cycling tights – wore these often in the mornings and then would take them off when it warmed up.

8 pairs lightweight cycling socks – used them all.

1 pair MTB SDL shoes – all I needed. They got dirty and the laces wore out but they lasted well. I would take a spare set of laces (if your have shoes that use laces).

1 spare pair of cleats – I didn’t need them but several people did.

4 pairs short gloves – used them all. They get as sweaty and dirty as your jerseys. Get well padded palms.

1 pair long gloves – used them frequently, especially on cold mornings.

Sunglasses – bit the bullet and bought prescription Oakleys. Didn’t wear them every day but was glad I had them.

Neck scarf – wore it fairly frequently, good both against cold and the sun.


1 pair long hiking pants – wore them often.

1 pair short hiking pants – wore them often

1 pair short sports pants – wore them often.

1 bathing suit – used it more than I thought I would.

1 fleece – forgot to take so bought heavy sweater in Egypt before I left. Fleece would have been better.

1 long sleeve jersey – wore it often.

4 t shirts – and bought a couple more en route.

Shirt with collar – didn’t take one but it would have been useful at times.

4 pairs boxers – of course.

1 pair long underwear – forgot to take; would have been good to have.

2 pairs warm woollen socks – used these as well, mostly to sleep in.

2 baseball caps – forgot to take; picked one up en route; hats are very useful when the sun is out.

1 pair hiking shoes – took a lightweight pair and wore them out.

1 pair flip flops – forgot to take; they would have been useful.

Sewing kit – took a small one but could never find it when I needed it.


Passports – I have three, carried them all and used them all.

Yellow fever certificate – not asked for it once, but always good to have.

10 photos – used two.

Insurance certificate and policy – didn’t need fortunately, many people did.

Credit cards  – used mostly cash until we arrived in Nairobi, then mostly credit and debit cards.

Cash – took $2500 and spent about $1500. But also put about $2500 on credit cards.

Photocopies of all docs – took them all but they became quite ragged since I carried them in my backpack while riding. Never used them. Used originals when I needed ID.

Notebook and pens – didn’t need notebooks, used laptop; should have taken more pens; lost one, broke one etc.


Macbook and power supply – hard drive died in Khartoum; finally got it repaired during rest days in Arusha. Good to have when it was working.

Samsung galaxy smartphone and charger – excellent; bought SIM card in each country; used it only for phone calls and texts. Many people used the data feature on their smartphones so could update blogs and send emails wherever there was 3G. I had to wait until we found wifi, which was infrequent and often slow. I think next time I would use the data feature on a smartphone.

Kindle and charger – used a lot, was excellent; is not backlit so you need a headlamp.

Garmin Edge 500 and charger – worked well for two months then the battery seemed to die.

GoPro Hero HD 2 and charger – used it as we were leaving the pyramids and then once more. Just didn’t get into it. I’m not much of a photo taker anyway. Others who had them used them much more often and with good results.

Solar charger – very useful on the first half of the Tour, after that it was easier to find power outlets.


Sanitiser – took two bottles, didn’t use much. There is hand washing soap and water on all the support vehicles. Used this a lot.

3 Tooth brushes – used two (lost one).

Toothpaste – used two tubes.

2 packs baby wipes –  didn’t use any, gave them away; preferred bucket baths or water left over in a drinking bottle. On the second half of the trip showers were available most days.

Comb – didn’t need for a couple of months (had hair cut off in Cairo).

Nail clippers – took two pairs; take big ones.

Razor – tried to shave every few days at least.

Shaving cream – useful for shaving.

Lip balm – take stuff with sunscreen added, used a lot

After sun cream  – used once.

Chamois butter – took two tubes and didn’t use any. Had chafing during last month but use nappy cream instead, works better.

Nappy cream – used Sudocrem; works well.

Soap – used small soaps from hotels.

Shampoo  – used small bottles from hotels.


Antimalarial Tablets – took Larium.

Antibiotic for travellers diarrhea – Ciprofloxacin 500 mg, 10 tabs – didn’t use.

Antibiotic for wound infection – I have a Penicillin allergy so took azithromycin (250 mg, 60 caps); used one dose for leg infection.

Simple painkillers – took Brufen; used a couple of tablets for a headache once.

Anti inflammatory – took Brufen; didn’t need.

Throat lozenges – took Strepsils; didn’t use.

Anti-diarrheal – took Imodium 12 caps; didn’t use.

Anti-spasmodic – took Buscopan 10 tabs; didn’t use.

ORS  – took lots and used at least 1 packet a day; excellent for replacing salts and electrolytes from excessive sweating.

Antiemetic – took Metoclopramide 10 tbs; didn’t use.

Ear drops – took Garasone ear drops; didn’t use.

Eye drops – took Ciloxan eye drops; didn’t use.

Zinc cream – took big pot of Sudocrem; used for nose, lips and saddle sores; very good.

Moisturizing cream – took E45; used once.

Anti inflammation (saddle sores) – took Voltaren cream; didn’t use.

Antibiotic cream – took Bactroban; used once on leg infection, didn’t help much, ended up taking a dose of antibiotics.

Disinfectant spray – took alcohol swabs; used quite a few for scrapes and scratches.

Sunscreen – took one bottle of SPF30; didn’t use any; gave away.

Clinical thermometer – didn’t take one; didn’t need one.

Malaria test kit (2 per kit) – took one box; didn’t use.

Nasal spray – took Otrivin; didn’t use.

Three Days to D-Day

2012-12-30 11.51.07The bike is set up and tuned, last minute purchases have been made and my laundry is done. The dominant mood among those I had dinner and a beer with last night was: ‘we’re here, we’re ready, let’s go’.  But we know that impatience is a negative emotion. We know that when you are impatient you cut corners and stop thinking clearly, that you fall back on intuition and prey to irrational emotions. We are a patient lot.

We are mature and experienced. We know that impatience was the real reason for the fall of man. We want too much and we want it now – Just one little apple. We know that impatience makes us ignore the present in anticipation of the future. And we want to enjoy the present. So we are ready to go now but we are a patient lot.

As Oscar Wilde put it in The Importance of Being Ernest: “If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life.”

Sudan Visa II

I was at the new Sudan Embassy by 9:15 this morning. There was red carpet all over the street in front of the building and a huge black Mercedes with tinted windows parked on top of the carpet. But there were few people around. However, the door was open so I wandered in. The visa section appeared to be closed. The room was filled with flowers, flags, banners, signs and posters. And there as a big ceremonial table and chairs in front of the visa counter. As it turns out, the Foregin Minister of the Sudan is in Town and there is a formal ceremony to open the new Embassy building this morning. Shortly after I entered the building an important looking guy – big and wearing a well cut blue suit – appeared through a door from an inner courtyard. I approached him and said I had come to pick up my visa and passport. He looked at me a growled a bit. But I think he made a quick calculation and decided that the best way to get rid of me before the Minister arrived in full splendour was to get me my passport. So he waved someone over and sent him to retrieve it. Two minutes later I had my passport with visa and was gone. It took less than 24 hours from the time I submitted my stuff to the receipt of the visa. And unless anybody managed to get same day service yseterday I may well have been the first person to get a visa from the new Embassy. Gotta be a good omen.

Cairo day 1

DCIM100GOPROAt 4:00am the storm-trooper-trolley-dollies turned all on the lights, marched down the aisle smashing down the tray tables and snapping ‘breakfast time’ in several languages. I have been woken up in more pleasant ways. Out the window I could just make out the Nile in the dark. We were getting close to Cairo. At 5:20 we landed and half an hour later we were waiting for our luggage. The 737 from Dar to Cairo was full of people going on the Haj or to other places further east. (I noticed a couple of guys with Halliburton backpacks on their way to Bagdad. According to the writing on the backpacks, Halliburton was winner of the 2011 quality service provider award. I guess waterboarding is a recognised service these days. At least they were probably not bothered by the 4am wakeup. Used to it – or inflicting it.) Since most people on the plane were connecting to other flights there were only five or six of us waiting to collect bags. It still took an hour. But everything arrived intact.

After we had checked into the hotel I went and found a taxi to start the process of getting my Ethiopian and Sudanese visas. It took about an hour and half to find the Ethiopian Embassy. They had moved to a new building. And it took a while to find somebody who knew where the new place was. But we finally find it and the process was very easy and civilized. I filled in a form, attached a photo the TdA letter and $30 and handed it to a guy sitting behind a big desk. He asked a few questions and told me to come back at 2pm. I did and now have the visa. The Sudanese visa looks like it will be a bit more of a scramble. I went to the Sudanese embassy in Garden City, a bizarre place that look s like the side entrance to city prison. There is a small, glassless window about 18 inches square with three 1-½ inch diameter stainless steel bars crossing it. You had to attract the attention of and then talk to somebody through this. Turns out the Garden City Embassy is closing and no longer in business. I eventually found out that the new embassy will open for business on January 2 in al Dokki. OK. We wait.

By now it was mid afternoon. After a short nap we went to the north end of Zamalek to a café called Maison Thomas, est. 1922 for dinner. Good pizza, no beer. A real bit of French Riviera circa 1935. Lovely architecture, ambiance and food.  Then home for a good long sleep.

It’s a great season to think of others.

So please think of the Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania this Christmas.

ChipIn: Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania

Plane to Cairo

Just after midnight tonight we get on a plane to Cairo. Today is all about packing and final preparations. Started the day at 5:40 with a 60km ride. Then took the bike apart and packed it in its box. Now trying to get everything else into a duffle bag of the right size and weight. January 11 seems very close and very real now.

It’s a great season to think of others.

So please think of the Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania this Christmas.

ChipIn: Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania

Last minute arrival

alans cycle shirt-CADThe cycling jerseys have finally arrived. What a saga. The jerseys arrived in Dar early in the morning of Wednesday December 12. It has taken until now to get them released from customs. They were released at 16:22. At 17:00 the office closes for Christmas. Brinksmanship. When the jerseys arrived I was told that I had to pay about 660,000 shillings in duty and tax (for a few cycling jerseys mind) or about $450. An outrageous amount I thought. We have diplomatic status so anything we receive should be tax and duty free anyway (this is called PR06 status – we have pre-approved PR06 papers on file). We have never had any problem bringing stuff in in the past. I mentioned this and they kindly said they would re-assign customs status. They did. They now asked for 1.1 million shillings or over $700 (for a few jerseys). Go figure. It is Christmas after all. Customs was upping the ante. They did not want to see the PR06 on file. They would only accept a new PRO6 document for this package specifically. A PR06 has to be signed by the Foreign Minister. To make a long story short, the new PR06 was delivered at 16:05. The package was released at 16:22.

38 minutes to spare – or I would have been riding topless.

Don’t forget to donate to the Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania.

ChipIn: Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania

Stuck in customs

alans cycle shirt PATTERNMy new jerseys are all made and were sent DHL from Cape Town a week ago Monday. They arrived in Dar Es Salaam at 7:56am last Wednesday. I have been trying to get them through customs ever since. Gotta love bureaucracy!

Don’t forget to donate to the Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania.

ChipIn: Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania

C & N Cycles

Damian at C & N Cycles has done a great job of getting my bike and all associated cycling kit for the Tour – and at a very welcome discount.

Thanks Damian and C & N.

Don’t forget to donate to the Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania.

ChipIn: Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania