Adapted from a BMW press release.
The BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy Female Team Qualifying 2017 concluded with a surprise outcome. After four days of competition at the Country Trax Off-Road Riding Academy near Amersfoort, South Africa, not one but two teams qualified for the sixth BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy that will be held in Mongolia in June 2018. Such has been the high standard of riding at this event, the BMW Motorrad team decided spontaneously to double up and take six women GS riders to Mongolia.
The path to qualification wasn’t easy. After their national qualifiers, 23 women from 13 countries earned their way through to the BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy Female Team Qualifying event in South Africa, no doubt expecting a tough competition, conducted in the toughest conditions, all under a hot African sun. They certainly found tough conditions, but not the expected, as huge thunderstorms rolled across the veldt on all four days. The sun made only fleeting visits when the clouds reluctantly allowed.
Day 1 saw the participants’ arrivals and immediate immersion into the competition. As is the nature of the GS Trophy, anything and everything can be a challenge, and so the organizing team set the women immediately onto their first challenge: to get their tents pitched and changed into riding gear – against the clock, of course. Now ready for adventure action, they faced three back-to-back challenges: a 50-meter (55-yard) run followed by a dash on the GS up a hill to a stop box; a test of balancing a GS one-handed while walking around it – twice; and third, riding blindfolded to a target set at the far end of the field. Huge thunderstorms rolled in after the women completed two out of the three tests, forcing the organizers to postpone the remaining test until the morning.
Day 2 proved to be a marathon day. Starting at 7 AM, the competitors completed the remaining challenge from day one, then followed up with six more challenges. These included a speed test riding a slalom course in deep sand and a time-trial cross-country course complete with a Le Mans-style start to again assess the women’s higher-speed riding capabilities. After dinner that night, the participants received a nasty surprise when event manager Stefan Boshoff “promoted to spectator status” the nine lowest-scoring participants from the competition. The day wasn’t over, though, as the remaining 14 participants broke up into three teams to navigate a 25-kilometer (15.5-mile) night challenge, complete with repairing a puncture at the mid-point. The teams started at 10 PM and rolled back at just before midnight, successful but exhausted after a 17-hour day.
Day 3 started with another mechanical aptitude test. Participants had to remove the rear wheel from their GS, then run 50 meters (55 yards) with it and refit it to the motorcycle – in less than four minutes. Not easy with five torqued wheel studs to loosen, realign and tighten with only a modest-sized T-bar. Then followed a slow race, made all the more difficult as the grass was soaking wet, making wheel spin a constant worry. Two technical riding challenges followed that proved incredibly tricky, as the constant rains had rendered the clay soil ice-like – throttle control and balancing skills have never been more severely tested.
Later the women set off cross-country across the Country Trax 600 acres to find two more tough riding challenges that tested their ability to ride steep off-cambers and to make fast weaving progress over slick terrain. These are tough technical challenges that trials riders revel in, but are much harder on a nearly 250-kilogram (550-pound) GS. Again the women shone – until yet another thunderstorm forced another retreat, with pelting rain and lightning strikes rendering the exposed hillsides a dangerous place to be. That night ended with another elimination; five more participants found themselves out of the running. The final day would be a battle of the best nine for the three finalists’ positions – or so they thought.
Day 4 – the last day – again started under leaden skies. The remaining nine tried to calm their nerves; those in the top positions contemplated defense strategies, while the other six came with a win-or-bust attitude. In the end, all simply had to do their best. The first challenge combined a straightforward ride through a straw bale maze with an energy-draining fractionally uphill backwards push of their GS to the finish line. Each competitor at least had the moral and vocal support of the other 22. It was a case of digging deep – and then digging some more.
Raising the GS onto a huge fallen tree trunk was the next challenge. Obviously too much for any one participant, this was a three-person team challenge. Despite some of the women being of diminutive stature, all three teams managed this in fine style. Then came the finale: a lap of a parkour course, calling for a broad spectrum of skills to deal with a seesaw, balance beams, 180-degree “elephant turns” and the tricky matter of straddling their GS along a fallen telegraph pole and riding it along in a maneuver called a log grind. It was a long lap that called for sustained concentration, endurance and skills – a fine all-encapsulating challenge to end the competition.
All that could follow was the tense waiting while officials totaled the scores. What everybody thought was the end came with the emotional of tears of joy, congratulations and commiserations as officials announced the three winners – Ezelda van Jaarsveld (South Africa), Julia Maguire (Australia) and Sonia Barbot (France). Then, for another three – Jocelin Snow (USA), Linda Steyn (South Africa) and Bettina Nedel (USA) – came the sudden news that they too would be going to Mongolia. There really wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
The second BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy Female Team Qualifying event was a resounding success. The resilience of the organizers and the participants to keep the competition going in the face of extreme weather says much for the GS Spirit. Mongolia beckons with the prospect of an adventure into a magical, remote region. These six women have all shown they have the skills, the physical capability and the explorer’s inspirational GS mindset to indeed make their lives a ride.
The top six riders go to the BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy in Mongolia in June 2018, forming two female teams; the composition of the two teams will be announced at a later date.
- Ezelda van Jaarsveld (South Africa)
- Julia Maguire (Australia)
- Sonia Barbot (France)
- Jocelin Snow (USA)
- Linda Steyn (South Africa)
- Bettina Nedel (USA)
- Jessica Leyne (France)
- Marion Linder (Germany)
- Louise Hodgkinson (UK)
- Stephanie Schinkel (Mexico)
Statements from the winning riders
Ezelda van Jaarsveld (South Africa): I’m quite surprised, amazed – it’s unbelievable! I have no other words for the emotion. The standard has been high and I have been astonished by the riding skills of the girls, while the camaraderie has been awesome. It still all has to sink in, what’s happened. I guess now I’ll have to continue my training program, improve on the skills that I have. As well, to have my friend Linda on the team is amazing, I’m so pleased for her, too.
Julia Maguire (Australia): I’m so excited, very-very excited. Relieved! It’s been an emotional few days, although I think you always get that with a bunch of women! But so, so pumped to be going to Mongolia. I believed I could do it, and here we are! I didn’t know what level of riders would be coming, and the girls have been amazing, so it was challenging to keep it together through the whole thing, it was intense. Telling yourself, “you’ve done this a million times” – I’ve been riding so many years – but then suddenly the pressure is on, everyone is watching, it’s a lot harder than doing it in the paddock at my parents’ place back at home! The pressure was tough, but I just had to believe, to do it. What is it they say? “Smooth is fast and fast is smooth!”
Sonia Barbot (France): I’m very excited, this is unbelievable, it’s just wow. It proves the saying: never give up! And now I’ll have to learn more English for when I get to Mongolia! And I’ll have to do more practicing and training. At home I have my husband and my son – and my mum and all my friends, I can’t wait to tell them. And to be going to Mongolia… I’ve had a dream of going to Tibet, and Mongolia is almost next door, so this is special for me. But mostly now I’m thinking I need to learn more English so I can explain more what this means to me. Merci, BMW!
Jocelin Snow (USA): That was shocking, because the talent in this little area here is huge. These women are so very skilled and to be here now, a winner, is incredible – and for there to be two teams that was surprise! And now what was really just a long-distance fuzzy dream that I was expecting to come true for the other women is now true for me – foof! More importantly than going to Mongolia, more importantly than making the team, I really want this to inspire other women out there. Just to get one more female to take a ride, one more female to take a risk, to step up and do it, not let anyone say you can’t do it. If that happens then that’s a win.
Linda Steyn (South Africa): I’m ecstatic. We worked hard for this, so there’s relief too. When they announced the results and they called the third placed rider – and it wasn’t me – I felt so disappointed for a split second, but then I was like, “just be happy for them, it’s been an experience, a journey, and this is not the end.” Then when they said there was going to be a second team I was just “waaaaaaaaah!” Now I’m going to start training again, there were a couple f things I wanted to do by the time I got to here, but I couldn’t conquer them, so I’m going to try and have them practiced in time for Mongolia. I’ll get back on my trials bike, for feet-up stuff and on my GS. I can’t wait to tell my hubby and my two sons, they all ride and I know they’ll support me as we go on.
Bettina Nedel (USA): Oh my gosh, this is epic for me, priceless – all of the greatest words can’t describe this feeling. And my family has grown, and I have grown with them. BMW has put on such an amazing – epic – event. Epic is the word! It was very emotional the whole way and at the end when they announced the winners that too was a roller coaster. Thinking I had missed out when they announced the first three – we only expected three to go – you can’t help but feel disappointed. But then to hear you’re going after all, and to be going with Jocelin, my American teammate, was just so amazing. You know, the camaraderie between all the riders has been amazing but it has grown exponentially between Jocelin and I.