The 2022 BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy started spectacularly today. The competitors set off from the base camp at Kavaje on the shores of the Adriatic and headed inland, across the coastal plain of the western lowlands, and onto some challenging riding in the mountains before finishing at the stunning UNESCO world heritage site that is Berat Castle.
2022 BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy
As usual for the event, the GS Trophy riders were up before dawn, striking camp ahead of a 6:00 am breakfast call in preparation for the 7 am start.
The teams set off in pairs in five-minute intervals, and it wasn’t 15 minutes on the trails before they came to their first particular test, the ‘Welcome Trial’ set on a jagged ridge above the coastline.
Team Mexico’s Michael Littlewood was the first GS Trophy rider to enter a scored stage and start the competition rolling. It was evident that the Mexican team was well prepared, combining speed and precision to set a marker for the following 20 teams to beat.
After that, the teams followed a mix of road and trail as they headed east into Albania’s interior. And what a ride! The lowlands weren’t flat as you might expect but hilly, while the expected flat lands were restricted to the river plains. Here the GS riders marvelled at Albania’s rural culture. It is agriculture as practised before mechanization.
They gave over small fields were given to corn or fruit crops. The land is worked with scythes, picks and shovels while produce is transported by wheelbarrow or cart. Shepherds tended sheep, goats, and cows where the ground wasn’t flat.
Horses and donkeys are still common when it comes to personal transport. It was easy to assimilate how 41% of Albanians are employed in agriculture. Yet the people are friendly, and this being Sunday, a day of rest, they were ready to wave and cheer the passing GS riders – the children especially so. Albania was surprising and delighting in the landscapes and community with every kilometre.
Once into the hills, the riding became more challenging as the trails scaled and descended the ever-steepening slopes. Rocky called for absolute attention to lost stones, sand, and washouts, especially where the tracks skirted the cliff edges.
One particular hill climb almost brought the GS Trophy to a halt as a combination of steepness, tall rocks, steps and loose gravel called for an attack that was equal parts commitment and understanding of good line choice. Teamwork was needed to get the stricken rider to the top when that failed.
After this, the GS riders came to their second particular test, the ‘Holta Enduro Lap’. Here the riders, in turn, entered a section of the riverbed, all rocks, stones, mud and, of course, water, where they followed a course that twice crossed the watercourse and ran into both mud and stone banks.
Again, the best riders combined confidence, understanding and attack – but not as much attack as hitting the mud, stones or the rocks with too much aggression, typically resulting in a crash.
Section of the day
For the last section of the day, the riders enjoyed a two-hour trail ride over what you may call ‘enduro trails’ – flowing tracks that wend their way through valleys and, of course, up and down hills, but with a certain cadence that makes for an enjoyable, pacey ride. The riders needed to maintain concentration to the end as washouts, gulleys and rock steps were there to trip the unwary.
The finish came at the incredible Berat Castle, a walled hilltop fortress with a history that dates back to both the Roman and Byzantine Empires.
The city of Berat surrounding it is just as spectacular. There’s an alpine feeling to the environment given the mountains that tower immediately to the east, not least Mount Tomorr (2416m).
In all, the riders had been on the trails for just short of 11 hours. ‘A gentle introduction’ as the GS Trophy sportive director Chris Zimmerman described.
And the competition? While so many expected Team South Africa, the defending champions, to dominate, Team UK came out fighting – and how,
with wins in both special tests to build a solid early lead. Highly motivated and well-trained, they’ve certainly thrown down the gauntlet.
In the Female Teams competition, Team Germany looks equally confident, placing 1-2 in the two tests, while Team South Africa, with a 3-1 result, is just five points behind in what looks to become a close competition.
Tomorrow the GS Trophy heads further east into the Central Mountain Range on an 85% off-road route – sure to be a severe test for the competitors.
Warren Ventner, Team South Africa: “It’s been brilliant, more than we expected, and it’s our type of riding, with tricky rock sections and challenges along the trails that have been awesome – a lovely little warm-up! There was a great hill climb in the middle of the day. When we got there, it looked like a war scene, but we helped clean it up and got through ourselves. A great start.
“The country is amazing. Around every corner is a new view, stunning landscapes, and little gems of restaurants or hotels in the middle of nowhere – we wonder how they even exist. How do we describe farming as ‘manual’ perhaps: men with picks, shovels, wheelbarrows, and horse carts? Wives herding cows. We’ve not seen farming like that. It’s a different pace of life here. Their culture is very different.”
Valeria Zomazy, Team Female Mexico: “For me, it was excellent. I’m very proud of my performance today, I’ve trained a lot for this, so I did my best in the tests.
The landscapes were so beautiful, but it was pretty difficult to appreciate it all as the route was so technical, and you had to watch them all the time on the track, which wasn’t easy. I was glad the weather was more incredible than the last few days. In all, a beautiful experience, and to finish here in this historic castle, it’s fantastic.”
BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy 2022
Day One overall standings:
- 1. United Kingdom 50 points
- 2. Thailand 33
- 3. South Africa 26
- 4. China 2022 21
- 5. Latin America 20
- 5. Japan 20
- 7. USA 19
- 8. Germany 19
- 9. France 15
- 10. Netherlands 13
- 11. Mexico 12
- 12. India 10
- 12. China 2020 10
- 14. Brazil 6
- 15. South Korea 4
- 1. Germany 45
- 2. South Africa 40
- 3. Mexico 35
- 4. Latin America 26
- 5. France 22
- 6. Brazil 21
Source: BMW Motorrad