Quintin van Jaarsveld
The Paddock star showcased skill, heart and dogged determination to edge Bidvest bLU cRU Yamaha teammate Lloyd Kirk and Brother Leader Tread KTM rider Dwayne Kleynhans in a thrilling three-way battle for third place.
South African legend Alfie Cox summed up the 51st edition of the Mother of Hard Enduro simply and accurately, the record nine-time Roof king labelling the 2018 race “Tough, tough, tough.”
The iconic extreme enduro underwent an extreme makeover this year, with organiser Peter Luck and company challenging riders with a revamped route, two thirds of which had never featured in the race before while the remaining third consisted of areas that hadn’t featured in the event since 2010.
Also different this year was the fact that it was an all-South African showdown for the coveted crown. While it lacked the international flavour of years gone by, the Roof’s return to its roots – as the ultimate acid test of riders’ physical and mental strength – served up sensational scenes.
Flanagan and his fellow pros battled over back-to-back seven hour days after Thursday’s traditional Round the Houses – at new venue Maseru Mall – and Time Trial (where Flanagan placed 10th), while some Silver and Bronze class riders endured up to 10-hour days in the Lesotho mountains.
At the start of the second and decisive day, a dominant Wade Young (Sherco Factory Racing) had one hand on retaining his crown with a commanding 40-minute lead, with Travis Teasdale (Beta Racing) on track for second place.
The race to the final step on the podium, however, was anything but clear cut, as Kleynhans started the day in third position, a single second ahead of Flanagan on his Yamaha YZ250X with Kirk a further seven seconds back.
Any mistake would be catastrophic for these three evenly-matched competitors. Fitness, hunger and composure would be key – attributes that happen to form the foundation of Flanagan’s blossoming career.
The 22-year-old drew on the experience he’s gained in several previous Roof outings and major international events like Romaniacs, Erzbergrodeo and the SuperEnduro World Championship, to pip Kirk by just nine seconds to ascend to the prestigious podium reserved for the best of the best.
Flanagan shared the podium with his best friend Young, who made it back-to-back wins, and runner-up Teasdale, while Kirk and Kleynhans completed the top five.
“It feels incredible!” a thrilled Flanagan told eHowzit.
“A year ago, if you had told me I would be on the podium at the Roof in 2018 I would have probably laughed and got a little bit embarrassed.
“But leading up to the race, when enough people started telling me that their money was on me to be on the podium, I started to believe them.”
Flanagan, who also clinched his maiden South African E1 title this year, spoke candidly of just how challenging the race had been and why the podium finish ranks at the top of his career highlights to date.
“I’ve had a lot of highlights over the last 12 months in terms of South African championships etc. but the amount of work and time I put into this Roof and the fact that I vomited in my helmet from pushing my body so far yesterday made this the hardest-fought result of my life.
“The race was extremely demanding on your body. I think having new routes even the playing field a lot more but does make it harder to navigate through the thick bush.
“The passes were not too hard this year; I felt that middle pass at the end yesterday was a sting in the tail and probably my hardest part of the 2018 route.”
Flanagan said sharing his milestone moment with Young made it even more special.
“I’m very happy for Wade! He puts in the work and deserves to stand where he does on the podium. We are really close and train together and I feel that helps both of us pushing each other, so for both of us to be on the podium after all those early mornings and long days together is really awesome.”
Flanagan’s phenomenal year culminated with him being awarded South African colours at the Motorsport South Africa Awards in Johannesburg on Sunday night.