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Day five and the 2020 BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy riders head into the mountains...
PHOTOS: Vanessa Blankenagel, Markus Jahn & Amelie Mesecke
Overnight I shared a room with Shawn Thomas, the American co-presenter of the GS Trophy video feed – reputedly the loudest snorer in the GS Trophy. I heard not a thing. The morning was a logistical nightmare as the cars were running in all directions trying to locate us media types who’d been billeted in a 20-mile radius of the campground. So it was a super quick bite at the breakfast table before charging off up the trails ahead of the first group.
The early start was a good idea, we were climbing mountain trails used for servicing the power lines and they were pretty tough on the Land Cruiser, we were soon going walking pace. It was highly technical and the drops were a bit scary, so much so Susan had a co-driver, Rob, alongside calling the shots. That meant Vanessa and I were properly bundled in the back, but as I’ve said before you could have a worse companion in such circumstances.
It was beautiful up in the mountains, we were eventually higher than the clouds and the sunrise was as spectacular as ever. We had lots of fun along the trails, trying – and failing – to stay ahead or at least somewhere close the bikes. At one point Vanessa was stood by a river crossing waiting for the bikes when another Land Cruiser came through at full throttle – the bow wave wiped her out but fortunately her camera survived. That drowning was at least more comfortable than being eaten alive by the thousands of sand flies that were thickening the air in the valleys and around any water. We had a homemade remedy that was a mix of Dettol and handcream – it kind of worked if you didn’t mind smelling like a urinal.
The coast, looking onto the Tasman Sea, was just incredible. The pictures tell the story. It was a long day, but joy of joys I got billeted in a genuine Kiwi bach for the night (see photos). So nice I shared it with old mate Markus (Jahn) who in the lottery of room buddies had been facing a troubled night with Shawn…
Shawn Thomas

JB’s BMW REPORT… Punakaiki Beach, New Zealand.

The 2020 BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy changed in the biggest way today as the South Island served up a sizable new challenge: mountains! The North Island was never anything less than hilly, but today in the South Island the GS riders found themselves tackling two mountains, riding on proper mountain tracks, not gravel roads. As promised, the riding intensity had been raised to a new level.

The morning started with a steep and winding climb up Mount Richmond, 20km of rocky ascent through native forest that took the riders above the cloud base before reaching the 754m Maungatapu Saddle where they found the first test of the day: the Emirates Challenge. In this test all the riders from each team had to ride a tricky trials section among the rock and bush while remembering three key flight details to be relayed to the marshal at the finish: flight number, boarding time and seat number!


The ride down the mountain was no less tricky and for sure the riders were grateful for the coffee stop in Nelson (the capital of the Tasman Bay region), known for its spectacular sea fishing as much as the local fruit and wine cultures. However, the coffee break was soon forgotten when the riders found themselves fighting their way up and over yet another mountain. This one was even more technical than the first, as they headed west to Murchison the town at the head of the Buller Gorge – the only access route to the west coast through the top of the island’s mountain ranges.

After such a tough morning, the afternoon took on a more reflective attitude as the riders got to enjoy the spectacular ride on highway through the Gorge, to come out upon the west coast and the Tasman Sea. Here the riders found a spectacular ocean road bordered by limestone cliffs and rainforest dotted with New Zealand’s unique and beautiful Nikau palm trees.

Their final destination was Punakaiki Beach, made famous by it’s tall limestone cliffs often called the pancake rocks for their distinctive strata – and a sight of wonder on high tide when a blow hole spouts sea water many metres into the air. And here came the second test of the day: the Rab Challenge. This one brought many a laugh as the teams had to run across the beach, remove their boots, unpack and climb into their Rab sleeping bag, then reverse out, pack the bag, slip on their boots and run back to their next teammate.

In all it had been a full-on day that challenged the extreme riding capabilities of so many of the riders – and while more than a few had fallen, they all got up and got on, to finish the day with a great sense of achievement. A perfect day.

Lisa Taylor, Int. Female Team II:

“Today was totally beautiful, the mountains were full of green trees and vegetation, and coming from the desert of Arizona I don’t often get to see this much green! When we climbed the mountain to the first special stage the clouds had settled below us and it was absolutely beautiful. Then as the day progressed we found ourselves riding along this amazing shoreline, with waves crashing onto the beach, it was again absolutely beautiful. And through all this beauty we were riding our bikes, having the greatest time.”

Manuel Febres, Team Mexico:

“The Int. GS Trophy has been a great event, I enjoy every day – great riding, great people – and it’s impressive how BMW Motorrad can get all these people from all around the world to join in this event – it’s been the best experience of my life (note: Manuel is just 19 years old!). But this day has been the day I’ve enjoyed the most, it’s been so technical and the mountains are testing to ride – but I really enjoy this kind of riding. A great day!”

Manuel Febres, 2020 BMW GS Trophy
Shakeel Basha 2020 BMW GS Trophy
Shakeel Basha, Team India:

“Today was great, I loved it, the best off-road riding I’ve done in my life. And I say this after I made a mistake going down one of the descents and crashed! It’s been very tiring, so I don’t always like the highway riding, I get dozy and I’ll be thinking of food or home, but on the trail I’m always occupied, thinking ‘don’t crash!‘ Team India are very proud to be back this year, we have a goal to improve on last time, when we were last. But we will improve. You see, we don’t ride adventure like they do in other countries, so we are learning every time. So we’ll keep coming back and improving, until we can challenge South Africa!”

BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy 2020


Day Five overall standings:

1 South Africa 277

2 France 266

3 Italy 247

4 South Korea 233

5 Russia 212

6 Netherlands 208

7 Brazil 205

8 Australia 192

9 USA 190

10 Argentina 186

11 Middle East 186  

12 Latin America 185

13 Nordic 168

14 Mexico 165

15 UK 164

16 Japan 151

17 India 141

18 Malaysia 141

19 Thailand 136

20 Int. Female Team I 108

21 North Africa 106

22 Int. Female Team II 58


A quick explainer. These film clips were shot randomly by me, JB. That’s not entirely true – having taken something of a heavy impact in transit to NZ, the wee Garmin Virb mini-cam in fact chose the random moments, as for much of the time it chose not to film! For days I persisted, wiggling batteries and cards to make it work. It probably worked for 30% of the time. Then after the fifth day it as good as stopped altogether. However, it remained useful as the extension stick doubled as both a walking stick and person-prodder (mostly photographers).
The films are cut in a succession of two-second clips, no commentary, no music, just ambient sound. It’s not an original concept, but like all the best ideas, borrowed/stolen…
This is the last video now until the day eight report. It was around here the poor Garmin really did go downhill.


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