Cycling Cairo to Cape Town: First Women’s Record Attempt

Like many cyclists around the world, Tegan Phillips felt inspired by Marc Beaumont’s 2015 ride across Africa.

The Scottish cyclist set a new men’s record for the journey: riding 10,863km in 41 days across eight countries in a continuous line across the continent.

Phillips, a South African, reached out to Guinness World Records to find out the women’s record — but there wasn’t one. No woman had even tried the thing. So Phillips has decided to become the first woman to cycle the length of Africa.

While she hopes to best Beaumont’s record, her main goal is simply to finish the journey as a woman athlete. She’s currently in Egypt waiting for final permissions from the government to begin.

“It was kind of an accident,” Phillips said in a video prepping for the trip. “There can’t not be a woman’s record.”


History of the route

The first Cairo-to-Cape Town cycling record happened in 2003. That’s when the first Tour d’Afrique group, including a Scotsman named Michael Kennedy, traversed the continent on bicycles.

The team completed the entire route in four months. It has since become a popular way to tour Africa’s incredible diversity. Tour d’Afrique now offers the trip every year, including to non-professional riders like students, retirees, and adaptive athletes.

(It takes about 100 days of your time and costs $18,900 per person. Not cheap, but probably one of the coolest ways to experience eight African countries.)


When Marc Beaumont decided to tackle the route, however, he added a significant step to the journey. Since 2003, every rider tackling the challenge was forced to skip the 300km road from Aswan to the Sudanese border. But Egypt and Sudan resolved that long-standing border dispute in 2014, and after “a fair amount of negotiating”, Beaumont was allowed access.

“It felt important to pedal an unbroken line, if possible,” he said in Cycling UK.

With or without that addition, biking across Africa isn’t easy. Beaumont described frequent bouts of food poisoning, consistent encounters with rock-hurling teens in Ethiopia, and the scorching heat of Sudan. Trucks frequently ran him off the road.

Yet he still finished the route in 41 days and looks fondly back on the unforgettable memories. For example, nothing beats cycling past wildlife in the darkness of the Zambian landscape, he said.

“As darkness fell, this natural beauty became a bit daunting,” he wrote. “Cycling past elephants in the dark is exhilarating, and inspired some of my fastest intervals!”


Making a path for women

While not a competitive cyclist, Phillips has a well-earned reputation for adventure cycling.

She combines her love of drawing comics — which tell intimate stories about her thoughts on well-being and mental health — with a love of the outdoors. After her comics won a competition whose prize was an adventure bicycle, she used it to trek across Spain while keeping a comic blog.

“This kind of adventure storytelling felt too wonderful to not wildly pursue, so I spent the next few years finding ways to go on more adventures,” she wrote on her website.


Since then, Phillips has cycled 11,000km across Africa while on holiday with her family. She took on New Zealand’s longest triathlon (25 days) while securing more than 80 bikes for South African school girls as part of World Bicycle Relief. Phillips also raises money for charity bicycles through SHEveresting, which she co-founded.

Now, the South African cyclist will take on her biggest challenge yet: cycling across eight African countries as fast as she can. She hopes to finish the trip between 40 and 70 days.

“In the record books, there’s a name holder by the men’s record, which is Mark Beaumont,” she said on a South African podcast. “And the women’s one is just empty… I don’t want it to be empty anymore.”

Follow her journey on Instagram or on Phillips’ online journal.

Andrew McLemore

An award-winning journalist and photographer, Andrew McLemore brings more than 14 years of experience to his position as Associate News Editor for Lola Digital Media. Andrew is also a musician, climber and traveler who currently lives in Medellin, Colombia. When he’s not writing, playing gigs or exploring the outdoors, he’s hanging out with his dog Campana.