For some riders, the inaugural Race to Cradock was a race, an opportunity to test themselves against the clock. For others it was a chance to return to the trail, test their route knowledge and visit some old friends at the support stations.
No matter how they approached it, all were in agreement that this particular section of the Freedom Trail offered something special, a unique combination of open space and isolation in stark contrast to the warmth and hospitality of the support stations along the way. The terrain was also not to be underestimated with some riders commenting that they found this section tougher than the Race to Rhodes.
True to form, the weather also came into play - although the earlier batches got away in good weather and managed to stay ahead of the worst of the rain and mud that slowed the later batches. They did however have to contend with hot temperatures and thundershowers, so it wasn’t plain sailing all the way.
At the sharp end, Alex Harris established the benchmark for the first event at just under 48h, a great effort in the prevailing conditions. He was pursued by Mike Woolnough and Casper Venter but their chase was abandoned when they were forced to sleep out on the Elandsberg portage after getting lost in a storm. That allowed Tim James to make up some of the time he lost earlier due to illness. In the end the gap separating them was just over 2h and all the racers finished in under 3 days.
Carl Scholtz and Coen de Bruin teamed up and had a really good ride – they managed to get over the Bontehoek portages on the first day and slept at Moordenaarspoort, the emergency stop. They continued in similar fashion, eventually catching up to the first batch of riders at Romansfontein. From there it was a big push to Stuttgart, from where they finished comfortably the next morning in under 3 and a half days.
The rest of the riders had stated clearly that they had no intentions of racing and wanted to enjoy themselves on the trail. That’s precisely what they did, riding comfortably each day and always arriving before dark, to maximize their stopover time with the friendly support station hosts. Most of them rode a single stage per day until they reached Elandsberg – from there it was a comfortable ‘double’ through Stuttgart to reach the finish in Cradock by late afternoon, ensuring a sub 5 day finish.
There were a few casualties during the race, Robbie McIntosh was an early withdrawal at Chesneywold due to chest problems. Anthony Avidon was going along nicely but was plagued by persistent tyre problems, which eventually led to his withdrawal on the way to Romansfontein. Jonathan Peers took ill and was battling to stay with his group on the second day – after getting a lift to Brosterlea and spending a day there resting, he rode back the following morning to rejoin the route at his pick-up point. He then joined the next batch coming through and held on to get to Cradock before the 6-day cutoff.
Fast or slow, race or ride, there are many ways to get to Cradock. For the riders, this event proved to be a whole heap of fun and a reminder of what the Freedom Challenge is all about. For the support stations, it was a chance to reconnect with old friends, meet a few new ones and treat them to the legendary hospitality of the Stormberg region. For the organisers, the Race to Cradock topped all expectations and is sure to become a permanent fixture on the Freedom Challenge calendar.