Yesterday’s report was held back until today in anticipation of Alex Harris getting to Diemersfontein last night. Get there he did, in the early hours of this morning, albeit there were some late scares in Stettynskloof and on the descent into Diemersfontein. Suffice to say the route into Diemersfontein was interesting, to say the least. Not many people cross the finish line from the wrong direction. Robbie McIntosh is apparently the only other rider to manage this.
I’ve just watched a video of Alex’s interview at the finish line, “I’ve been planning this for ten years” and “this year’s race went perfectly until 5pm yesterday”. The man operated on the extremes of sleep deprivation during the entire event and especially during the last four days or so.
In summary Alex achieved everything he had targeted. The win, the record and the first person under 10 days with a final time of 9 days, 22 hours and 10 minutes or so. Regardless of the many discussions on winter versus summer RASAs, this is a phenomenal achievement and deserves our collective utmost respect.
Elsewhere the next seven contenders are bunching up thick and fast in the run in to the finish. The race for other two spots in the podium is between Mike Woolnough (who surely has second place locked up), Tim James and Bruce Biccard. Tim is, as we speak, behind Bruce but he did start a day later so is ahead on elapsed time. The two Matthews brothers should easily come in under 15 days and Grant Hill and Trever Maarschalk are still in with an outside chance of doing the same.
Here at Cambria we are escorting The Honeymoon Couple, Brad and Nick, together with Ernst Behrens, through the Baviaans. At least John the Geologist is doing the escorting today, I’m busy with the report. This trio are going well and aim to get in around 20 days. The Payne brothers, who have been experiencing some mechanical issues, in particular a properly shredded (split beading) tyre, are due in later this morning for the 13:00 bus. They seem to be on target for 17 or 18 days or thereabouts. Actually I’ve just looked at the tracker and I’m not entirely convinced that the Paynes will make the 13:00 bus, we may only be leaving tomorrow. Slow progress through the Osseberg.
At the back of the field father and son team Ted and Shaun Adams and Mr and Mrs Scoular are still very much on target for their blankets. Unfortunately the Buffalo Herders will not be escorting them through the Baviaans as we are moving on to catch up with the rest of the field. Nigel and Adrian Payne will be the last pair we escort in this year’s Baviaans. Temporary buffalo herders (lower case as they are only temporary) will be escorting the last four riders.
I haven’t referred yet to the concurrent Race to Paarl that started late last week. This is the first edition of that race, and it is now possible to do the entire Freedom Challenge route in sections, Race to Rhodes, Race to Cradock, Race to Willowmore and now the Race to Paarl. There are many hardened FC old hands who are riding this year’s inaugral vent, including Chris Morris and the Fat Farmers, who look anything but fat to me. Their moniker has changed to “the Fantastic Farmers” in recognition of this.
In addition to the “segment “ FC events Chris Fisher has put together another inaugural event, the Freedom Circuit. This is a KZN based ride, a circular route that incorporates much of the Race to Rhodes route, starting and finishing at the same place. This will be the first Freedom Event that allows the use of GPS units. This event takes place in April next year for the first time and a full field is anticipated.
The use of GPS marks an interesting deviation. I’ve had some conversations on this with a number of the seasoned riders as they have come through Cambria, and the topic begs a wider discussion on the future of events such as the Freedom Challenge. There is little doubt that there is a global surge in the number of Freedom Challenge style events, unsupported extreme endurance cycling races. The Tour Divide event on the west coast of the US has been around for many years, as has the Transcontinental Race across Europe.
The recent establishment of the Atlas Mountain Race event in Morocco (completed by Mike Woolnough last year) and the Silk Road Mountain Race in Central Asia (also a number of South African finishers including blanket holder Tim van Coller) illustrates the significant growth in events of this nature. We will see more and more cyclists showing an interest, that is clearly the global trend. Nelson Trees, a world class endurance cyclist, is one of the drivers behind this growth (the Silk Road event is his). He comments as follows:
“I’ve definitely seen rapid growth in the unsupported racing scene, and there are more and more races appearing all the time. From a racer’s perspective, it’s also definitely more competitive, as races are attracting stronger riders, people have more experience, and train harder. There’s also less variation in the equipment used by racers as the best solutions are becoming more universally adopted, and there’s generally more information on how to prepare for events.
I think we’re at the beginning of the evolution of this scene. I hope that the grassroots growth that we’ve seen so far continues, but I feel that it’s inevitable that it will become more commercial. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it’ll mean more events, and in some cases better organised events, but there’s a real risk that as this happens it’ll lose much of the appeal that these races had in their original simplicity’
What does this mean for the Freedom Challenge? The good news is that demand for this type of event is clearly on the up. The question is whether or not the Freedom Challenge wishes to hold its own with other similar global events on the global circuit. Although we have had some overseas competitors I can’t recall anyone who was even remotely contending for line honors. What would FC need to do to hold its place on the global circuit? Does it actually want to?
Of interest is that the other events are all GPS enabled, obviously unlike the Freedom Challenge as it currently stands, barring this new Freedom Circuit event. One other potential difference is that of prize money, if any, for the Silk Road and Atlas Mountain Race. My guess is probably nothing, similar to the Freedom Challenge, but I’ll confirm this one way or the other.
I am well aware that the majority of the current FC community, myself included, would not be in favour of GPSs being used in the Freedom Challenge. Much of the mystique and appeal of the event lies in the legendary mishaps that lost competitors endure whilst paying their school fees on (or off!) the route. However, the reality is that for the Freedom Challenge to be sustainable on a commercial basis for decades to come, these matters (e.g. GPS, sponsorship, prize money) cannot just be wished away without careful consideration.. I suspect the thinking in the establishment of the Freedom Circuit is to cater for some of these pressures by providing an alternative that is more aligned to the GPS enabled events overseas.
I must point out that the above ramblings are my personal views or observations, from a privileged position as a volunteer scribe and Buffalo Herder through which I have been privy to some of the realities of putting on an event like this. Personally I would be mortified if the event moved away from its current format, a blanket for finishing and no GPS, just to mention two of the many “holy grails” of the Freedom Challenge. As Nelson Trees said, we would risk losing much of the appeal the race had in its original simplicity. Food for thought going forward though.
John the Geologist has just returned from a stint of buffalo herding (not that we have seen a single one yet) and he looks a happy man. We have one more voyage over the mountains and 2020 buffalo herding will be done for the two of us. This is always sad, Cambria is a very special place. We have enjoyed trying to make this support station a pleasant stop for riders and will give it horns to get the volunteer Buffalo Herder wider fraternity (as discussed in a previous report) to make this stop an even more memorable one in future years.
The support stations further back in the trail are closing thick and fast, only four people left on the other side of the Osseberg. We say goodbye to Hofmeyer and Elandsberg. Thank you for your service. The menagerie at Elandsberg continues to grow exponentially. We popped in there to pick up Luke Matthew’s bike and can report that the current African Grey Parrot population is over 100 birds. Fledgling African Greys are not very attractive, just saying.