22 June - the race up front

James wins back the Yellow Jersey, and perhaps that signals that its time for Barnes to start sleeping less

Up front in the Race Across South Africa, the Yellow Jersey changed hands today, with Tim James once again reclaiming it from Andrew Barnes. The 2 riders’ strategies still appear largely unchanged, with James being the slower of the 2 riders but pushing very long hours in the saddle at the expense of sleep, while Barnes continues to arrive early evening at a support station and have a very good night’s sleep by RASA standards.

Last night, Barnes arrived at Romansfontein support station at around 18h20, about 2 hours ahead of James, who rolled in at around 20h20. But once again this morning it was James who was up and riding first, leaving at 00h30, while Barnes departed at 05h20. James’ lead as at Romansforntein departure times was therefore 4 hours and 50 minutes. Once again, Barnes was the faster rider through the day, and by 7h00 he had already reduced James’ lead to 3 hours and 30 minutes. The Yellow Jersey changed hands at Elandsberg Support Station, which both rider passed through fairly swiftly, and this lead time got reduced even further to about 1 hour and 20 minutes as at Stuttgart arrival times, James arriving at around 15h57 and Barnes at 17h17.

James, however, has moved on from Stuttgart towards Grootdam support station tonight, while Barnes chose to settle in. This is where the race starts to get interesting. It certainly doesn’t appear that Barnes is in any trouble, given that he is significantly faster than James throughout the day. But it is nearing the time when he may have to start abandoning his “good night’s sleep” strategy” in order to keep up with the determined James. One part of the trail that the riders probably don’t want to do in the dark is the Osseberg Jeep Track and the Grootrivier Valley which leads the riders into the Baviaanskloof. The Grootrivier Valley is a tough night navigation stretch, and makes it slow going even for some seasoned riders. James’ plan will probably be to pass through Gegun and Toekomst support stations tomorrow, possibly sleeping in Bucklands late tomorrow night. This will set him up nicely to do the Osseberg and Grootrivier sections in daylight, and then he turns right up the Baviaanskloof and onto the home straight.

Barnes on the other hand, is likely to sleep one support station back from Bucklands. It will be interesting to see what time he moves on from Stuttgart, but it may have to be a midnight or 01h00 start instead of his “customary” 5h00 start if he is to set himself up to go into the Baviaanskloof the day after tomorrow. For James, who will probably sleep at Grootdam tonight, Bucklands will be 240km away, a long day tomorrow but achieveable. For Barnes it will be 305 km, which is a tough ask.

There is still much time in the race, and Barnes seems strong judging by his riding speeds. But one gets the feeling that he will soon have to adjust the strategy to one of “less bed more bike”

The other contenders, Fjord Jordaan and Theo van Dyk are now a bit “off the pace”. They arrived at Stuttgart at around 12h37 this afternoon, and given that they started the RASA a day earlier than Barnes and James, this implies that they are about  21 hours and 40 minutes behind James. And still somewhat off the pace but creeping back into contention are Marnitz Nienaber and Ivor Jones, who are at Hofmeyr halfway support station tonight, a station which James and Barnes passed earlier today.

Still no clear race winner emerging.

And at the other end, no clear Lantern Rouge winner is emerging either. At Stuttgart it appears that Mike Roy and John Bowen now jointly carry the Lantern Rouge after arriving here a half an hour slower than Pierre Oosthuizen, in a time of 13 days, 12 hours and 40 minutes.

By John Loos (Blanket/Whip)

22 June - the evening wrap up

And the race rolls on.

It seems so long since the first riders rolled out of Pietermaritzburg and whilst the Race to Rhodes entrants are home and reliving the memories of the trail, the die-hards are steadily working their way to Diemersfontein in Wellington.

The first batch to depart for the long haul needs to reach Diemersfontein by 6am oFriday July 3rd which makes a 26 day cut off. It is seldom that the riders need the full count but the weather gods, bikes issues and injuries can have a say in the matter.

Batch A of RASA riders consisted of the Where's Wally trio of Alan Haupt, Ian Verwayen and Paul Dalton. Joining them were Prince Albert legend Johann Rissik, Mike Roy and John Bowen.

Rissik and the Wallys made up their losses from the Rhodes section with a couple of long efforts. They then took two half days hoping to arrive at Mordor - the notorious Osseberg river crossings (11) - with fresh legs. So far, the riders in front of them seem to have gone through easily so if they get a good start, they could well push on past Kudu Khaya in Cambria to Dam se Drif (legendary death by chocolate dessert).  If not, they will still have a couple of days in hand to play with, but must do some doubles to make the cut-off.

Ahead of them with no such worries are Anton Wood and Gert Peens who were Batch C. They left Kudu Khaya after making light work of the Osseberg and got into Willowmore at about 8pm - a ride of about 167kms. Maarten Witters (Batch C) left Bucklands with Jacques Tatersall (Batch D) and they are through to Kudu Khaya. They will probably do the double to Willowmore tomorrow as they have both been riding very strongly.

Batch D including Gary Green of Batch E were early arrivals at Bucklands which is set in the shadow of the Perdeberg and offers no clue about the route just on the other side. Anthony JB, Stu Brew, Lee Fuller, Gary Preston, Dave Telford and Mike Ward had a comfortable day getting to this point. 

Behind these groups, many of the riders are doing double up stages as the riding and the spacing of the support stations lends itself to the opportunity.

There is a huge effort being made by Mike Roy and John Bowen (Batch A) to pick up time and they have set themselves the target of Toekomst tonight. They left Grootdam, resisted the comforts of Gegun and will then only be a day and half behind the rest of their batch. Perhaps they were inspired by Beat Jegerlehner and Liehann Loots who did the same double and who have been one of the more steady pairings in their navigation and progress. They are already at Toekomst (128km).

Grootdam - two stages back - is full tonight with Pierre Oosthuizen (single speed) being caught by members of Batches F & G. Pierre is the sole surviving member of Batch B and struggled on the first six days. The terrain now seems to suit him and he is making better progress. However, he will have to keep working hard to make sure he makes the 26 day cut-off.

Also at Grootdam are husband and wife duo of Mike and Ingrid Talbot, Andrew Blackburn, Mike Potgieter, Nic Jordan and Andrew Hunt, all of whom came through from Elandsberg (129km). Fjord Jordaan and Theo van Dyk are riding incredibly well and have done 2.5 stages today after leaving Hofmeyr - about 162km.

At the back, the Support Stations are being closed by Mike Devereux and Nico van Zyl, who reached Romansfontein at 21h40. John Exley and Mike Glover also reached Romansfontein but managed it in daylight 
(130km) and that means Kranskop, Brosterlea and after tonight, Romansfontein are done for another year.

Marnitz Nienaber and Ivor Jones pushed on from the extremely comfortable and hospitable Romansfontein for Hofmeyr. They took it easy for the first couple of days to Rhodes and now are starting to put the hammer down.

Then it remains to see what happens with Andrew Barnes and Tim James who continue to duel it out, each with well tested strategies for getting through the race.

Day by day, pedal stroke by pedal stroke, the riders inch their way down the map. 

By Fiona Coward (Blanket/Whip.Windmill)

Where is “Half Way” in the Race Across South Africa (RASA)?

In a race such as the RASA, it is somewhat more difficult to measure the half way mark than is the case in a tar road race such as the Cape Town Cycle Tour. There are places on this race where vehicles can’t go and bikes get carried, making measuring with a normal odometer something of an inexact science. And then of course there is the issue of the inexact science of navigation with maps and narratives, so riders probably all cover different distances, and the rider who navigated perfectly along the race route probably doesn’t exist.
But we do have a rough idea of the distance. Although we traditionally bandy the 2,300km route distance around, this is perhaps a little outdated, with certain sections having been cut out due to access issues. Today, the route is a little shorter, at just under 2,200km, or 2,192 to be specific based on best estimates. This means that 1,096 kms would signal the halfway mark of the race. This point would be about 24 kms after Grootdam overnight support station (overnight support station number 12).
Currently, race leader Andrew Barnes is nearing the 800km mark on his way to Romansfontein this afternoon, so he could be expected to reach the half way mark by Tuesday probably.
However, in terms of effort, the halfway point may be a little nearer for the lead riders, if one uses cumulative ascent as a better indicator of this. The reality is that the climbing is more extreme in the 1st part of the race on the Maritzburg-Rhodes section, with somewhere between the top of Lehanas Pass and Naudesnek Pass being the highest part of the race. Based on last year’s winner Graham Bird’s “planning sheet”, the total estimated cumulative ascent for the whole race was 34,865m. Halfway in terms of cumulative ascent would thus be about 17,432m. By Romansfontein this afternoon, Barnes and Tim James would have climbed an estimated 16,770m, and somewhere just the other side of Romansfontein on the way to Hofmeyr they will reach the halfway mark in terms of climbing, well before Grootdam.
In terms of time, too, the effective halfway mark for many riders would probably be before the distance halfway mark. In 2012, during his record attempt, Martin Dreyer reached Grootdam support station, in 5 days and 11 hours, on the way to his record 10 day 16 hours and 40 minutes. And even though he slept only around 3 hours per night, and must have been exhausted and way past his best by the 2nd half of the race, he was still able to speed up mildly to do the 2nd half of the race faster than the 1st. The 2nd half of the race generally seems to be a faster section.
by John Loos (blanket/whip) 

22 June - morning report

This morning signals the closure of support station 8 – Kranskop with all the riders now past this point on the route:

Marnitz and Ivor had a long day yesterday, riding from Chesneywold to Kranskop - there was talk of them going on to Brosterlea but the hospitality at Kranskop derailed those plans. They got going early this morning with another long day on the cards and there could be some fun on the Elandsberg portage tonight…

Mike Glover and John Exley are going along steadily, they got to Kranskop comfortably yesterday and left early again today, heading for Romansfontein.

Nico van Zyl and Mike Devereux are riding together and going well. Also at Kranskop last night, they left a bit later and will also be aiming for Romansfontein today.

At Romansfontein last night we had first Andrew Barnes and later Tim James arriving. Andrew stopped to get another good sleep in, while Tim had supper, a short sleep and left just after midnight. Andrew got going again after breakfast this morning – this means that Tim now has his nose in front again. Both of them are likely to be aiming to get to Stuttgart or beyond today.

Theo van Dyk and Fjord Jordaan stayed over in Hofmeyr last night. They arrived in daylight but decided not to tempt fate by heading out to the Elandsberg portage in the dark, rather opting to tick it off this morning. Currently on their way to Stuttgart, they are aiming for Grootdam tonight.

After a minor hiccup on the Elandsberg portage yesterday afternoon, the group of Andrew Blackburn, Nic Jordan, Mike Potgieter and hanger on Andrew Hunt got in before dark and spent the night there. Today they are heading for Grootdam to hopefully tick off their first double. They are going well, already through Stuttgart by mid morning.

Also at Elandsberg last night were Mike and Inky Talbot. After struggling for the last few days with no front brake, Mike was finally able to get hold of a spare from race office and is now no longer riding in fear of every downhill on the route. Just as well, today they’ll be going over the Schurfteburg and he’ll be able to finally enjoy the long, steep descent afterwards. Grootdam for them tonight if all goes well.

Pierre Oosthuizen left Stuttgart rather late this morning, not surprising since they look after the riders so well there but he needs to get moving again if he hopes to get to Willowmore before the next cut off. He’s behind schedule and needs to catch up some of the days he lost earlier – now is the time to do that. Grootdam will be his first goal but he really needs to try and get beyond that today.

Beat and Liehann have just emerged from the dark zone around Grootdam and are running like clockwork once again today. They’ll be aiming for Gegun and possibly pushing on to Toekomst later this afternoon.

Still to emerge are Mike Roy and John Bowen – they slept at Grootdam and will be aiming for Gegun. They also need to pay attention to the next cut off at Willowmore and ideally should also be pushing on to Toekomst today – time will tell.

Toekomst Lodge was full last night – Gary Green, Lee Fuller, Gary Preston and Dave Telford were first to arrive, with Ant Jankovic-Bessan, Stu Brew and Mike Ward pulling in shortly afterwards. They enjoyed a few beers as they watched the sun setting. Having scouted this section of the trail before, they are in familiar terrain and moving confidently and quickly along the trail for now. Today the whole group heads to Bucklands and possibly even on to Hadley.

Johann Rissik, Ian Verwayen, Alan Haupt and Paul Dalton all stayed at the Kleinpoort emergency stop last night. Today they are heading to Hadley, another emergency stop but that will set them up nicely for the tough Osseberg section tomorrow which comes shortly after Hadley. This group is having fun and are all still in good spirits despite the hard days of riding they have behind them.

Heading towards the Osseberg today are Maarten Witters and Jacques Tattersall, having left from Bucklands this morning. They are making good time and should get through to Kudu Kaya/Cambria by early evening.

Currently out front, blazing a trail and raiding boxes as they go are Anton Wood and Gert Peens. They bashed through the Osseberg yesterday and stayed at Kudu Kaya. Aiming for Willowmore tonight, that will be a big double and put them even further out front. They need to be aware of the Diemersfontein gate though, they were batched according to their intended pace but have gone off the front and are starting to stretch the field out. The gate this year only opens on 26 June – it is calculated from the last start batch (racers) by allowing them the current record time to get to the finish and is intended to help manage the field – specifically to stop riders  who have stated that they are not racing from racing off the front and forcing support stations to open earlier than planned. Riders are expected to plan their strategy with this in mind.

The Race Office packed up and left Rhodes yesterday and got as far as Cradock last night, after stopping off at Elandsberg to help Mike Talbot sort out his brakes. Today its off to intercept Gary Preston with spare spokes and then hopefully on to Willowmore to set up there for a few days.

As the riders turn west into the Baviaanskloof, they enter the psychological home stretch, with two thirds of the route already behind them. If the current weather holds, it should be plain sailing and also give the racers a chance to move through the field. 

21 June - news from the sharp end

Were some interesting mind games being played at Kranskop?

Yesterday saw RASA leader Andrew Barnes retain his yellow jersey yet again when arriving at Kranskop support station in a quicker time than had Theo van Dyk and Fjord Jordaan, as well as beating Tim James to the line again.

But perhaps the feature of yesterday’s racing upfront was not so much Barnes in the lead but more a huge 22 hour push by James from Rhodes to Moordenaarspoort, a distance of 157km which includes some slow portages before and after Slaapkranz support station. It was a big show of determination, with James’ pace often significantly slower than Barnes over the same stretches, but James is showing that what he may lack in speed he is determined to make up for by riding longer hours into the night. In addition, it is more difficult to evaluate James’ speeds, because he appears to take short “cat naps” by the roadside to keep himself going, whereas Barnes seems to ride fast to support stations where he does most of his resting.

And this perhaps adds to the intrigue of the RASA. Because of the race’s non-stage nature, it isn’t necessarily the fastest rider that will win. If a rider can get by with less sleep better than another, he may end up being the winner. But of course we are still left wondering if James can indeed keep up such a brutal riding schedule. He rolled into Moordenaarspoort halfway support station at about 00h25 this morning for a quick bit of shuteye, before leaving again at just before 05h00 in pursuit of Barnes who was sleeping about 2 hours’ ride ahead at Kranskop overnight support station.

Barnes once again had run to his usual strategy, arriving at Kranskop early in the evening, from Chesneywold the night before, at around 18h05 for a good sleep. And a good sleep it was. Whereas we had thought he may leave in the early hours of this morning, he ended up only leaving Kranskop at around 07h55 after breakfast, and would have probably exchanged pleasantries with James who was just pulling in for a rest from Moordenaarspoort at about the same time, 07h55.

This is interesting from a mental point of view, and one wonders to what extent mind games are being played by Barnes with James. One can see this “meeting” as a possible mental boost for James. He worked extremely hard to get back into the race, and may feel vindicated at having got back into a position where Barnes is within sight, compared to yesterday at times where he trailed Barnes by up to 6 hours. On the other hand, if he is indeed a very tired man, which is possible after yesterday’s long push, is it perhaps demoralising to see a possibly very fresh and well rested Barnes departing just as he (James) arrives for breakfast after a few days of extremely hard work?

And, of course, we don’t know if the very long sleep taken by Barnes signals that he is tiring too? Barnes still appears to hold the aces, having had far more rest in recent days than James. But the mind is a funny thing, and James may just once again feel he is right back in the race, and this may give him renewed strength.

James did take a good breakfast break at Kranskop, and only left at around 9h20, so on Kranskop departure Barnes still possessed a lead, albeit a trimmed one, of 1 hour and 30 minutes.

But this sort of lead over a 2,300km races is rather insignificant. Key to watch through the rest of today is the relative speeds of the 2 riders. Has James been boosted by his closing of the gap or has he tired himself out? Does Barnes’ very long rest last night say something about his own condition?

The leader pace is far from record pace, in fact at Kranskop arrival almost a day behind the record pace. But it matters not. What is significant is that we have a race on our hands.

By John Loos (Blanket/Whip)



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