It’s Tuesday morning and the racers of the last batch are going along nicely - the momentum of the first day started to wane at Brosterlea, as first Alex and then Anthony and Fjord opted to stop and sleep. Casper and Mike, who were still in the mix, chose to forego any sleep and push on - this catapulted them into the lead and by the time the others started waking up, the gap was close to 2 hours. Janine chose to sleep at Kranskop for a bit and left in the early hours to continue the chase. So we have 6 racers all with 7 hours of each other as they approach the halfway mark. The notable absentee is Tim - he was struggling to stomach issues yesterday and ended up spending a cold, damp night at the bottom of the Bontehoek portage. Emerging this morning, he continued to Moordenaarspoort and has gone to ground there, where he indicated that he may well withdraw.
Race to Cradock is now in race mode. It generally happens when the last two batches get underway as those with the fastest intent are grouped together.
Batch 5 on Sunday showed some early intent and good promise until a severe storm just before Rossouw interfered with their ambitions. In order to challenge a sub 3-day ride one needs to get to at least Kranzkop on the first night to set up for the following days. Batch 5 had such intent but the weather issue had them eventually stopping at Moordenaarspoort and they ended today at Romansfontein, two pretty big days by any measure. They will however need a 250km day tomorrow and reach Cradock before 5h00 on Wednesday to go sub-3.
Batch 6 got off with a bang and by Slaapkrantz the leading 7 riders where within an hour of one another with Alex Harris starting to forge ahead. Must have been quite a sight going up the steep portage. Times into Slaapkrantz were about 20 minutes slower than in 2015, perhaps indicative of the challenging surface conditions due to significant rainfall in the region last night.
The descent down Bonthoek is treacherous in daylight and reports are that it has been no different this year. Most of the racers made it down with time to spare but Tim James was still at the top at 18h09 with dark falling and was facing a tricky 30 mins down to the bottom. Whilst he will be tested, he is one of few riders who can find their way down there blindfolded.
Down in the valley below, the gaps were starting to open up as they hit the mud free gravel roads before Rossouw. At that stage Alex (16h45) was leading Anthony/Fjord by 45 minutes and Mike/Casper by just over an hour. “Tough as Nails” Janine, a stalwart of the Freedom Trail, was only 30 minutes behind them.
By 20h30 Alex arrived at Kranskop, having already passed Moordenaarspoort, an incredible ride if one considers that most batches took 2 days to reach this support station. He is still about 30mins behind his 2015 schedule but that year a big storm hampered his progress and had him seek shelter at Brosterlea for a few hours. The chasers are still about an hour out with Mike/Casper not far behind. These racers have now been going for almost 16 hours non-stop and it is likely they will continue like this through the night and head for breakfast or brunch at Romansfontein 135km (9 hours) further on. Will they stop for a nap at Brosterlea or will they push to dawn and have a power nap in a barn along the way.
The big question now is what the weather will do, if the sleep monsters will make a guest appearance and if they had burnt their matches fighting the conditions and one another during the day. Those with racing ambitions are most likely planning a non-stop race with on-demand-power-naps along the way. Several of them are experienced and unthinkably to most, even comfortable with such a strategy. By tomorrowmorning we’ll know who got caught by the sleep monsters and who continued through the night.
Either way, the racing snakes have kept everyone entertained with their incredible performances. Race on!
By Carl Scholtz
Just before 4pm this afternoon, Rory, Colin, Sergio, Fabio and Shaun all crossed the finish line in Cradock together, finishing the ride on their fifth day. Starting out from Elandsberg this morning, they stopped in for a second breakfast at Newlands, before tackling the Schurfteberg portage - no issues there and a fairly straightforward ride in from there. They had a real adventure out there, getting caught in a hail storm just outside Hofmeyr yesterday and a few other showers along the way but were all smiles at the finish - well done to all on completing a tough ride.
A night of heavy rain in Rhodes left the road surfaces slick and soft but the racers in the last batch set off undeterred. Looking at their transit times to Chesneywold and Slaapkranz though, they have definitely been slowed down by the mud and the extra energy expenditure could become a factor later on tonight as they continue non-stop towards Cradock. Alex and Anthony arrived a few minutes apart, Fjord was next and Mike, Casper and Janine were not far behind. There was a gap back to Tim, he seems content to cruise along at his own pace. All of these riders are aiming for Moordenaarspoort and beyond tonight, there won’t be much sleeping tonight…
Ahead of them, there have also been some new developments - Philip has withdrawn due to a knee injury and this turned into good fortune for Lee, whose smashed front wheel yesterday was replaced by Philip’s shiny new one this morning. Lee and Bryn have continued to Brosterlea, taking a shorter day as Lee is nursing an injured shoulder from his wheel destroying crash into the Holsloot river - but at least they are on the move again.
Already through Brosterlea are Mike, Chris, Charles and Gavin, the rest of batch 5 - they were forced to seek shelter from a late afternoon storm near Rossouw yesterday and eventually stopped at Moordenaarspoort to sleep. Back on the trail early this morning, stopping only briefly at Kranskop, they will have Romansfontein in their sights.
Batch 4 are moving well and should comfortably get to Romansfontein before dark. Theo, Ann, Grant, Dave, Joyce and Ben have a wealth of trail experience between them and are moving well together as a group.
Batch 3 left Romansfontein early this morning and got over the Aasvoelberg portage without too much trouble but then were slowed by heavy rain on the way to Hofmeyr. Leon, Dave, Andrew, Gary, Alex, Ed and Brad are making their way over the Elandsberg portage and should get to Elandsberg in time for supper.
Batch 2 are closing in on Cradock - Rory, Colin, Sergio, Fabio and Shaun are expected at the finish soon, having ridden through from Elandsberg today. Chris and Lindsay have decided to spend another night on the trail and stay over at Rockdale tonight - they should finish comfortably tomorrow morning.
It’s been an eventful day out on the trail but that’s par for the course when the racing batches get going. The whole of batch 5 indicated that they would be pushing on past Slaapkranz today and they did exactly that - but things started to unravel near the top of Bontehoek portage. Mike, Chris and Philip wasted a bit of time trying to find the way down the mountain but once down, they set off for Moordenaarspoort - on the way to Rossouw, they were hit by a huge storm, forcing them to take shelter in a farmhouse to wait it out. It was here that Philip made the call to withdraw due to a lingering knee injury. Mike and Chris continued, heading for Moordenaarspoort. Not far behind were Gavin and Charles -they took shelter from the storm at the bottom of Bontehoek and emerged afterwards, also headed for Moordenaarspoort. Whether they continue to Kranskop from there remains to be seen.
Batch 4 are all at Kranskop tonight, having come from Slaapkranz. Theo, Ann, Grant, Dave, Ben and Joyce got in well before dark. Lee and Bryn had some late afternoon fun when Lee crashed into the Holsloot river, hitting a ditch which destroyed his front wheel. That meant a 6km walk/run with Bryn alongside, to get to Kranskop and then to figure out how to remedy the situation so he can continue tomorrow.
Batch 3 are in at Romansfontein tonight having ticked off the longest stage today. Gary smashed his rear derrailleur and had to single speed home from the Stormberg portage. The other guys stuck with him and they arrived as it got dark. Leon, Dave, Andrew, Alex, Ed and Brad will be hoping they can fix the problem tonight and continue as a group in the morning.
Batch 2 sleep at Elandsberg tonight. They got to Hofmeyr before the pie shop closed and also managed to get over the Elandsberg portage before dark, another solid day for Chris, Lindsay, Rory, Colin, Sergio, Fabio and Shaun.
Batch 1 were the first arrivals in Cradock today, together with Jacques from batch 2. First in were Trevor and Jacques, then Russell, Chris and John. Next was Fiona and finally Aileen - well done to all for finishing - enjoy the well deserved rest.