The story of today has been very long days for all. Most riders on the Freedom Trail spend from dawn to dusk on their bicycles and then those racing times or themselves spend even more time riding and less time sleeping. There has been quite a bit of this the past 24 hours. In addition there has been some rain on the route which brings its own challenges.
At the sharp rend of the race there have been two stories. Mike Woolnough left Newlands last night ahead of record pace and on track for a sub-48 hour finish but during the night the persistent schedule of no sleep and little rest claimed its toll and the sleep monsters eventually caught up with him. He was forced to nap next to the road a few times over Shurfteberg and rode into Cradock this morning at 6h34, just over 49 hours, making him the leader in the clubhouse, an extraordinary effort to say the least. The second story has been that of Leon Erasmus and Jacques Tattersall who started a day after Mike but have ridden together all the way at a faster pace with more sleep & rest along the way. They have been within 40 minutes of Mike’s time all of today and by the time of writing are at Newlands in almost the exact time of Mike’s last night. It’s neck in neck with 80km to go to Cradock. Reports are that is has rained over the Schurfteberg and the going will no doubt be affected. They have worked hard to earn a shot at a win and the record and riding together will be a significant advantage.
Casper Venter and Janine Stewart rode through from Kranzkop to Brosterlea during the night where they teamed up for the push to Romansfontein. Casper succumbed to the warm hospitality of the hosts, an ever present and tempting risk along the trail, and he will continue his journey along the trail tomorrow. Janine pushed on towards Hofmeyr but unfortunately aggravated a previous knee injury going down Aasvoelberg and had to withdraw from the race.
At the Cradock end of the route today will see no fewer than 13 finishers. Mike Woolnough opened proceedings and was then followed by a consistent stream of finishers during the day. First in was the group known as Jack’s Army consisting of Jacques Swart, Eddie Stafford, Wynand Baard and Jerrard le Roux who had been going non-stop from Romansfontein yesterday morning. A little later the group known as the Fat Farmers rolled in. Erik Egelund, Peter Button and Dave Moberley had stopped at Rockdale last night and comfortably rode into Cradock today. Pictures suggest they may well have been the group that had the most swims and fun along the route this year.
After the groups, a number of solo riders followed. Anthony Avidon stopped for a brief sleep at Elandsberg last night before riding through to Cradock in the second fastest time so far. He was followed by Brian O-Regan and Trevor Elliot a bit later. Dave Chappelow who provided some navigation entertainment to dot watchers this year, arrived at Cradock in heavy rain late afternoon while Christopher Mortimer has made consistent progress and is on track for a sub 3-day finish later this evening.
Further back the group of Jan vd Putte, Allen Sharp, Ben De Lange, Gavin Robinson and Alan Mildenhall teamed up with veterans Brad vd Westhuizen, Nicky Nairn, Richard Erasmus from Romansfontein this morning and they all rode in close proximity for most of the day into Elandsberg. They had an inconvenient mishap when they missed the Gunsteling turn-off before Aasvoelberg early in the day and had to ride back up the hill to correct course. After that they were on track all day. The former five continued through to Newands but Brad, Nicky and Richard remained in Elandsberg to extract maximum hospitality value from their adventure.
Gavin & Jane Horton left Hofmeyr this morning and reached Elandsberg by mid-morning and then rode through to Newlands for afternoon tea. They have ridden alone as a couple for most of the route and tomorrow they will tackle the hilly 80km to Cradock to finish in less than 6 days.
The days have been very long for all riders an there are some very tired but satisfied bodies out there. All eyes will now be on the trackers to see if Leon and Jacques can fight off the dark, the elements and the sleep monsters and reach Cradock before 4h35 for a new record.
It was impossible to put in a good day's work today with the furious pace of the racers. Between Batch 7 & 8, there was action aplenty and it's not over yet.
Let's begin at the back or the front, or the...whatever : the virtual leaders. Batch 8 got underway this morning with the pressure on. The front runners of Batch 7 were setting down huge markers. Leon Erasmus and Jacques Tattersall charged to Slaapkrantz getting there on record pace at an incredible 11:06. Casper Venter (RASA), Janine Stewart (RTC record holder for women, RASA) and Charles Mansfield (RASA) were not far behind. Charles had to turn back with stomach issues and it's uncertain if he'll continue.
Leon and Jacques paused briefly at Moordenaarspoort and are on their way to Krantzkop. If they want to take the crown, sleep is not on the cards. Casper reached Moordenaarspoort soon after 18.00 and Janine has a little way to go at the time of writing.
The reason for the crazy pace? Up front, Batch 7 has made all the right moves. Currently on record pace, Mike Woolnough is on his way to Newlands and has not slept yet. He has mastered the art of quick turnarounds at the support stations. Behind him is Anthony Avidon, a seasoned racer, but a small mistake in the fields just before the N6 (near Jamestown) cost him some time. He will be throwing the kitchen sink at the route to try and close the gap to Mike.
Behind him is Chris Mortimer who also had a few navigational mishaps. It could have been much worse when he turned too soon at the pivots and headed east instead of south. He paused at Romansfontein for a quick regroup and is heading over Aasvoelberg in the fading light. Allen Sharpe, Ben de Lange and Alan Mildenhall have had an unbelievable ride which should not be overshadowed by the racers up front. They rode to Moordenaarspoort on day one and Romansfontein for day two. Those are huge distances. Just behind them and just as determined to keep the flag of Batch 7 flying, are Jan van de Putte and Gavin Robinson. They'll be riding into the dark through the De Rust farm and the pivots but have also ridden incredibly well.
Along the way, these racing batches have caught and passed (in some instances), riders who started out a day or two before them. Also at Romansfontein for the night are the Batch 6 group of Nicky Nairn, Richard Erasmus, Brad van der Westhuizen and Rowan Matthews. They haven't put a foot wrong all race.
The rest of their Batch are on their way to Newlands, two support stations away. Affectionately known as Jack's Army, they haven't been trouble free. Jacques Swart, Eddie Stafford, Wynand Baard and Jerrard le Roux made a navigational detour on the top of Aasvoelberg that would have cost them some time. That hasn't stopped them from making excellent time to Elandsberg and then onward. The question is whether they will sleep for a couple of hours or push through to Cradock? They currently have the company of Mike Woolnough, so who will inspire whom?
Trevor Elliot of Batch 5 is having a stormer of a ride today. He must have been inspired by the guys pushing through as he found some mojo, caught back some time on Jack's Army and has passed them. He is well on his way to Newlands, having ridden from Romansfontein. Slightly behind him but also of Batch 6, is Brian O Regan who is chasing hard for Newlands as well. Dave Chappelow had some challenges on Elandsberg but made it safely to the support station.
Jernay McLeod of Batch 6 has withdrawn. The two other surviving members of Batch 6, Gavin and Jane Horton have found their rhythm, riding from Brosterlea to Hofmeyr. They just made it off Aasvoelberg in the light and have some night riding to do. They should have no problems in beating the cut-off.
Batch 4's Fat Farmers rode from Elandsberg to Rockdale, taking it easy. They'll head for Cradock and the finish tomorrow. Gareth Ochse and Gregg Sneddon finished today at 17:30. An impressive performance.
If you're dot watching, you won't be able to take your eyes from the screen. The positions are changing so fast as the riders assault the trail. Will there be a new record? How long will it stand? Don't go away.
A scorching hot day out on the trail today, both from soaring temperatures and the blistering pace set by those leaving Rhodes.. but first let's check in on today's finishers.
Ernst Behrens walked into Cradock last night just after 9pm - having sustained a sidewall cut that couldn’t be repaired he was left with no other option and walking down the 18km long downhill into Cradock must have been heartbreaking but he showed true grit and finished in fine style nonetheless.
The rest of Batch 2 also made their way to Cradock today - Mike and Kim Ward had a lie-in at Rockdale this morning before completing the task and arriving in Cradock in time for lunch.The rest of the Batch 2 riders left from Newlands this morning and arrived by mid afternoon: Riaan and Ernesta Meintjies, Tiaan Kotze and George Evans rode in together just before the rains came down and a while later, a slightly soaked John Metelerkamp arrived in the pouring rain. Well done to all on a fine ride.
Batch 3 spent the night at Elandsberg and all got away pre-dawn with plans to get to Cradock. Things went well and after a second breakfast at Newlands, they set off for the Schurfteberg portage, where some were caught by a storm, though it failed to slow their progress. Andrew Green and Kemsley Wood arrived just after 2pm, followed soon afterwards by Becky Sands, Sean Brown and then Pierre Singery (a Blanket Wearer). The only ones not following that programme today were Bryn Roberts, James Cruikshank and Jason Crookes, who left Elandsberg at a more reasonable hour and stopped at Newlands for the day. The hospitality there is hard to get away from, hence they will only finish in Cradock tomorrow..
Batch 4 have the benefit of experience among their numbers with Erik Egelund, Peter Button and Dave Moberley all being Blanket Wearers. That’s a good thing for Gareth Ochse and Gregg Sneddon, since they have trusty guides to follow when the navigation gets tricky. It does require a bit of patience though, as the three farmers spent a fair bit of the day taking impromptu swims in the dams and reservoirs they pass along the route - but rather a cold dip in the heat of the day than a dark night lost somewhere on a mountain. They had a pretty straightforward day today, leaving Romansfontein early and making good time to Hofmeyr for the customary pie stop before tackling the tricky Elandsberg portage and cruising into the support station with daylight to spare.
Batch 5 splintered yesterday and continued in the same vein today. After a very long day which ended just before midnight at Moordenaarspoort, Gavin and Jane Horton opted for a slightly shorter ‘recovery’ day today and stopped at Brosterlea. This puts them slightly out of sync with the support stations and will see them aiming for Hofmeyr tomorrow but at least they’ll get a good night’s rest tonight. Up ahead are Brian o’Regan, Jernay McCloud, Trevor Elliot and David Chappelow, who all left Karanskop this morning heading for Romansfontein. Trevor and David arrived by late afternoon but Brian and Jernay still have to get through the tricky pivot section in the dark so still have some work to do before dinner.
Batch 6 showed some intent yesterday on the way out of Rhodes and looked set to make their goal of Moordenaarspoort on their first day. For Jacques Swart, Jerrard Le Roux, Eddie Stafford and Wynand Baard, things began to unravel a bit going up the Bontehoek portage and they ran out of daylight at a critical point. The net result was a very late arrival at Moordenaaarspoort (01h15) but they took a short nap and left again at 03h45 - aiming for Romansfontein. The hot weather today hasn’t helped but they have made steady progress with just the tricky pivot section still to do before they get there - so they’ll get to bed a bit earlier tonight. The rest of Batch 6 were far more sensible: Brad vd Westhuizen, Nicky Nairn, Richard Erasmus and Rowan Matthews left Slaapkranz early this morning and got to Kranskop comfortably with daylight to spare, despite a few mechanicals along the way.
Batch 7 is made up of multiple Blanket Wearers and depth of trail experience and they set off from Rhodes at a blistering pace this morning. They had all passed Chesneywold by mid morning and most were through Slaapkrantz before lunch. Anthony Avidon and Alan Mildenhall set the early pace, followed closely by the wily Mike Woolnough and Chris Mortimer. Alan pulled up the handbrake at Slaapkranz where he waited for Jan vd Putte, Allen Sharp, Ben De Lange and Gavin Robinson before continuing. Despite their slightly more sedate pace, these guys all still made it over Bontehoek by last light and are headed for Morrdenaarspoort or possibly even Kranskop. The front three, Anthony, Chris and Mike had all passed though Moordenaarspoort by late afternoon and will be looking forward to a late supper at Kranskop, after which their nightime adventures will begin in earnest..
Well, well. So now the race begins to heat up. The first of the serious racers made their move today while others on the trail went walkabout or go slow.
Batch Two made it look easy today. They left Elandsberg for Newlands and instead of dong the obvious double-up, Riaan and Ernesta Meintjies, Tiaan Kotze and George Evans decided they were in no rush to finish and have stayed over. Kim and Mark Ward who had ridden stronger and stronger as the race progressed, pushed on to Rockdale which puts them much closer to Cradock for tomorrow. John Metelerkamp stayed over in Hofmeyer to recover from the heat. He blew through Elandsberg and would have been pleasantly surprised to catch up with the gang at Newlands. John Croasdale got that far too but unfortunately had to withdraw and got a lift to Cradock.
The speedster of this batch, Ernst Behrens was flying today until he inexplicably slowed on the approach to Swaershoek Pass. News is that he has sidewall tyre issues and is walking into Cradock. Kudos. The true spirit of the trail.
Batch Three has hardly put a foot wrong. Today was no exception with nary a squiggle out of line. Andrew Green and Kemsley Wood arrived at 14.45 and had they wanted, could have gone on to Newlands and still arrived in daylight. Thirty minutes later, Pierre Singery, Rebecca Sands and Sean Brown arrived. Bringing up the rear in a very respectable time as well was Bryn Roberts and the two novices, Jason Crookes and James Cruickshank. This group will most probably do the double and the question will be whether they can catch the batch in front.
Batch Four has thinned with the withdrawal of Paul McKane and Tony Lochner. They missed the left turn at Roussow and went kilometres in the wrong direction. They ended up at a farm house for the night. This morning, dot watchers were dismayed to see thm still on the wrong road until word got around that they were on their way to Barkly East to wait for a lift to Cradock. The rest of the batch were spotted swimming in the Stormberg reservoir. For a long while, it looked as if they would also be navigating the pivots in the dark. Fat Farmers, Peter Button, Dave Moberly and Erik Egeland made a late charge and dragged Gareth Ochse and Gregg Sneddon with them, arriving at Romansfontein with plenty of light to spare.
Batch Five have had a tough day with no one unscathed by navigation challenges. They left Slaapkrantz early and that's when it started going pear shaped for the Hortons. They overshot the crossing of the spur on top to reach the jeep track and spent some time trying to correct. To add to their woes, they went through the wrong gate at Loutebron before correcting that and getting to the top of mountain. The jeep track thwarted them again and they criss crossed the area a number of times before finally picking it up and making their way down Bontehoek just before it got dark. They have a long ride ahead of them to make Moordenaarspoort.
Up front, Trevor Elliot was doing well until he missed a turn and had a long ride back to the route with a lot of hills. He and Dave Chappelow teamed up and made Krantzkop without further mishap. Brian O Regan and Jernay McLeod also found the Slaapkrantz portage tricky and ended up on the wrong side of the valley from the jeep track. They took a tiger line to get there and are also on their way to Krantzkop.
The racing started in earnest with Batch Six. Four of this group blasted their way to Slaapkrantz getting in soon after 13.00. They were soon on their way over the first portage. However, at Loutebron, they muddled up the ploughed fields and ended up taking a much steeper, less travelled route to get to the top. They lost daylight and the track and resorted to following the fence line up and over a koppie rather than the contoured road. Jacques Swart (aka Jack Black and RASA finisher), Eddie Stafford (Race2Rhodes), Jerrard Le Roux (Race2Rhodes) and novice, Wynand Baard had hoped to get to Krantzkop in one go. They may end up snatching some sleep at Moordenaarspoort.
The rest of the batch also cruised in to an early lunch at Slaapkrantz. Brad van der Westhuizen (RASA), Nicky Nairn (Race2Rhodes), Richard Erasmus (Race2Rhodes) and Rowan Matthews (Race2Rhodes) will all be watching their backs as some of the non-stop racers begin their charge from Rhodes tomorrow.
The remaining 5 riders from Batch 1 left Elandsberg early this morning to give them a shot at getting to Cradock in less than 5 days. After a quick stop for a second breakfast at Newlands they announced their intentions and signalled their celebratory drinks orders ahead. By dusk they had reached the top of the sting in the tail Swaershoek Pass and will now enjoy the long downhill into Cradock where the sight of the Freedom Challenge banners and the familiar figure of Meryl will bring their adventure to a close. They have been rock solid in their riding and navigation and will no doubt enjoy their celebratory evening at Ou Pastorie.
Rory and Leyden Field from Batch 1 are hunkering down at Romansfontein tonight and will ride through to Hofmeyr tomorrow on their 6th day of riding.
Batch 2 cleared the tricky Aasvoelberg portage in the morning and then the tricky Elandsberg portage in afternoon light without any issues. After 4 long days of riding they will enjoy the Elandsberg hospitality tonight and recharge the energy stores and tired legs. They are likely to start early tomorrow to position for an assault on Cradock by late afternoon.
John Metelerkamp from Batch 2 stopped in Hofmeyr this afternoon to take a break from very hot conditions. He may be tempted to pop into the famous pie shop on his way out of town tomorrow to grab some padkos for the Elandsberg portage.
Batch 3 remained intact as a group and arrived in dribs and drabs at Romansfontein. Their ride has been rather uneventful to date which is probably attributed to good preparation and calm heads. As on previous days some of the team were tempted left by the centre pivots but the navigational aberration was quickly corrected. The tricky dark exit from Romansfontein will test their navigation in the morning.
Batch 4 sans Tony and Paul navigated the challenging Slaapkrantz and Bonthoek portages successfully this morning and all arrived at Kranzkop during the afternoon. Tony and Paul first unknowingly opened up a new route at the top of Slaapkrantz portage and then tried the same on top of Bonthoek portage. The latter quest was less successful and rather painful to watch as they first went North, then too far South and then eventually picked up the track to the top of the portage. The navigational deviations would have drained both their physical and mental energy and by early evening they were approaching Rossouw and may well decide to call it a day at Moordenaarspoort tonight to lick their wounds.
Batch 5 had a solid start this morning out of Rhodes until Brian and Jernay missed the Bottlenek turnoff. By the time they realized their mistake they had to climb back up to the turn-off, no doubt very frustrating. Trevor Elliot arrived at Slaapkrantz just after 14h00 and must have been tempted to push on towards Moordenaarspoort but sanity prevailed and he waited for the rest of the group. Dave Chappelow seemed to really enjoy the Kappokkraal portage and did a few loops near the top just for fun until he eventually found a way down that he liked more than the official route. He joined the rest of the batch in time for sundowners.
Batch 6 tomorrow contains a couple of experienced and strong riders and Slaapkrantz may well have fewer sleepers that starters tomorrow night.