Nearly a month after the first riders left Pietermaritzburg for Rhodes and Wellington, the 2015 Freedom Challenge finally draws to a close. In an event with a drop out rate as high as 30-40%, this was a really good year, with that rate falling closer to 20%. In the end 59 riders completed the RTR and 33 completed RASA. Factors contributing to this success were better levels of preparedness of the riders before they started - many riders had attended rider briefings and quite a few had scouted and pre-ridden sections of the trail beforehand. With so much information available online nowadays, riders were also kitted out with lighter equipment (average backpack weight was 7-8kg). Add to that the good conditions, although there was snow and strong wind in the early stages, most riders enjoyed stable, dry weather for a large part of their journey and this undoubtedly made the going easier. But let’s not take anything away from their efforts as this year’s crop of ‘newbies’ were a determined bunch and they proved that the pull of the finisher’s blanket is as strong as ever.
Up front we had a close race between Tim James and Andrew Barnes and it was interesting to watch their respective strategies play out: Tim rode long hours on little sleep while Andrew’s slightly faster speed was offset by his longer sleeping times. With only hours separating them as they went into Stettynskloof, the race came down to the wire, at one point on the approach into Diemersfontein, a navigational error by Tim allowed Andrew to close the gap to within 5min before he too made a similar error. The eventual winning margin of 30min is perhaps the closest yet and is a testament to the competitive nature of them both.
At the back of the field there were a few riders who ended up behind schedule due to mechanical or navigational issues. This immediately put them on the back foot and the pressure was upon them to make the various interim cut offs along the route. They put in a brave effort but it proved a bridge too far and it was unfortunate that riders like Pierre Oosthuizen, John Bowen and Mike Roy all ended up withdrawing after having come so far. But they don’t go away empty handed as their experiences this year will be invaluable if they decide to return in future years.
This year could be fondly referred to as the 'Year of the Squiggles’ - with the rider tracking working well, it was possible to follow them on their respective journeys and see where they went wrong. As a navigation race where GPS is not allowed, the number of navigational errors was proof that navigation is the great leveller and is not to be underestimated. Being a strong rider is no guarantee of success since it doesn’t help to be riding fast in the wrong direction. Even the more experienced campaigners with good route knowledge still found the navigation challenging, especially at night, as was the case with Tim in the Vuvu valley or both Tim and Andrew going through Stettynskloof in the dark and taking longer than the first timers did in daylight.
Most riders got to grips with it as the race progressed though and it also became apparent that they were realising and correcting their errors sooner and moving more efficiently in the latter stages. Finding the route is one of the defining elements of the Freedom Challenge and riders taking responsibility for themselves in doing so is the very essence of the challenge. Herein lies the attraction of the event for many - an uncertain outcome and the promise of adventure.
There were a few standout performances this year which bear special mention:
Ingrid Avidon’s solo ride from Pietermaritzburg to Ntsikeni in one push places her among only a handful or riders to have done so in this event - the fact that she is the only women so far to have done this on her own is a remarkable achievement.
Andrew Blackburn's long walk from Tinana to Rhodes after his freewheel hub packed up is also worth a mention. While his riding companions went ahead, he endured many hours of solo walking up the hills and freewheeling down in his determined quest to keep moving forward to Rhodes where he could get spares. His efforts caused him severe shin splints which later nearly derailed his ride but he overcome those too and proved that the body will follow where the mind goes first.
Johann Rissik was well known to many of this year’s riders as the Prince Albert local who has always been a huge supporter of the event. This year he got his chance to ride it and did so in exemplary style. Riding with the three ‘Wallys’ (Ian Paul and Alan) he took on the role of guardian and patiently helped Alan through many tough sections of the route.
In similar fashion, Stu Brew was also no stranger to RASA, having completed it before. He rode with various groups throughout this year as he moved through the field but he ended up with a very determined Gary Preston in Stettynskloof and together they slogged through the infamous kloof for over 16 hours on the final stage. Stu was blown away by Gary’s tenacity but Gary had great respect and gratitude for Stu’s patience.
The Stone Saddle Award went to two riders this year - Alan Haupt and Gary Preston. They both came into RASA knowing that it would be even tougher for them due to their own physical challenges but this did not deter them. Although they had the support of other riders around them, they still had to go out every day and face the demands of the day and this they did without complaint. The other riders were often inspired by the determination and tenacity of these two, the way they got up after countless falls and just quietly got back to the job at hand. Their efforts are a true reflection of courage and self confidence and we can all learn something from them.
As the tyre tracks along the trail slowly start to fade and life slowly returns to normal for the riders, the stories from this year’s event will live on - in the hearts and minds of all who took part and in all those who followed their progress every day. The memories that make the Freedom Challenge such a rich and diverse experience are also part of the reason we keep coming back for more - the seeds of adventure lie in curiosity and out on the trail those seeds always find fertile ground.
Nic van Zyl and Mike Devereux crossed the finish line at Diemersfontein tonight, after a long, hard day in Stettynskloof. Having started in some of the later batches, they were always likely to miss the finisher’s dinner but were well within their allowable 26 day cut off. Mike Devereux finished in 23d 16h and Nic van Zyl finished in 22d 16h Having ridden together for many days during the event, splitting up for a while and eventually meeting up again at Trouthaven to take on Stettynskloof together, their 2015 RASA has had no shortage of adventure. The two riders were elated after finishing and were proud to receive their coveted finsher's blankets.
The two remaining riders in RASA2015 are both staying at Trouthaven tonight. Reunited after a few days apart on the trail, Mike Devereux and Nic van Zyl will take on Stetynskloof together in the morning. Mike rode through from Good Hope today while Nic came all the way from Montagu. Due to their late start dates, they are in no danger of missing any cut offs but they still have to complete the last stage to earn their blankets.
The weather still looks good for tomorrow and they should enjoy a bright sunny day in the kloof - we look forward to welcoming them across the finish line at Diemersfontein.
With only two riders left on course, today’s report is short and sweet.
Nic van Zyl will spend the night in Montagu, after riding through from Anysberg today. He’s charging phones and trackers, doing laundry and resting up for a big push to Trouthaven tomorrow. After that its just Stettynskloof and a short ride between him and the finish at Diemersfontein.
Mike Devereux will stay at Good Hope tonight, he rode through from Montagu and took a few wrong turns on the way in to GoodHope which meant he then left there a bit late for the remaining portages on the way to Trouthaven - so he opted to return to Good Hope and stay there tonight. Having started in a much later start batch, he is under no pressure to make the cut off, so can afford to cruise into the finish. He will ride through to Trouthaven tomorrow and if Nic manages to come through all the way from Montagu, then they can head up Stettynskloof together on Monday.
Mike Roy spent last night in Stettynskloof and only emerged after midday today. He called in from the bottom of Du Toits Kloof pass announcing his withdrawal. His night out had taken its toll and he was also struggling with bike issues. On top of that he did not have any narratives or maps for the last section into Diemersfontein, so a vehicle was despatched to collect him.
Diemersfontein will play host to the finishers’ dinner tonight, with riders already arriving - time for them to catch up on all the stories from this year’s race and to meet their fellow riders face to face.
Today was another glorious day in the Cape, the sun shone brightly and there was only a gentle breeze - perfect conditions for a hike in the mountains.
Mike Glover and John Exley made the most of the great weather and hiked up Stettynskloof today to complete their Freedom Challenge journey. Although the last day is tough and uncompromising, they went about things in their steady and persistent way, much like the rest of their ride. Having ridden together from the start, it was fitting for them to cross the line together and they can be proud of their achievement. Their finishing time was 19days 11hours 55min.
Stettynskloof had another visitor today, Mike Roy - he started out with John and Mike but was soon on his own. Riding unofficially after missing his 26 day cut off, Mike is expected at Diemersfontein later tonight.
Staying in Montagu tonight is Mike Devereux, he rode through from Rouxpos today which was a good double stage for him. Riding solo for the last two days, he seems to have sufficient momentum going now and is accelerating toward the finish. Another double tomorrow would mean a finish on Sunday.
Nic van Zyl made good progress today, riding from Gamkaskloof via Rouxpos to Anysberg - his first double stage. It seems his bike troubles are over for now and he too seems to be going well. He may be able to catch up with Mike Devereux and come up Stettynskloof with him but to do that he will have to keep the pace up tomorrow and get all the way to Trouthaven.
More riders across the finish line today and the rest keep closing in on Diemersfontein.
The first riders out of Stettynskloof today were Marnitz Nienaber and Ivor Jones who arrived just after 2pm this afternoon. They opted to try a different exit out of Stettynskloof, by going out early on the left hand side. This seemed to have saved them from the worst of the bushwhacking and they made good time through the kloof. With 5 blankets to his name, Marnitz has the route saved in his head and Ivor was amazed that they never had to use maps at any stage of the journey. Today Marnitz received blanket number 6 and for Ivor it was his first - their finishing time was 16days 8hours 5min.
The next three riders came over the line together a while later - Andrew Blackburn, Nic Jordan and Mike Potgieter had ridden together since the start and had a good solid ride. Andrew had to put up with a failing freewheel hub, which meant a long walk from Tinana to Rhodes and later on a serious case of shin splints but he showed real determination and pressed on regardless. They all received their coveted blankets to the applause and cheers of their friends and families. Their finishing time was 19days 10hours 45min.
Of the remaining riders for this year, we have four still in the race and two more who are not.
John Bowen has been riding with Mike Roy since Tinana and the two have been under pressure to chase cut offs from an early stage - after missing their Willowmore cut off they were allowed to continue to the finish but have not managed to keep up with the required pace. In a last ditch attempt, the pair left Good Hope just after midnight this morning on their way to Trouthaven and then the finish. By mid morning they had not reached Trouthaven and it was becoming clear that there was very little chance of getting through Stettynskloof in the dark and still finishing before 6am tomorrow morning, the 26 day cut off. On realising this, John decided to withdraw at Trouthaven. At peace with his decision, he said he had learnt a lot about himself on this journey and pushed himself further than he thought possible. Mike Roy ended up in a similar situation, realising that the clock was against him. He opted to carry on to Trouthaven and spend the night there - he will go up Stettynskloof tomorrow and finish the route to Diemersfontein.
Also at Trouthaven tonight are Mike Glover and John Exley, they rode through from Montagu today. They have been steady and consistent the whole way and now its just Stettynskloof between them and their blankets.
Jumping back to Rouxpos, where Mike Devereux is expected later tonight, after a big double from Prince Albert. He will be happy to have an easier day tomorrow and is now closing in on the finish.
Sweeping behind tonight is Nic van Zyl, who left Prince Albert after serving his time penalty (for a new bike) and arrived at Gamkaskloof for supper. Tomorrow he takes on the Ladder and then its Rouxpos and beyond, he can surely smell the finish now too.
Created on Wednesday, 24 June 2015 20:48
After today, the riders are a bit more stretched out along the trail:
Mike Devereux and Nico van Zyl stopped at Stuttgart today after a short ride from Elandsberg. Mike had to repair a damaged wheel, which he did and they both made the most of the great hospitality on offer there.
Mike Glover and John Exley doubled up for the first time today, going from Elandsberg, via Stuttgart to Grootdam.
Marnitz and Ivor left Stuttgart at 03h15 this morning and have had a long hard day’s riding, battling fierce headwinds over the Struishoek. Marnitz took a tumble coming through Koedoeskop but came off with only a few bruises. Tonight they sleep at Toekomst lodge.
Pierre Oosthuizen started his day at Gegun and is still heading to Bucklands, he should arrive there in the early hours of the morning.
At Bucklands tonight are Andrew Blackburn, Mike Potgieter and Nic Jordan, together with Mike and Ingrid Talbot. They will take on the notorious Ossesberg section tomorrow on their way to Cambria.
Hadley is busy tonight too, with four riders staying there. Mike Roy and John Bowen are there, as well as Andrew Barnes and Andrew Hunt. Tomorrow they also head down the Ossesberg, Andrew Barnes is likely to get to Cambria and push on to Dam se Drif or even possibly Willowmore.
In Cambria tonight, staying at Kudu Kaya, are Liehann and Beat, who arrived mid afternoon after an early start from Hadley. Later arrivals were Theo van Dyk, Fjord Jordaan and Tim James, after a long 24h of riding and cat naps. Chances are good that they’ll get a proper sleep there tonight before pushing on again.
Dam se Drif plays host to Johann Rissik, Ian Verwayen, Alan Haupt and Paul Dalton. Also there are Lee Fuller, Dave Telford, Gary Preston and Stu Brew – they all came unstuck after a heavy lunch and even heavier headwinds and decided not to press on to Willowmore.
Splitting off from that group were Gary Green, Mike Ward and Ant Jankovic-Bessan. They braved the fierce afternoon headwinds and rode through to Willowmore, arriving just after 7pm. A hearty supper, some beers and then laundry before heading to bed for an early planned start – goal tomorrow is Prince Albert.
Maarten Witters and Jacques Tattersall left Willowmore early this morning and got to Rondawel before the wind turned on, pinning them down there for nearly 4 hours before they plucked up the courage to go on to Prince Albert. They eventually arrived for a late supper and a well-deserved rest.
The adventurers out front, Anton Wood and Gert Peens, rode up Swartberg Pass through heavy rain and cold to arrive in Gamkaskloof totally drenched and frozen – Tanne Ansie took pity on them, made a fire to dry their clothes and fed them hot soup. Suitably recovered , they rode on towards the Ladder and eventually arrived at Rouxpos for dinner.
With today’s sudden arrival of another cold front, the rider’s need to pay attention to the weather for the next few day’s and pick their stops carefully to avoid riding into energy sapping headwinds and rain. The ride may be nearing it’s end by it is by no means over.
Created on Wednesday, 24 June 2015 19:07
Crunch time for Barnes as they drop into the Baviaanskloof and turn onto the “home straight”
The Race Across South Africa, one feels, is now a two horse race between the race leader Tim James and 2nd placed Andrew Barnes. The probability of both riders “blowing” becomes less as the race goes on, and one feels that the likes of Marnitz Nienaber and Ivor Jones, or Theo van Dyk and Fjord Jordaan, are a bit too far off James’ pace.
At time of writing, Tim James was down in the Grootrivier valley, and may just get out of this night navigation “hotspot” not long after dark. Barnes, however, was still up on the hill at Hadley halfway support station, and if he is going to make a race of it one would think that he is going to have to do the Osseberg Jeep Track down into the valley, and the Grootrivier, in darkness.
At time of writing, James had a lead over Barnes of about 5 hours and 30 minutes. This gap has been very much Barnes’ own doing. He’s the one that has followed the strategy of a good night’s sleep, while James has pushed on well into the nights, maintaining a far higher ride/rest ratio throughout the race.
The two differing strategies have been quietly debated by the armchair spectators, and now it appears that we are going to find out within the next few days which one was the most appropriate.
As anticipated, there was more of a sense of urgency in Barnes today. Often in recent days his departure time from his sleepover spot in the morning has been near to 05h00 (at Kranskop it was even after 7h00 a few days ago). This morning, a 2h20 start by Barnes from Toekomst support station signalled that it was now “game on”. About time, many of us are saying to ourselves as we sit glued to Tracker waiting for some excitement. But you’ve got to give him points for staying cool and calm under pressure.
But the higher sleep/ride ratio of Barnes is probably not only being questioned because of the lead its allowed James to build up. The timing of the drop into the Grootrivier Valley after dark, as a result of this strategy, will probably also be questioned. Barnes is known as one of the riders who knows the route extremely well, so maybe its all calculated. But we thought the same about James, until a few nights ago when he went around in circles for much of the evening in the Vuvu Valley. Yes, these valleys are a navigation hazard even to the top riders at night. So tonight is a crucial one for Barnes down in the valley, and no doubt many of us will be glued to the Tracker.
James wasn’t going to take the night gamble again in the Grootrivier, having paid some private school fees in the Vuvu Valley. He slept one support station ahead of Barnes last night, at Bucklands, making a daytime valley trip virtually a sure thing.
Barring a major navigation mishap, both riders will turn right onto the road up the Baviaans to Willowmore tonight in all probability. This is the start of the Home Straight of the RASA, with only 784 km left. From here, for the top riders, its probably about a 4 day trip to the finish at Diemersfontein.
The winner is often the “guy who wants it more”. That isn’t an obvious answer. James has been trying without success since his 2ndvictory in 2010. Judging by some of his very long pushes on this year’s race, he’s determined. Barnes has ended 2nd to James on one occasion, but has never won it. This year he’s in with a great shout. He knows this.
So it remains tough to identify the likely winner, with 5 hours 30 minutes not a big lead in such a race. Much will depend on the 2 riders’ ability to deal with sleep deprivation. We know Barnes has been the faster rider during riding hours, but he has yet to be tested on that score. This year’s race is well off record pace, but it may become a slower replica of the 2012 Martin Dreyer-Alex Harris duel if Barnes can narrow the gap over the next 24 – 48 hours or so. A likely finishing day for the winner? Some time on Sunday for a sub- for a 13 day win.
By John Loos (Blanket/Whip)
Created on Tuesday, 23 June 2015 20:31
Going into the third week of RASA and the riders are spread out across the countryside.
At the back of the field we have Mike Glover, John Exley, Nico van Zyl and Mike Devereux, all staying at Elandsberg tonight after all getting across the Elandsberg portage safely. Tomorrow they should be aiming for their first double, going via Stuttgart to Grootdam.
Next up we have the ex-racing snakes Marnitz Nienaber and Ivor Jones – they took a short day today to rest aching knees, so tomorrow they could bounce back and attempt some sort of comeback – Toekomst lodge is likely to be their goal.
“All by myself” is the song going around in Pierre Oosthuizen’s head tonight – he’s all alone at Gegun after watching a peleton of riders come past earlier today. And carry on to Toekomst. Strong headwinds didn’t help his singlespeed efforts today but he plans to leave early tomorrow to start doing something about the impending Willowmore cut off.
Up the road at Toekomst lodge tonight we find quite a large group: Andrew Blackburn, nursing a strained thigh, Nic Jordan, Mike Potgieter and Mike and Ingrid Talbot are all there, having ridden through from Grootdam today. Also there is Andrew Hunt who took another famous left turn on the approach and added some extra miles but eventually found his way home a bit later. Andrew Brnes was the last arrival for the day, having ridden all the way through from Stuttgart today, a big day out for him.
Earlier arrivals and then departures at Toekomst lodge were Fjord Jordaan and Theo Van Wyk – they left with Tim James just before sunset for some night time fun, headed for Kleinpoort for a snooze, then Bucklands for another snooze and breakfast before going on towards the Osseberg, let’s see where they run out of steam…
The night riding trio will most likely bump into Mike Roy and John Bowen at Kleinpoort. They inched their way along the trail today after a night out in the Vogelrivierpoort near Koedeoskop. Already making sums about the dreaded Willowmore cut off, they need to step it up in the next few days and can’t afford any more half days.
The ever reliable pair of Liehann Loots and Beat Jegerlehner had a great day today, going from Toekomst through Bucklands to Hadley – this move positions them for an early assault on the Osseberg tomorrow with every chance of going on to Dam se Drif after that.
Cambria is a crowded place tonight with eleven riders in attendance: Johann Rissik, Ian Verwayen, Alan Haupt and Paul Dalton came through from Hadley and Gary Green, Lee Fuller, Gary Preston, Dave Telford, Ant Jankovic-Bessan, Stu Brew and Mike Ward all came through from Bucklands. Tomorrow could be an ideal time to push through to Willowmore but first they all have to get past the good food and hospitality at Dam se Drif.
In Willowmore tonight are Maarten Witters and Jacques Tattersall, who rode the big double from Cambria today. On arrival they were still entertaining thoughts of pushing on to Rondawel tonight but sanity, a warm fire and three course dinner prevailed – tomorrow more of the same at Prince Albert.
Still with their noses out front are Anton Wood and Gert Peens – although they rode 165km today, it was a relatively flat and easy stage with no nasty headwinds. Tomorrow they head up the Swartberg Pass and into Gamkaskloof.
With many riders still dropping south towards the Baviaanskloof, the end may seem a long way off but for those already beyond Cambria and heading due west, this is the home straight and Diemersfontein should be less than a week away.
Created on Wednesday, 24 June 2015 13:17
This year’s RASA riders have already had all four seasons to deal with in their quest for the elusive blanket - hot temperatures down in the Umko valley on day 1, icy mornings out of Ntsikeni, thick fog at Masakala, howling gales up Lehana and snow and mud on the Bontehoek portages. Since then, things have settled down somewhat with a week of fine and clear weather. The result is that most have made rapid progress through the Karoo with a few groups already through the Baviaanskloof. With recent pictures of riders in short sleeves enjoying beers at sunset, you’d be forgiven for thinking that all the hype around the extreme nature of this event is just hot air - in those cases that’s exactly what it was. Today though, things are a little bit different. All those layers of warm kit that they haven’t used for days and are thinking of mailing back home - today they are being worn.
As a fresh cold front lashes Cape Town, the ripple effect can be felt down the trail: the wind is howling over the Struishoek portage near Pearston, where Marnitz and Ivor are trying to hold on to their bikes. The higher passes in the Baviaanskloof are also windy although the lower valleys and kloof are more sheltered - currently the guys at Dam se Drif for lunch are in two minds about going on to Willowmore, where a strong, gusting wind is creating turmoil. Maarten and Jacques ran into a block headwind on the way to Rondawel and have been sheltering there for the last 2 hours. Anton and Gert went over the Swartberg Pass this morning and down into Gamkaskloof - they got caught in pouring rain and arrived drenched and shivering and Tannie Ansie had to make a fire and ply them with ‘ warm sop en brood’ to thaw them out.
So things can change quickly out on the trail, from one day to the next. Just when the riders think they have it figured out, a curveball like the weather or a mechanical comes along to spoil the fun. Fortunately for most of the remaining riders in this year’s event, they’ve all had a taste of that sudden adversity and are by now quite adept at solving the problem or adapting to the prevailing conditions - the finisher’s blanket is a coveted item and by this stage it’s almost within reach, so when things go wrong and threaten to snatch the blanket away, these riders are not going to give up without a fight.
Created on Tuesday, 23 June 2015 12:51
With a 26 day overall cut off time, RASA is a long event. While that may be stating the obvious, it also implies that there is a lot of time available for riders to complete the challenge but there's a catch, in order to be at the finish line in under 26 days, a rider needs to make steady progress along the trail every day.
To encourage riders to keep moving forward, there are interim cut offs that apply along the route. They are worked out according to the level of difficulty of the various sections of the trail and how factors like the weather may affect a rider’s progress along the trail. They are not intended to penalise riders, just to ensure that they do not fall too far behind and in so doing lose any chance of finishing.
The cut offs also ensure that support stations don’t have to stay open longer than necessary to accommodate a lone rider who has fallen off the back. Having riders arriving at all times of the day or night can be quite disruptive but less so if it all happens within a reasonable time period.
What happens when a rider misses the cut off?
The only absolute cut off is the 26 day finish at Diemersfontein – a rider has to get to Diemersfontein in 26 days or less to get the finisher’s blanket (no discretions and no exceptions)
If a rider misses an interim cut off, they would normally be expected to leave the trail but under certain circumstances they may still be allowed to continue:
- If they are the last rider on course and then miss a cut off, they are expected to leave the trail, since the support stations will not stay open for a rider after they miss a cut off.
- If a rider misses a cut off but there are still other riders behind them, then the support stations will still be open for the other rider’s sake, so they may continue. If they are overtaken and end up at the back, then they must leave the trail.
For RASA the following cut offs apply:
Rhodes - 8 days
Hofmeyr – 12/13days*
Willowmore – 19 days
Diemersfontein finish – 26 days
* the Hofmeyr cut off is flexible and at the discretion of the race office – normally 12 days would be allowed. In the event of severe weather or a rider struggling but still making an effort, then 13 days may be allowed.
The clock starts in Pietermaritzburg at 6am on any particular RASA start day. So a day (24h) only ends at 6am on the next morning, not at midnight as most would assume. This gives riders a further chance of pushing through the night to make a cut off the next morning if necessary. To arrive in time or ‘beat’ a cut off, the rider needs to arrive before the end of the 8th/13th/19th/26th day at the designated support station – so by 6am on that day. If they manage to get there and still push on, then they are effectively ahead of that cut off.
2015 RASA riders currently flirting with cut offs are:
1. Pierre Oosthuizen: started in Batch B on Monday 8 June
- got to Rhodes in 7d 12h 5min
- got to Hofmeyr in 12d 14h 11min (discretionary 13 day)
- needs to get to Willowmore by 6am on Saturday 27 June
- needs to get to Diemersfontein by 6am on Saturday 4 July
2. Mike Roy and John Bowen: started in Batch A on Sunday 7 June
- got to Rhodes in 7d 15h 0min
- got to Hofmeyr in 12d 11h 15min (discretionary 13 day)
- need to get to Willowmore by 6am on Friday 26 June
- need to get to Diemersfontein by 6am on Friday 3 July
The cut offs are there to keep riders moving forward and to give every rider a chance to get a finisher’s blanket – riders who fall behind schedule for whatever reason, are expected to try and make up the lost time and get to the finish in 26 days or less.