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And that's a wrap for 2015

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.   

The last two riders arrive at Diemersfontein

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.

5 July - the evening wrap up

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.

4 July - the daily wrap up

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.

3 July - the evening wrap up

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.


2 July - the evening wrap up

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.

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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