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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.

21 June - tracking the contenders so far

Barnes retains the Yellow Jersey for the 2nd consecutive stage at Slaapkranz support station

Andrew Barnes retains the Yellow Jersey which he won back at Rhodes. He arrived there at 8h20 yesterday morning, after having left Chesneywold at 4h55, implying reaching Slaapkranz in 4 days 2 hours and 20 minutes. This put him ahead of Theo van Dyk and Fjord Jordaan as at Slaapkranz arrival, with them having reached Slaapkranz in 4 days 7 hours and 15 minutes. This translates into a lead by Barnes of 4 hours and 55 minutes, an increase on the 2 hours 10 minute margin as at Rhodes arrival. It also put him further ahead ahead of former RASA winner Tim James, who rolled into Slaapkranz at 14h10 in 4 days 8 hours and 10 minutes, whom he led by a lesser 5 hours on departure times from Chesneywold earlier yesterday.

And the signs are that Barnes is strong as he headed towards Kranskop support station. He took the wrong right turn in the mountain above Slaapkranz support station, but seemed to rectify this within 10 minutes or so and get back on track. Then, in what seems to be a “display of strength” he sped straight past the Moordenaarspoort “lunch time stop” without so much as even waving hello. The more cynical would perhaps say that’s a lack of manners. Judging by what we have seen from Barnes in the RASA to date, he seems to like an early night’s sleep. And why not? He currently appears to be the strongest rider of the lead group, and it is up to the rest of the chasing pack to perhaps sacrifice on sleep in the hope of catching him. If he sleeps well, all the better the chances that he’ll remain faster than the rest.

James, on the other hand, has had a long day already, having started a lot earlier than Barnes . He arrived at the Moordenaarspoort “halfway” station at 00h25 and stopped to sleep. That previous night’s wild goose chase in the Vuvu Valley may also still be affecting his strength but James is comfortable riding into the wee hours and timing his sleep to awaken at sunrise.

Jordaan and van Dyk reached Brosterlea by late afternoon, having started the race a day before James and Barnes. They called it a day at Brosterlea, with Romansfontein station another 43km on, including a tricky navigation section over the Stormberg portage. Barnes will probably reach Brosterlea mid-morning today, and if they don’t start pushing they may be in his sights within the next day or 2.

At the back of the RASA, the Lantern Rouge swings back to Pierre Oosthuizen and away from Mike Roy as at Slaapkranz. Oosthuizen arrived at Slaapkranz in 9 days 6 hours and 30 minutes, 11 hours and 30 minutes behind Mike Roy, yesterday’s carrier.

By John Loos (Blanket/Whip)



20 June - the evening wrap up

Another beautiful day in Rhodes and the weather gods have smiled on the riders again. With clear skies and a light breeze, riding conditions were good and progress was swift for most of the riders.

Ingrid Avidon is at Vuvu tonight and should finish her race to Rhodes tomorrow. She’ll be glad for the company at the finish after a mostly solo ride.

The three riders who finished their Race to Rhodes today were Ann Harrison, Tony Wright and Caren Henschel. Ann arrived a bit earlier by coming through with Marnitz, Stuart and Ivor over Lehana, with Tony and Caren arriving mid afternoon.

Arriving early, the three RASA riders pushed on from Rhodes towards Chesneywold but sadly Stuart Roos had to turn back – he’s been nursing a knee strain since Masakala and it wasn’t improving. He’s out but will definitely be back in future.

Marnitz and Ivor rode strongly through to Chesneywold and got there in time for supper tonight. Tomorrow they have big plans…

Mike Devereux and Nico van Zyl, now with gears on his bike, had a good day too. They left Chesneywold with full stomachs and made it to Slaapkranz at dark. Tomorrow they face the Slaapkranz and Bontehoek portages before some good dirt roads to Kranskop.

Joining them will be Mike Glover and John Exley – they arrived at Slaapkranz by early afternoon with daylight to spare.

Tim James left Rhodes at 2am this morning planning a long day out. By early evening he was going over the Bontehoek portage on his way to Moordenaarspoort with the possibility of pressing on even further.

Andrew Barnes rode from Chesneywold through to Kranskop today, a good day out on the bike. He sleeps there tonight and seems determined to follow his plan of riding hard and sleeping well.

Not far up the road at Brosterlea tonight are Fjord Jordaan and Theo van Dyk. After a big day yesterday which saw them get from Rhodes to Moordenaarspoort, they eased off a bit today – maybe tomorrow will be another big one…

Romansfontein is busy tonight – Mike and Ingrid Talbot, Andrew Hunt, Andrew Blackburn, Nic Jordan and Mike Potgieter all rode through from Kranskop today, having now problems getting over the Stormberg portage and through the tricky pivot section on De Rust farm well before dark.

Hofmeyr plays host to the intrepid Pierre Oosthuizen tonight. After a cold night out in the mountains last night, he got to Romansfontein this morning to revive himself and then pushed on slowly over the Aasvoelberg portage and across the flats to Hofmeyr, his single speed legs spinning frantically to get there and avoid the 13-day cutoff.

Team Consistent, Beat and Liehann had another good day today, riding from Romansfontein via Hofmeyr to Elandsberg. The tricky Elandsberg portage presented no problems in daylight. Tomorrow a “double” could be on the cards for them.

At Stuttgart tonight are Mike Roy and John Bowen, who came through from Hofmeyr today. They took their time mind you, stopping for 2h at Elandsberg along the way with a further 30min coffee stop at Newlands farm.

A big group beds down at Grootdam tonight – LeeF, GaryG, GaryP, DaveT, Ant and Stu, together with Mike Ward, all doubled up from Elandsberg today.

Jacques Tattersall had an interesting day out, getting himself a bit lost on the Struishoek portage. He made it to Gegun but decided not to press on until tomorrow.

At Toekomst tonight are Maarten, Johann, Ian, Alan and Paul. Maarten arrived with daylight to spare but the rest had to get through the tricky Koedoeskop section in the dark. They pulled it off though and arrived for a late supper at the Toekomst  Lodge.

Making first tracks on the trail at the moment are Gert Peens and Anton Wood. They rode from Gegun, via Toekomst to Bucklands today, a long haul but they are making good progress and now the Baviaanskloof beckons.

19 June - the evening wrap up

Another day of good weather on the trail and good progress was made by most of the riders. 

Currently bringing up the rear of the field and still on her way to Rhodes is Ingrid Avidon. She dropped off the ridge to Tinana just after dark and is staying with Mrs Kibi tonight. The first order of business tomorrow will be to get to Vuvu and depending on how that goes, she may push on to Rhodes.

Staying at Vuvu tonight are Marnitz Nienaber, Stuart Roos, Ivor Jones and Ann Harrison, who all made it through the Vuvu valley with daylight to spare and then proceeded to demolish a few Zamaleks. Arrivng a bit later but also safety in were Tony Wright and Caren Henschel. Tomorrow the goal will be Rhodes.

Rhodes itself was busy again today with the first arrivals being RASA riders Mike Glover and John Exley. They arrived mid afternoon in glorious sunshine and took advantage by doing laundry and even catching a tan on the stoep at Rubicon. Next to arrive were Gawie du Plessis and Mike Woolnough (RTR), also joined by Andrew Barnes (RASA). Mike arrived as the winner of this year’s Race to Rhodes. Andrew had a quick snack and pushed on to Chesneywold where he arrived soon after 8pm.

Janine Stewart arrived a bit later to much applause as the first lady home in the Race to Rhodes. The next bunch in were RTR finishers Andy Wonnacott, Alan Rainnie, Mark Smuts and Ian Privett - a little tired after their late night escapades in the Vuvu valley but all very chuffed to make it to Rhodes and receive their whip.

The late arrivals for the day were RASA riders Nico van Zyl and Mike Devereux. After bike troubles and riding the last two days as a single speed, Nico was finally able to sort his bike out with scavenged parts and will be rolling with gears again tomorrow. 

Theo van Dyk and Fjord Jordaan left Rhodes at 04h00  this morning and rode hard to get through Chesneywold to Slaapkranz and then over the Slaapkranz and Bontehoek portages in fading light. Once over, they continued along the good dirt roads through the Hamlet of Rossouw and got to Moordenaarspoort around 22h20 - a long and productive day for them on the trail.

Not far up the road at Kranskop we have Mike and Ingrid Talbot, Andrew Blackburn, Nic Jordan and Mike Potgieter - they all rode through from Slaapkranz today and arrived before dark. 

Also there is Andrew Hunt who started his day at a farm called Naauwpoort, between the Slaapkranz and Bontehoek portages. He cracked the Bontehoek portage second time around and cruised on to Moordenaarspoort for a meal and then on to reach Kranskop by late afternoon. 

Next up is Pierre Oosthuizen who is still chasing to get to Hofmeyr before the next cut off of 13 days. He needs to make it to Romansfontein tonight to give himself a chance.

Liehann Loots and Beat Jegerlehner left Kranskop early and again rode steadily to reach Romansfontein by sunset - strong and steady as before, they seem to have found their groove. 

Staying in Hofmeyr tonight are Mike Roy and John Bowen. They have made it before their cut off and will continue tomorrow to Elandsberg and then hopefully to Stuttgart. 

At Elandsberg tonight is the group of Lee Fuller, Gary Green, Gary Preston, Ant Jankovic-Bessan, Stu Brew and Dave Telford. Riding strongly from Romansfontein, they had time to scoff pies in the sun in Hofmeyr before dispatching with the Elandsberg portage with light to spare. Tomorrow they could be considering their first double. 

Also at Elandsberg tonight is Mike Ward, he rode through from Romansfontein and arrived just before dark.

Grootdam support station opened today when Anton Wood and Gert Peens passed through around midday. They snacked and then pushed on to Gegun where they are staying tonight.

Staying at Grootdam tonight are Johann Rissik, Ian Verwayen, Alan Haupt, Paul Dalton and Maarten Witters - all took a relatively short day today, riding through from Stuttgart. 

And then there’s Jacques Tattersall who seems to be a bit of a night owl. He started in Hofmeyr this morning and arrived at Grootdam soon after 11pm. He’s been riding solo for a while now, so will be happy to finally have some company for tomorrow.

20 June - the 2015 Race to Rhodes

Woolnough takes the Race 2 Rhodes, with riding partner Janine Stewart in 2nd place

One of the veterans of the Freedom Challenge, Mike Woolnough, tweeted yesterday that it was his 13th climb up the Lehanas Pass portage on his way over the Drakensberg to the Race 2 Rhodes finish line in Rhodes. And he had to get a move on for his win, not because of any serious opposition on the hill down from Naude’s Nek but because he said that “it would have been a hollow victory if a RASA (Race Across South Africa) rider had reached Rhodes before him. He therefore had to keep pace with RASA leader, Andrew Barnes, who was speeding towards Rhodes yesterday afternoon.

Woolnough got into Rhodes at 14h50 along with Barnes, for a race winning time of 3 days, 8 hours and 50 minutes. This is slower than his sub-3 day time of last year, but weather conditions were perhaps a little different this year, with some strong headwinds on the Ntsikeni-Masakala stage. But who cares? A win’s a win, and he did more than enough to never seriously be threatened.....unless his riding partner Janine Stewart were to stage a “surprise breakaway”. As it was, she slowed down on the way down from Naudes Nek to Rhodes, reportedly hurting badly from shin splints. But Stewart nevertheless hung in to claim 2nd overall place, finishing at 16h56 in a time of 3 days, 10 hours and 56 minutes, all in all a great effort by her too.

Arno Crous and Eddie Stafford were joint 3rd.

The Race 2 Rhodes is only 3 years old, and already has proved to be a great success. This year was the 1st year in which it was a “stand alone” race. In the previous 2 years, the RASA riders were also regarded as participants in the Race 2 Rhodes. This gave Graham Bird a “double” in 2014, winning both the Race 2 Rhodes and the RASA.  The shift towards it being a separate event could ultimately see a “Race 2 Rhodes” specialist emerge in the coming years, with a very different strategy to the RASA riders. Whereas the RASA riders need to sleep from early on in the race, because of the extreme distance of that event, the Race 2 Rhodes, by contrast, may well see the winners in future going almost non-stop to Rhodes with very little, if any sleep.

This shorter version of the Freedom Challenge already has a larger starting number of riders than the longer RASA version. Given the work and family pressures of the modern day household, it certainly is a lot more “manageable” for many. So perhaps the Race 2 Rhodes is a future “growth area” of the Freedom Challenge.

By John Loos (Blanket/Whip)

19 June - the race is hotting up

Barnes reclaims the Yellow Jersey at Rhodes after James has a bad night in the Vuvu Valley

The sleeping vs riding time debate simmers in the background in this year’s RASA, and at the current time it appears to be the “pro-sleep” camp that has the upper hand. Yesterday afternoon, then second-placed Andrew Barnes pulled up “short” at Tinana Mission and had a good night’s sleep in a warm bed. He arrived at Tinana late afternoon, about 16 minutes after then-leader Tim James. Barnes left Tinana this morning at just after 05h00, aiming to reach the next potential “navigation hazard” that is the Vuvu Valley during daylight. He did this, and negotiated his way through the valley in about two hours to reach Vuvu at around 8h15. He was on his way around 9h00 after breakfast, took on the great Lehanas Pass portage, and steamed into Rhodes at speed with Race 2 Rhodes winner Mike Woolnough at around 14h50, to reclaim the Yellow Jersey which he had last worn at Allendale support station on the 1st day of the race.

Barnes’ arrival at 14h50 meant that he had a 2 hour and 10 minute lead over joint 2nd placed Theo van Dyk and Fjord Jordaan as at Rhodes arrival. Barnes didn’t hang around long, speeding off in the direction of Chesneywold “halfway support station” for a good night’s sleep. At Chesneywold he will have ridden 157km, which includes the bushy Vuvu Valley and the 1000m climb over the Drakensberg via the Lehanas Pass portage.

Tim James’ last 24 hours were somewhat more turbulent than Barnes’. Yesterday evening James had decided to take on the Vuvu Valley instead of resting at Tinana. And the circles on the Tracker reminded us that even the very experienced riders can get the navigation wrong, especially in this valley in darkness. James spent much of the night in the valley seemingly going in circles, appeared to sleep for a while and then start again, only emerging at Vuvu at around 4h40 this morning for some well-earned rest. At 9h25 he was on his way again, but surprised us all by taking the “alternate route” around Lehanas Pass. The route is longer, but is mostly rideable, unlike the Lehanas portage, and suggests James being reluctant to carry his bicycle for any significant distance, as he would have had to do in the Lehanas Pass option. Is he nursing something on his upper body?

The round trip up Naudes Neck to Rhodes is longer, and James took about 9 hours to Rhodes, arriving at about 18h30. This put him back in 4th place as at Rhodes arrival, and the slow time between Vuvu and Rhodes appears to reflect some tiredness after a torrid night out in the valley. James appears to be taking a sleep stop at Rhodes, and he probably needs it.

Earlier in the day, Steve Burnett, one of the twitter followers, fuelled the sleep vs ride debate by tweeting an interesting statistic in which it was claimed that up until this morning at Vuvu, James had ridden 62 hours and rested for only 13 hours, while Barnes had ridden for 50 hours and rested for a more substantial 25 hours. Van Dyk and Jordaan also appear to be following a strategy with significant rest. Perhaps this strategy is starting to win? But its early days, only 600 odd km into the race.

Barnes could close in on van Dyk and Jordaan tomorrow. He will aim at least for Kranskop support station (137km on) and more likely Brosterlea 167km down the track, with a few portages in between. The weather forecast for the next few days looks good, so he’ll want to put the hammer down and make the most of it. The Eastern Cape High Country can be a miserably cold and wet or snowy place. Dropping down into the lower lying Karoo around Hofmeyr is thus the desirable thing to do before the weather turns.

Fasten your seat belts. The warm up is done and the race is starting.

At the other end of the RASA, the competition has hotted up for the Lantern Rouge, which has changed hands for the 1st time as at Rhodes after being held since Allendale by Pierre Oosthuizen. It gets passed to Mike Roy, who arrived at Rhodes in 7 days 15 hours, 1 hour behind John Bowen (7 days 14 hours) and Pierre Oosthuizen (7 days 12 hours).

By John Loos (Blanket/Whip)

Page 6 of 13

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