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24 June - the evening wrap up

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.   

24 June - the race is still on

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)

23 June - the evening wrap up

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.

 

Not without a fight

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.

 

Deconstructing the RASA cut offs

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. 

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