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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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