New Record: 10 Days 6 Hours and 40 minutes
What a ride! The accolades and congratulations have been pouring in. The day belongs to Martin Dreyer.
After an incredible ride from Maritzburg to Cambria, a sub 10-day finish seemed possible, almost inevitable. Then Martin rode headlong into ferocious winds that wore him down. However, he never relented or held back his efforts. At 6pm yesterday evening, he arrived at Trouthaven, and with 12 hours on hand to traverse Stettyns, it still seemed that a sub 10-hour time was possible. But it ain’t over until the irascible mistress, Stettyns, says it’s over.
Even Martin’s subject to and affected by the caprices of the Freedom trail, and that’s what makes the Freedom Challenge unique – it’s no pushover. It constantly reminds even the best of contenders that no one conquers the Freedom Challenge. Martin knows this better than anyone. He’s had to test her every mood and whim to complete the race in 10 days, now twice. His finishing effort and time this year is the real deal.
Martin dealt with Stettyns demons, endured a tough night in the rough, came through and improved on his own record time set in 2012 by 10 hours. To achieve this, he averaged 19 hours a day in the saddle. He now joins Tim James as the only 3-time winners of RASA. His finish time of 10d6h40m is a phenomenal endurance endeavour, a world class performance. Will his record stand for a long time? In my opinion, yes. Anyone with aspirations of bettering Martin’s performance will need to be incredibly talented, extremely well prepared, have extensive course knowledge and be prepared to endure and push his physical limits and personal endurance boundaries to the brink of exhaustion. There can’t be many candidates with the attributes that fit the bill and who are prepared to go as deep into the hurt locker as Martin is prepared to go.
While the Freedom Challenge community was holding its breath, watching and absorbing Martin’s superman efforts, the rest of the field have been engaged in their own personal battles and difficulties.
Chief statistician, Carl Scholtz, reports that there were 48 starters this year and there have been 9 withdrawals thus far. All riders have now entered the Baviaanskloof or forged beyond. Most of those who get this far on the trail, persevere to the finish at Diemersfontein.
The Leon Erasmus and Jacques Tattersall partnership was reunited after a brief enforced split in Mordor due to a mechanical. Although their race has been somewhat overshadowed by Martin’s solo efforts at the front, they’ve kept their heads down and are putting in a sterling performance. They are closing in on Diemersfontein, are in joint second place and are set for an impressive finishing time. They’ve passed through Anysberg and might not rest until they get to Trouthaven late tonight to get ready for the big push to the finish tomorrow.
The other long term relationship between Fjord Jordaan and Mike Potgieter also came to an end in the Baviaans with Fjord surging on ahead. Fjord is staying over at Anysberg and might try for Trouthaven tomorrow. Mike is also riding impressively and they might well overnight together, or he might stop short at Rouxpos.
Tim James and Marnitz Nienaber have been putting in the hard yards for a few days now and are another pair chasing hard for top 5 positions. They’ve gone through Prince Albert, and Marnitz has hunkered down in Gamkaskloof for the night with an upset stomach. But that won’t stop him from soldiering on tomorrow. Will Tim stay over or take on The Ladder in the dark and overnight at Rouxpos? Waffles have a siren call.
Batch 4 breakaways, Andrew Ryan, Bugs du Toit and Gavin Robinson have been on the charge and by mid-afternoon found themselves with Batch 2 frontrunner Gerhard Dreyer at Prince Albert. All four of them have foregone the trappings of Dennehof and are headed into the mysterious valley of Gamkaskloof for the night.
Kevin Meier and Derrick Bingham have bedded down in Dennehof this evening. Joining them are the irrepressible and tenacious Estelle Labuschagne with Johnny Anderton in tow. Sole Batch 1 survivor, Shane Little has grimly had his head down on the tough flat, sandy section and will also be in Prince Albert tonight.
Alex March, Gary Preston, Andy Wonnacott, Sean Preston, Dirk Botha and Francois du Toit are all on the long haul between Willowmore and Prince Albert. It’s anybody’s guess where they’ll rest up tonight but they might elect to stop at Rondawel. As an overnight stop, Rondawel has never been as busy as it has been this year.
The Batch 3 train of Greg Simmons, Trevor Elliot, Ray Sephton, Shaun Tischendorf, Jan van der Putte and Brad van der Westhuizen have all made Willowmore and will enjoy the evening at The Willow. A few beers will be drunk in the quirky bar, no doubt. Also headed for The Willows tonight, but won’t make it for evening sundowners, are George Oertel, the brother’s Payne, Mike Nixon, Leon Kruger and Ingrid Avidon.
Bringing up the rear, enjoying themselves thoroughly and just starting their Baviaans journey are Bruce McQueen, Anton and Adam Wood as well as Michael and Ingrid Talbot. BAA and Minky are at Cambria tonight and will ride the Kloof tomorrow.
Martin has deservedly been crowned king, but there’s still a lot of racing and adventure left in this year’s RASA. Each and every blanket must be earned, and that’s the way it should be.
Peter Stephens (Blanket Wearer)
Spotlight on this year's winner
Martin Dreyer arrived at Diemersfontein in Wellington today, crossing the finish line at 12h40. He left Pietermaritzburg on Tuesday 13 June and his official finishing time this year is 10d6h40min, beating his own race record by exactly 10 hours.
From the moment the last racing batch hit the road through the Bisley Nature Reserve, it was clear that they all meant business and the initial pace was hot. Although things settled down during the course of the morning, Martin kept the pressure on - his first day ending at Glen Edward that night at 22h30. An impressive first day’s riding which saw him covering two and a half stages of the route in one push. This wasn’t the end of it though, as he put in a similar effort on his second day by reaching Vuvu soon after nightfall. A few hours sleep there and he was off to tackle Lehanas which meant he arriving in Rhodes just shy of 48h after he had left PMB.
From there he built a gap of nearly 24h over both the current record and his closest rivals. Many will point to the good weather as a contributing factor for his sustained quick pace and this was indeed a help in the first 6 days of his ride but the mental and physical demands of those long sustained days on the bike are still enormous.
Things changed when he turned west to start the journey up the Baviaanskloof. In what he described as his 'toughest day ever on a bike' he fought persistent headwinds and cold temperatures on the way to Willowmore. The trying conditions persisted for the next 2 days which meant his pace slowed gradually as he fought to maintain his momentum. He was still able to keep moving forward and maintain his lead over his pursuers, as they were battling the same conditions out on the trail.
Coming in to the last support station at Trouthaven, he was still on track for a possible sub 10 day finish and after a short stop there to refuel, he headed off to Stettynskloof in the darkness. What ensued was a night he would rather forget - his initial progress was swift but at the end of the new path, he found himself on unfamiliar terrain. Trying to find some recognisable features, he criss crossed the side of the valley with only his headlamp to light the way. A fall in a freezing river left him drenched and frozen but he kept moving to keep warm. After a few more hours of searching for a way out, he finally stopped to rest and wait for dawn, hoping that daylight would bring with it the solution. As is often the case, the sunlight brought clarity and he finally started making his way up and out of the kloof. The new day brought clear skies and the sun shone down on him as he pedalled the remaining kilometres to Diemersfontein. His arrival at the finish was an emotional reunion with his family and some friends - a mixture of excitement, relief and awe.
One thing that became evident as Martin made his way down the trail this year, was the positive way in which he engaged with fellow riders he met along the way - as he caught up to and passed other riders, he took time to chat and was always encouraging and friendly. Many riders were buoyed by these interactions, helping them to continue with their respective journeys feeling renewed. A testament to the spirit of this event and the remarkable character of the man.
Well done Martin on a phenomenal ride and for inspiring others along the way.
The Final Push
Normally when riders reach Trouthaven they stop for the night before the final push to Diemersfontein. Nothing is easy in the Freedom Challenge, and this is particularly true for the last day. Riders face the toughest challenge of the race in the 13km that is Stettynskloof.
Just the name of the place can strike fear into even seasoned Blanker Wearers. What starts as a beautiful valley surrounded by epic craggy peaks quickly becomes a claustrophobic nightmare. After 1km the path becomes less distinct and riders are forced to battle their way through thick vegetation, across rivers, and over large boulders. Unrelenting, even the exit is a steep hike-a-bike up a precarious slope.
Martin Dreyer, however, is no normal rider. Already legend in Freedom Challenge circles as the current record holder of both RASA and RTR, fans and spectators of the race were hoping to witness something amazing when they saw his name on the roster. He has not disappointed.
Arriving at Trouthaven at 17h40 he stayed for only an hour before setting out at last light. Beating his previous record of 10d16h40m was almost a certainty but the real question had become - can finish under 10 days? He had his work cut out for him. He had 11h30, which under good conditions should be very doable (the author has managed 9h30), but at night and with light rains there was not much of a buffer. The river was high after recent rains but the drought had thinned the vegetation and the recent clearing of the original firebreak path about two thirds up the valley offered some respite (no doubt good news for those following).
After a long night of dot watching, it was clear to see the impact of the newly cleared path, as he made good progress along the valley. But the last third of the valley has proven to be just a unrelenting as before - his dot tracing a sqiggly line as he fought to find a way through the thick bush. Realising that making it by 6am this morning was no longer possible, Martin appears to have stopped for a nap, possibly to wait for sunrise and the fresh perspective that it brings. In daylight it will be far easier to see a line through the bush towards the exit slope. There's no real rush now either, as he is comfortably within finishing before his current record time. After his relentless chase across the country for the last 10 days, he may finally be able to relax and really enjoy his last few hours on the trail.
Liehann Loots (Blanket Wearer)
The weather ups the ante
Hectic wind and rain played havoc with rider ambitions today. Up front, lone ranger, Martin Dreyer, has battled the elements which seem intent on spoiling his attempt to lower the record from 10 days 16 hours. However, as he takes on the notorious Stettyns Kloof tonight, he will be conscious of the finish line and nothing is going to stop him, not wind, rain, protea bushes or darkness.
Stettyns Kloof falls under Cape Nature and they have raised issues with riders camping out and hiking different routes in attempts to find easier/better lines. They have re-opened a firebreak (with the help of Theo van Dyk - Blanket Wearer) which will help with some of the bundu bashing. It doesn't make the kloof easier, especially when you're the first to traverse it in this year's race.
Behind Martin by some way but still on target for a magnificent result are Jacques Tattersall and Leon Erasmus. Leon missed the Baviaanskloof virtual gate but with the enforced rest, charged through to catch up with his riding partner. They have cleared Die Leer, and are on their way to Rouxpos despite rain and dark.
A few riders holed up today and have started late, hoping that the wind will die off. Another duo has split up with Fjord Jordaan holding steady and riding through Prince Albert and onto the Swartberg Pass. Mike Potgieter took some strain today with uncharacteristic navigational errors and a long haul to Rondavel. He spent the afternoon there, hoping the wind will die down this evening. He left for Prince Albert and if he is recovered enough, perhaps even on to Gamkaskloof (Die Hel).
Arriving at Rondavel this evening are Bugs du Toit, Gavin Robinson, Gerhard Dreyer and the unlucky Andrew Ryan. Andrew's rear thru' axle broke so they are hoping to make a bush fix until they can get to Prince Albert for a spare and a time penalty. They'll be hoping for better weather conditions tomorrow too.
Further back in Willowmore, similar strategies have evolved. Tim James left Damsedrif at about 11pm but also took strain getting to the small Karoo town. Marnitz Nienaber left at 3am, picking up Tim on the way and getting in around midday. They opted to take the time to sleep and left late afternoon to make use of less wind and a long final push to the finish.
Still ensconced in Willowmore are Shane Little, Kevin Meier and Derrick Bingham. They will be joined later tonight by Estelle Labuschagne and Johnny Anderton. These two may have made the right move, moving through the night while conditions are calmer.
Damsedrif is packed out tonight. The big group of Ray Sephton, Jan van der Putte, Greg Simmons, Andy Wonnacott, Sean Privett, Gary Preston, Alex March, Shaun Tischendorf and Trevor Elliot left Kudu Kaya at 5.30am but once again, weather curtailed any ambitions of reaching Willowmore in one go.
About to join them are Dirk Botha, Brad van der Westhuizen and Francois du Toit. Brad will be chuffed to reunite with his original group. They left Hadley at 3.30am and slipped through the Baviaanskloof gate after a quick turnaround at Kudu Kaya. A sterling effort.
Waiting their turn to tackle the Baviaanskloof are Mike Nixon, Leon Kruger, George Oertel, Nigel and Adrian Payne and the effervescent Ingrid Avidon. They'll be hoping for better weather as well in order to make the double up to Willowmore. However, the Death by Chocolate at Damsedrif might have another say in the matter.
Closing the support stations are the final group on the trail of Mike and Ingrid Talbot, Adam and Anton Wood and Bruce McQueen. Citing the cold wind as the reason for staying over at Bucklands, they'll have a big push to get through the Osseberg tomorrow. That is, if the hosts at Hadley, don't entice them to stay.
From the Baviaanskloof, it's possible to do double-up days all the way to Trouthaven...that is, if the weather is kind. Let's hope it is.
Fiona Coward (Blanket Wearer)
As riders reach the Baviaanskloof section of the trail, they turn westwards and start their journey up the kloof on what some refer to as the 'home straight'. Despite still being 800km from the finish, the pull of home can be felt more strongly. Although the riding is by no means easier, riders are now accustomed to the long days in the saddle and familiar with the process of navigation, all of which lead to a gradual acceleration by all towards the finish.
Yesterday saw Martin Dreyer continue his lone charge at the front. Although showing signs of fatigue, he kept the pedals turning and rode from Gamkaskloof to Montagu, with the customary stop at Rouxpos to enjoy the waffles and ice cream from Ronel’s kitchen.
Behind him Jacques Tattersall rode alone for another day, starting his ride at Dam se Drif and eventually stopping at Rondawel for some sleep. His progress has been somewhat pedestrian of late, as he soft pedals his way along, waiting for his riding mate Leon Erasmus to catch up after they were separated by the virtual gate into the Baviaanskloof. Leon obliged by closing the gap last night at Rondawel, after a long chase back from Kudu Kaya. He’ll be tired from his efforts but tomorrow they’ll be riding together again.
Fjord Jordaan and Mike Potgieter also had a big day yesterday, arriving in Willowmore for a late supper. Fjord was not done though and headed off into the night again, while Mike opted to sleep and leave early in the morning.
Willowmore also played host to a few other riders who made the long trek through the Baviaanskloof yesterday: Gerhard Dreyer arrived in good spirits as always and after a hearty supper, headed off to bed. A while later, Bugs du Toit, Gavin Robinson and Andrew Ryan arrived. They have been riding steadily together the whole way and tomorrow will see them aiming for Prince Albert.
A little further back and still in the Baviaanskloof, the cat and mouse games between Tim James and Marnitz Nienaber continue. They both stopped to sleep a bit at Dam se Drif, before continuing at different times during the night. They could well end up together again in Willowmore. Also at Dam se Drif were Kevin Meier, Derek Bingham and Shane Little, who had all ridden through from Kudu Kaya. They spent the afternoon relaxing, eating, resting and raiding boxes.
Waiting for their turn through the kloof was the large group at Kudu Kaya: Estelle Labuschagne, Johnny Anderton, Ray Sephton, Shaun Tischendorf, Jan vd Putte, Greg Simmons, Trevor Elliot, Gary Preston, Alex March, Sean Privett and Andy Wonnacott. A mixed group made up of riders from various batches, they all got to share some birthday cake with the birthday boy, Jan vd Putte, who turned 50 and celebrated it in fine style at Kudu Kaya.
Brad vd Westhuizen has ridden solo the last few days but was joined at Hadley by Dirk Botha and Francois du Toit. With the luxury of a long rest in the afternoon and the company of Bennie and Anien to entertain them, they will be fighting fit when they take on the Osseberg.
Back at Bucklands, the trio of Nigel and Adrian Payne and George Oertel were joined by Leon Kruger and Ingrid Avidon. The trio continue their steady and calculated ride while the other two start to slowly accelerate towards the end. Leon unfortunately lost the company of his son David, who had to stop at Toekomst and leave the trail to return to work commitments.
Which brings us to the sweepers for this year: the brothers Wood, Anton and Adam, together with fellow farmer Bruce McQueen and also the husband and wife pairing of Michael and Ingrid Talbot. They rode through from the fabulous Jakkalsfontein to overnight at Toekomst. Fro there they will head for Bucklands and line up for their turn through the Baviaanskloof.
With the first rider expected home before the weekend, the last riders out on course still have about week’s riding ahead of them but for all riders, thoughts of home will be foremost on their minds.
The Trail can be Cruel
It’s been a day of drama out on the trail. The jovial snippets and interesting pictures surfacing on social media masked the cold and windy conditions but the headline today was dominated by the unfortunate and untimely mechanical of second-placed Leon Erasmus that resulted in him missing the 13h00 entry cut-off into the Baviaanskloof.
At the sharp end of the field, it’s been a testing 24 hours for Martin Dreyer. He arrived at Willowmore shortly before 3h00 this morning and left a few hours later after a shower and a brief rest, a ride he described as his toughest day ever on a bicycle. He arrived in Prince Albert (152km) around 18h00 this evening, still 22 hours ahead of record pace and left after supper for his final push to Diemersfontein.
Second-placed Leon Erasmus and Jacques Tattersall left Hadley at 5h15 this morning after a good rest, leaving a tight but doable schedule into Kudu Kaya to make the 13h00 Baviaans gate cut-off. They made quick work of the renowned Osseberg and Grootrivierpoort portage before disaster struck for Leon. He had suffered a side wall cut through Koedoeskop Reserve yesterday which came unstuck at the final river crossing out of the portage today. The two riding buddies were forced to split up as Leon pushed his bike for 2.5 hours over the last 9km into Kudu Kaya while Jacques rode on the make the cut-off.
Leon is joined at Kudu Kaya tonight by Shane Little, Fjord Jordaan, Mike Potgieter, Kevin Meier, Derrick Bingham, Gerhard Dreyer, Gavin Robinson, Bugs du Toit and Andrew Ryan. There will no doubt we some war stories to share between the ten of them but they would want to optimise their rest and line up at the Baviaans gate at 6h00 for their day up the beautiful Baviaanskloof.
Johnny Anderton and Estelle Labuschange pulled up the handbrake at Hadley this afternoon where they will enjoy the renowned hospitality of host Bennie who may well be the King of Kuier along the trail. They will be joined by Tim James and Marnitz Nienaber who continued their charge through the field today and were approaching Hadley early evening. Tim and Marnitz have spent many hours together on the trail and will likely enjoy a bit of a rest before they head off to cross the Osseberg in the dark. Their general disregard for sleep-related activity combined with their combined 12 blankets and night riding experience will probably get them to Cambria by early morning.
Batch 3’s ride as a unit came to an end yesterday as Brad van der Westhuizen remained at Gegun last night while the rest rode on to either Koedoeskop or Toekomst. Ray Sephton, Jan van der Putte, Shaun Tischendorf, Greg Simmonds, Trevor Elliot, Alex March, Gary Preston regrouped at Bucklands tonight from where they will head for Cambria tomorrow.
Brad reached Kleinpoort early evening to join Sean Privett and Andy Wonnacot in time to enjoy the spoils of Kleinpoort Padstal. Dirk Botha and Francois du Toit are a few kilometres out and will probably also stay at Kleinpoort tonight. All five these riders left from Gegun this morning but rode different schedules and they may well decide to team up tomorrow for some trail company.
Adrian and Nigel Payne and George Oertel are strong and very experienced mountain bikers who have chosen to journey their way along the trail this year well within their abilities as opposed to racing it. They have enjoyed the support station hospitality, have ridden in daylight and have taken many pictures. Nigel’s positive and appreciating social media comments will no doubt inspire many arm chair supporters to start pencilling in a trip down the trail on their bucket list. They stopped at Toekomst tonight and will probably head for Bucklands tomorrow.
Leon and David Kruger, Ingrid Avidon and Mike Nixon seem to have completed their group bonding process and have been sharing space for a few days now. They left Newlands this morning, conquered the Schurfteberg and were on track to arrive at Gegun early evening. Leon at age 63 is the oldest rider in the race this year and has come very well prepared both physically and with regard to navigation. Strong as an ox, he’ll be the one keeping the group together and showing them the way.
Brothers Anton and Adam Wood and Bruce McQueen left from Elandsberg this morning and rode through to the new support station at Jakkalsfontein. They are joined there tonight by Michael and Ingrid Talbot who left from Hofmeyr in the early hours this morning and have caught up with the Mpumalanga farmers who started a day ahead of them. Their departure tomorrow will close this new support station which by all accounts has been a very popular addition to the Freedom Challenge family.
In the ladies’ race, three ladies remain. Ingrid Talbot has covered half a day more than Ingrid Avidon to date and is the virtual leader whilst Estelle Labuschagne (60) has covered the most distance ahead of the rest and occupies the final podium position. These positions may well have more significance to spectators and dot watchers than the ladies themselves who have ridden brave and strong races so far and will be taking their rides one day at a time focussed on a finish.
Carl Scholtz (Whip, Windmill and Gate Owner)