Reflecting on RASA 2017
How does anyone do justice to the three week orgy of pain, suffering and celebration. The ability for non-riders to watch friends, family and legends struggle, endure and enjoy makes this a parallel train track. Those on the trail and those on the website. Some have been there and re-live every twist and turn all over again, while others watch the colour streams inching their way from support station to the next and shake their heads. As Whip Bearer, Rob Collier said, “There were two extremes for me. Watching Martin Dreyer hit Rhodes in under 48 hours and watching Floris Botha struggling on a daily basis. Both extreme athletes in their own right.” And that, friends, is the RASA in a nutshell. It's not about genetics. It's about endurance, determination, bloody-mindedness and a will to get to the end.
However, even the best and most prepared fall prey to the whims of the trail and body. Heartbreak stories abound. John Meterlekamp reached Glen Edward only to hear he had lost his house in the Knysna fires. John Bowen put it all on the line to reach Hofmeyer before the cut-off only to withdraw because of his damaged ribs from an earlier fall. Philippa Crocker, all the way from England, won our hearts with her tenacity but in the end, withdrew as she struggled to make each day. The cumulative fatigue, the cold and the stresses around navigating make it tough on even the most experienced. Novice, Floris Botha, also made it to Hofmeyer before calling it a day. His own nemesis was navigation which made for long days but he hung on and hung on earning the dot watchers respect.
Leon van der Nest, one time RASA finisher, was also unable to collect his second blanket, leaving the race at Tenahead, just outside of Rhodes. Stewart Lombard and Annie Labuschagne, both experienced riders and Windmill and Whip owners, were also forced to withdraw at Chesneywold for injuries. Father and son combo from East London, Leon and David Kruger cruised their way down the trail until David (the son) had to return to work. He left the trail at Toekomst. One of the toughest calls was Derrick Bingham who reached Montagu, so close to the end, before withdrawing with a blown achilles tendon. And in the last start batch, where the rivalry between Alex Harris (two time winner) and Martin Dreyer (record holder) promised an extraordinary race but fizzled when Alex withdrew at Glen Edward with a chest infection.
So perhaps the rivalry fizzled, but riders and supporters were treated to some of the most remarkable efforts in the history of the race. Martin Dreyer scorched through the route, reaching Rhodes in an incredible sub-48 hours. This set him up for a record breaking ride despite many kilometres still to go. He did not disappoint. He charged through the field reaching Trouthaven (the last support station) with about 24 hours in hand to beat his record and about 12 hours to lower it to below 10 days. As the only rider to attempt Stettynskloof in the dark this year, he and all of us were reminded how there are always stings in the tail. Yet, his indefatigable attitude got him over the finish line, still lowering the record by 10 hours. A true champion.
Rounding out the podium places were Jacques Tattersall and Leon Erasmus. Apart from a short-lived separation in the Baviaanskloof due to a mechanical, these two pushed each other relentlessly in search of a good finish. For a while, they looked good for coming in under the old record as well, but tough riding conditions and a head wind from hell put paid to that. Their 11 days 14 hours still ranks among the top rides of all time.
This year also saw the awarding of a 7th blanket to Marnitz Nienaber, and also to the most decorated RASA rider, Tim James. That's quite incredible and we can expect to see them back again. Mention must be made of Fjord Jordaan and Mike Potgieter who were also challengers for a top five finish. They rode together until Willowmore when the bad weather hit. Fjord forged through it gaining time on his riding companion and finished in 13 days, one day ahead of Mike.
This year was also characterised by large groups sticking together. The last two days in Stettynskloof had twelve and thirteen riders respectively forging a path up it's gnarly banks. Strength in numbers perhaps? The race wouldn't be complete without someone sleeping rough. This year, that honour goes to Estelle Labuschagne, who slept out not once, but twice. (The third time was at a farm near Seweweekspoort) Accepting her third blanket, we get the feeling that she didn't think twice about it. It simply had to be done.
Collecting a second blanket is Ingrid Talbot who took line honours for the women this year. She and husband Michael (known as team Minky), crossed the line in under 18 days. Five women lined up at the start with three finishing. The other woman to finish was Ingrid Avidon who set about raising money for the Freedom Challenge Scholarship Fund. As she tweeted her way down the trail, she was also strongly motivated to collect her second blanket and support scholars at the Mariazell Secondary School near Malekgolonyane.
Most groups combined experience with newcomers. Novices receiving their blankets this year are: Shane Little, Johnny Anderton, Kevin Meier, Jan van der Putte, Greg Simmons, Gary Preston, Alex March, Trevor Elliot, Gerhard Dreyer, Shaun Tischendorf, Andrew Ryan, George Oertel, Nigel Payne, Adrian Payne, , Adam Wood, Bruce McQueen, Mike Nixon and Dirk Botha. Congratulations on your achievement and may your blanket bring you many happy memories.
Having done the trail once before helps in the mental and physical preparation. Yet, riders never know what will be thrown at them, testing their mettle. Even the most battle hardened, will have to dig deep. To those who have achieved blankets a second time around or more, we salute your tenacity. Congratulations to Bugs du Toit, Gavin Robinson, Anton Wood, Leon Kruger (oldest man in the race at 64), Sean Privett, Andy Wonnacott, Francois du Toit and Brad van der Westhuizen.
You may think that's a wrap but it's not over, there are still the shorter versions of RASA to look forward to such as Spring Ride to Rhodes, Race to Cradock and Race to Willowmore. Plan your diaries and sign up for an adventure of your own.
Fiona Coward (Blanket Wearer)
RASA 2017 Finishing times:
Martin Dreyer - 10d6h40min
Jacques Tattersall & Leon Erasmus - 11d15h5min
Tim James - 13d9h15min
Fjord Jordaan - 13h11h17min
Mike Potgieter - 14d9h45min
Marnitz Nienaber - 14d10h22min
Bugs du Toit & Andrew Ryan - 17d8h15min
Michael & Ingrid Talbot - 17d9h46min
Gavin Robinson - 17d10h9min
Francois du Toit & Dirk Botha - 17d11h26min
Leon Kruger - 17d12h36min
Ingrid Avidon - 17d12h36min
Andy Wonnacott & Sean Privett - 18d7h38min
Anton Wood, Adam Wood & Bruce McQueen - 18d8h
Mike Nixon - 18d12h36min
Gerhard Dreyer - 19d8h15min
Adrian Payne, Nigel Payne & George Oertel - 19d12h38min
Kevin Meier - 20d11h26min
Gary Preston & Alex March - 20d12h25min
Ray Sephton, Shaun Tischendorf & Jan vd Putte - 21d10h20min
Brad vd Westhuizen - 21d11h
Trevor Elliot & Greg Simmons - 21d11h
Estelle Labuschagne - 22d4h30min
Johnny Anderton - 22d12h2min
Shane Little - 23d12h2min
The Final Race Report for RASA 2017, but wait there’ll be more…
The final curtain comes down on RASA 2017 today and it was fitting that the weather was fine with clear blue skies for the final batch of 13 diverse and colourful riders who set out from Trouthaven to tackle Stettynskloof this morning.
In total, 14 riders are expected across the finish line into Diemersfontein today to claim their deserved blankets. Estelle Labushagne failed to complete her journey yesterday and was forced to spend her second night out rough during her adventure this year. Estelle was agonizingly no more than a hundred or so meters from the jeep track at the top of Stettyns gorge last night when she stopped and hunkered down for the night. Had she found the jeep track she would’ve been able to complete her journey last night, albeit that it would’ve been a late finish. However, she couldn’t quite make the connection to the track at the top of the final scramble at the top of Stettyns and had to endure another night out in the cold. Ben de Lange quipped that she didn’t want to inconvenience the reception party by keeping them up unduly late. But, true to Estelle’s indomitable spirit, she merely picked up the pieces at first light this morning and simply got back on with the job on hand. Once Estelle got her early morning bearings, she made good progress and rolled into Diemersfontein, without any further ado, to a warm welcome at 10:30, having spent 30 hours on the mountain.
Setting out from Trouthaven sensibly at 5:00 this morning was Batch 3 brigade, comprising Trevor Elliot, Shaun Tischendorf, Greg Simmons, Ray Sephton, Jan van de Putte and Brad van der Westhuizen.
Joining the Batch 3’s on an early start was the other trail alliance merger of ABA and Minky, comprising Mike and Inky Talbot, Adam and Anton Wood as well as Bruce McQueen.
Appropriately, starting off a little later than the rest were the recent hedonistic pairing of Johnny Anderton and Shane Little. They were still shrugging off trail indulgence lethargy and other pleasantries and got off to a leisurely start to their last day on the trail. They’ve eked out the gratifications of the trail, taking the philosophical approach that if you’re not racing, why make haste? The pair made heavy weather early on and only cleared the head of the dam at 8:00. They continued to lag just behind the pack throughout the day’s proceedings and rightfully laid claim this year’s RASA Lanterne Rouge jersey.
The early going up the valley was spearheaded by the ABA troika, followed by the Batch 3’ers with Minky in attendance in the mix just behind them. The full group made steady headway, with ABA arriving at the base of the steep exit climb out of Stettyns gorge around 10:45. At about the same time Shane and Johnny arrived at the Avatar like, surreal, floating, self-supporting vegetation obstacle. Whereas the rest of the pack had traversed the labyrinth up high, appropriately Shane and Johnny went low, skirting under Lady Stettyn’s petticoats.
ABA crested the climb, out of temptress Stettyn’s grasp in short shrift, and were onto the Jeep track home just before noon and got the finish at Diemersfontein at 14:00 for a pizza lunch. A very good day’s work.
Meanwhile, back in the valley of sin, Ingrid and Mike had edged ahead of the Farmers who collectively went into laager mode through the maze muddle, but everyone regrouped at the base of the steep climb out. Everyone, that is, barring Little Johnny who were still fighting the good fight a bit further back. Ingrid and Mike climbed out via the conventional route, but the Farmers went deeper into the kloof before scrambling up. The two groups emerged together just before the start of the Jeep track. The conclusion to be reached is that the better choice of line to take is inconclusive. Little Johnny crossed the river early, having stayed in touch with the two groups ahead, surreptitiously observing the good lines and discarding the minor blunders. They summited at 14:00 and, not being in a particular hurry, had a good rest before pressing on to the finish. What an adventure.
Ingrid and Mike stole away to cross the finish line at 15.46, putting Ingrid in first place in the women's race. The Batch 3 finally split with Ray Sephton, Jan van der Putte and Shaun Tischendorf crossing the line at 16.20.
Trevor Elliot, Greg Simmons and Brad van der Westhuizen followed them in at 17.00. Brad will be relieved to only take one day to conquer Stettynskloof this year. The Lanterne Rouge pair of Shane and Johnny closed this year’s RASA an hour later and will do the traditional celebration with pizza and a bottle of Diemersfontein's finest.
I gotta feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night, that tonight’s gonna be a good, good night. There will be revelry, and no doubt Klein Khaki Shane won’t be a shrinking violet lurking in the background, but will be a prominent participant in the merriment. What a celebration it will be.
Peter Stephens (Blanket Wearer)
Spotlight on the finish line
With multiple riders getting to the finish in the last few days, lets take a look at the recent arrivals:
Kevin Meier arrived on Tuesday in a finishing time of 20d11h26min. As a novice, he rode a steady race and particularly enjoyed the navigation aspect of the challenge. Riding with Derrick Bingham for most of the way, he was disappointed when Derrick had to withdraw in Montagu but was happy to complete his own ride and earn his first FC blanket.
Francois du Toit and Dirk Botha finished with Kevin, although having started in a later batch, their elapsed time was 17d11h26min. For Francois it was his second blanket and for Dirk his first. They rode the whole way together and also shared a few days on the trail with Dirk’s brother, Floris Botha, who sadly withdrew at Hofmeyr.
Andy Wonnacott and Sean Privett arrived at the finish yesterday afternoon after an early start from Trouthaven. For both of them this ride earned them a second blanket in a finishing time of 18d7h38min.
Next to arrive were Gary Preston and Alex March in a time of 20d12h25min. This was Gary’s second blanket, in a slightly quicker tie than his first and for Alex, his first FC blanket.
Crossing the line soon after them were a group of riders: Ingrid Avidon, who earned her second blanket in a time of 17d12h36min and did so in fine style, keeping followers entertained along the way with her humorous messages and photo and video updates - all in aid of charity as she managed to raise nearly R60k for the FC Schorlarship Fund in the process.
With her were Leon Erasmus and Mike Nixon. Leon started out with his son David, who unfortunately had to withdraw at Toekomst. Leon, the oldest competitor in this year’s field (64) put in another solid effort and also improved on his previous time, crossing the line in 17d12h36min for his second blanket. Mike earned his first blanket in a finishing time of 18d12h36min.
The remaining three riders had ridden together from the start and made sure they crossed the finish line in the same fashion: Nigel Payne, his brother Adrian Payne and George Oertel completed their ride in 19d12h38min and earned themselves their first FC blankets. They rode steadily and comfortably and thoroughly enjoyed the whole adventure together.
And then it was the penultimate day
Today’s report is relatively easy to write from the perspective of trying to see who is moving where. In essence, the riders are either leaving Trouthaven for Diemersfontein or are headed to Trouthaven – hopefully, you get the picture – it's focus time for the riders. So lets chat about some of the other interesting stuff – the people finishing this journey in the next few hours. Today I will take the liberty of using their race numbers (some permanent and some prospective), this is significant because for today’s finishers as they will from here on out be known by their permanent numbers. Those resting up at Trouthaven will be very aware of not just getting their blanket, but also putting their name on that leaderboard tomorrow.
Setting out early this morning amid the odd freezing rainshower into Stettyns were riders 19 and 64, Andy Wonnacott and Shaun Privett, both finishing their second RASA today. They made short work of the valley and then took the direct line-of-sight route up and out of the valley. They clearly meant business and scooted into Diemersfontein for lunch. Shaun will be pleased to get his blanket on the lawn in front of the homestead. In 2012 he received it on the banks of the Berg River a week later – he being one of the last to do the Extreme Triathlon. Andy and Shaun are great mates and have deep reverence for what the trail offers, they both make great riding partners being knowledgeable and unflappable. Great ride, guys.
At the time of writing and just about to start the exit out of the valley to the farm Phisantekraal above the N1 was permanent number holder rider 161, being Leon Kruger. Leon had hoped to finish the ride with his son David who had to return home early. While these setbacks might seem minor, many have quit in the past when their riding partners have had to leave the trail. Leon got on with the task and by all accounts, his trail experience has been invaluable to those who have ridden with him at various times during the past few weeks.
Estelle Labuschagne, rider number 55 will be remembered for her night out on the trail. It was at a time when riders were complaining of bitterly cold nights that Estelle found herself alone and lost just short of Toekomst. She settled down and waited for the sun to come up which it did. She didn’t quit, she didn’t throw her toys. Later that morning she had thawed out and was pictured smiling next to Martin Dreyer at one of the mid-morning support stations – showing that she is made of the right stuff and should serve as an inspiration of what to do when the going gets tough. At the time of writing, Estelle was still exiting the Stettynskloof while all the men and Ingrid Avidon were well on their way to the N1. She should find the track before dark, but as we know, that should not concern her, she’ll just be in a bit later tonight.
Next up are the inseparable Adrian (252) and Nigel Payne (251) and their mate George Oertel (255). These three took a break from corporate life and immersed themselves in the trail for three weeks. By all accounts, they have been rewarded with an experience which has suggested they will be back. From the bleakness of the state of South African business, they have seen another side of the breadth of South Africa which gives us hope. They will be remembered for their politeness and manners, which in a world of riders increasingly demanding much from their race organisers is a refreshing approach and one which is consistent with the ethos of the trail where one is hosted as a guest, rather than served as a racer. Well done gents on the manner you have gone about your business.
Leading the aforementioned group out of the valley via the traditional exit is Gary Preston, rider number 211, he’s also set to finish his second RASA. Gary will be finishing alongside his fellow start group rider and mate Alex March (245). Alex has had a very solid outing for his first time on the trail, hardly putting a foot wrong. They will be joined by rider number 52, Ingrid Avidon who is also getting her second blanket. Ingrid has, with a great sense of humour, photoblogged her way down the trail, clearly also enjoying the free spirit experience.
Gary Preston was a joint recipient of the Stone Saddle award in 2015. His efforts to finish and conquer Stettyns were described by fellow blanket wearer Stu Brew as follows, “The final day of RASA requires extended qualities of resilience, tenacity and resolve. In 2015, Gary Preston displayed an awe inspiring depth and the extent to which these attributes can be held within an individual; demonstrating to the rest of us mere mortals that in fact, Stettyns is easy.” Well done Gary for another remarkable effort.
Mike Nixon (224) is one of those riders who has finished every Cape Epic stage ever! – today he finishes another of the big challenges he has taken on in life. The great thing about what he achieves today, is that it is so incomparable to anything else he has ever done. I am sure the last thing on his mind will be comparisons as today will be all about finishing an incredible three week journey where he has met so many different riding mates and different experiences on his mtb. Well done Mike.
So those are the finishers today, a big group and I have no doubt, a very big welcoming party, Diemersfontein is set to celebrate tonight.
Back to Trouthaven. Getting in early were Trevor Elliot (280), Shaun Tischendorf (246), Greg Simmons (197), Ray Sephton aka Barkley Boy (123) and Jan van de Putte. They will have booked early beds at the Trouthaven cottages. Joining them is Brad van der Westhuizen, rider number 170, who will be looking to show the rest of aforementioned, the route to their permanent numbers. My guess is that with the predicted weather being good tomorrow, this group will be headed for a lunchtime finish at Diemersfontein tomorrow. (They have had data signal all afternoon so they will be reading this, please don’t disappoint me, guys. PS. Brad the beer is cold at the end and the Cape rivers just look like beer).
Mike and Inky Talbot as riders number 196 and 195 respectively have lost their sweeper tag today as they prepare to get their second blanket tomorrow. They got into Trouthaven just after lunch with a very brisk rider through from Montagu where they had an early start. Behind them are Johnny Anderton (201) and Shane Little (223). These lads teamed up a day or two ago and appear to have agreed that the Cape winelands and the Breede River Valley are worth taking in. Tomorrow they will go about working off some of the calories they have consumed over the last two days. It wouldn’t surprise me if there is more than energy drinks in their packs for a little pre-celebration in Trouthaven tonight. Well done Johnny, you are nearly 2300km done. I remember our chat earlier this year on a casual ride and you told me all about a thing called the Freedom Challenge that you were going to do.
Bringing it home into Trouthaven by mid-afternoon were the brothers Wood, Anton rider number 135 and Adam (301) along with their riding partner Bruce McQueen (239). Like the Talbots, they too got going very early from Montagu and didn’t spend too much time and effort making their way across the Breede River Valley.
Tomorrow, the final 13 riders should all finish in Diemersfontein. What a celebration that will be.
Charl van der Spuy (Blanket Wearer)
The racing snakes have cleared the decks and our attention is now on the average rider. Although, there are riders out there who are far from average but have chosen to ride day by day and relish the experience of the race. The closing sections of the Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa invokes all manner of emotions for the participants, not to mention the lives of the dot watchers. The racing snakes crunch the numbers factoring distance and speed that allows their average speed to spike up before Stettynskloof damps it down. They are focussed on the end goal which is measured in days and hours and how they will stack up in the top 5 or 10.
Others are getting to the end of a multi-week journey that has in many cases reshaped the way they feel about riding a bike. It matters little if you finish in 10 days + Vat per Martin Dreyer or you take full advantage of the 26 days you are allowed to finish the race. Everyone who finishes gets the same reward - a blanket, a pizza, and the respect of your family and friends. I can assure you that every blanket wrapped around the shoulders of a Freedom Challenge finisher feels as special as the next. At the end of the day, the blanket is not the actual reward, it is merely a symbol of a journey travelled, of a special life experience centered around a bike.
Some people get to Prince Albert and put their heads down and push hard for Diemersfontein because they have been on the trail for weeks and long for the normalcy of their everyday lives. Others have settled into a new normal which they find refreshing and are in no hurry to shed.
Kevin Meier, Francois du Toit and Dirk Botha overnighted at Trouthaven getting on their way at 05h30 to tackle the Beast. They were at the dam wall by 06h30 to start their 7 km trek. Steady progress had them out the Kloof at 14h00. It seems the Rocky Scree is now playing off-Broadway and is no longer the show it once was. Most Kloof visitors opting to take a line that passes north of what used to be a main attraction. As interesting an experience as Stettynskloof is, I think most visitors can't wait for the final act that seems them topping out near the jeep track at the far end with a magical view of the valley below.
They arrived in Diemersfontein just before 5.30pm where Francois received his second blanket while Dirk and Kevin were stripped of their novice titles and formally inducted into the FC Blanket Clan.
Ingrid Avidon left McGregor 04h30 with Gary Preston and Alex March close behind. All three were taken in by the dead end Brandvlei quarry road but corrected quickly without significant loss of time. Alex and Gary arrived at Trouthaven at 11h20 with Ingrid forty minutes adrift. They figured it was safer to call it a day than risk tackling the Kloof in fading light. So it's a short day on the bike (nearly 8 hours - short day in FC speak) with plenty of time to think about what faces them tomorrow. Gary and Ingrid have memories to draw on while Alex will probably get to hear the odd tale or two while they wait.
Andy Wonnacott, Sean Privett and Estelle Labuschagne opted for a later start, heading out at 07h00. They had a clean run into Trouthaven arriving early afternoon adding to the numbers that swelled over the course of the day.
Leon Kruger and Mike Nixon got an early start out of Montagu and were through Ashton around 05h00. At 05h30 they were passing Van Loveren Wine Estate. In spite of a claim by one wine lover that everyone stops there, they didn't; besides, the bistro only opens at 10h00. They pushed on, crossing the Breede river over the steel bridge arriving at McGregor at 07h45. A quick turn around had them back on the road toward Trouthaven. They arrived late afternoon where they will overnight before the final bushwack in the morning.
George Oertel, Nigel and Adrian Payne got away from Montagu at 06h40. By 10h35 they had taken care of business at Pony Cottage in McGregor and headed to Trouthaven arriving at 17h00.
Shane Little and Johnny Anderton opted for leisurely start from Montagu heading out at 08h00 indicating their intention of going "all the way to McGregor", a mere 3-hour ride away if you don't get distracted along the way. They were distracted and timed their arrival at the Van Loveren Bistro perfectly and settled into some good coffee. They rolled into McGregor at noon announcing that they had arrived at Beer o'clock.
On reaching Anysberg, Greg Simmons and Trevor Elliot faced the choice of sharing a double bed or riding on. They left Anysberg at 21h30 and pushed through the night getting to Montagu just before 4am. They stopped to freshen up and catch some Zzz's, presumably in separate beds, and were out the door just after 10h00. An hour later their tracker dots came to a halt outside the seductive bistro. On the road to McGregor they zagged where they should have zigged and took the wrong road to McGregor arriving there at 14h00.
Ray Sephton, Jan van de Putte, Shaun Tischendorf and Brad van der Westhuizen got underway just after 06h00 and made good time arriving in Montagu at 10h30. Less than an hour later they had saddled up and pointed their steeds toward McGregor with nary a glance at the tempting Bistro as they passed. They arrived at Pony Cottage in time for afternoon tea. They called it a day and make up the party of 8 who are calling McGregor home tonight.
Michael and Ingrid Talbot, brothers Adam and Anton Wood and Bruce McQueen left Rouxpos 05h00. The ABA trio surged ahead with Minky rolling up the race trail behind them. It must be stressed that rumours of ABA having a morning habit of singing a tuneless version of Dancing McQueen are thus far unsubstantiated. Besides, what happens on the trail...
With their departure from Rouxpos, Ronel and Gerrit Roux have a stack of empty ice cream tubs and a well-used waffle machine. Rouxpos is known for its waffles and ice cream as much as Damsedrif is known for its Death by Chocolate pudding.
ABA and Minky made short work of the section to Anysberg and were there at 09h15. Just after 10h00 they continued their charge to Montagu. Mike And Ingrid had the bit between their teeth and arrived in Montagu a good thirty minutes ahead of the alleged minstrels. They will rest up tonight and probably head to Trouthaven tomorrow.
The season of dot watching is slowly drawing to a close.
Mike Woolnough (Blanket Wearer)
The Official Race Cut Offs for 2017:
For the Race Across South Africa, a series of rolling cut offs apply along the route. These apply at interim stages of the route and serve as a measure of a rider's progress along the route. If a rider is struggling to beat an interim cut off, it is unlikely that they will be capable of finishing in the required 26 days, hence the interim cut offs have to be met in order to be allowed to continue. If a rider misses a cut off, they are required to leave the route and may not carry on riding along the route.
The cut offs are as follows:
Race Across South Africa:
Rhodes - 8 days;
Hofmeyr - 12 days;
Willowmore - 18 days;
Wellington - 26 days. (final cut off)
And they're off.
All the 2017 riders have hit the trail and are beginning the long trek to Wellington. What a day it's been and at the time of writing this report, the story continues to unfold. It's hard not to focus on the race snakes today, but as one knows, there is no prize for the quickest to Diemersfontein and I seem to think at the gathering of the Freedom Challenge community, the ‘winner’ might not even be acknowledged. This is not ignoring the superhuman feats of those who left this morning, it's just that every single one of the riders out on the course today is involved in some or other personal challenge. So lets start at the front of the trail.
Shane Little left the hospitality of Slaapkrantz this morning and immediately showed that the portages will do little to slow his march across the country tweeting away as he goes. He had a little mishap off the Slaapkrantz portage and ended up with a tiger line. Then he zigged and zagged on the Loutebron portage, hustling to find the track on top. With that section behind him, he was off and reached Krantzkop at 7pm. Sterling work.
Philippa Crocker and John Bowen’s early hours arrival in Rhodes after an epic day from Tinana, saw them recover and regroup today with a later start and made their way to Chesneywold. They are firmly ensconced with Minkie who will be looking after them so well, they may not want to leave. However, they have lost days on the trail and will be mindful of the 13 day cut-off at Hofmeyer. There are not a lot of options to double-up between Chesneywold and there.
Leapfrogging over them are Kevin Meier and Derrick Bingham who took a long way round on the Kapokkraal portage allowing Gerhard Dreyer to pass them and reach the comforts of Slaapkrantz first. Gerhard's haste was because he wanted to get there first and do some laundry, things can get smelly out on the trail after a few days. Also joining them there are Johnny Anderton and Estelle Labuschagne, neither of whom struggled on the portage.
Rhodes is chock-a-block with eleven riders tonight, most of whom will be sighing with relief at having made it through the enormously tough first days of the trail. The Vuvu bunch left at 5am which got them over Lehana and into Rhodes with plenty of time to do admin or just relax. Ray Sephton, Jan van der Putte, Alex March, Greg Simmonds, Trevor Elliot, Gary Preston, Shaun Tischendorf and Brad van der Westhuizen have stuck together until now. Jan is nursing a damaged rear wheel but is still keeping up with the others. Plans are afoot to get a replacement to him in the next few days. Joining them in Rhodes are the trio of Bugs du Toit, Andrew Ryan and Gavin Robinson who did the long haul from Tinana Mission, leaving at 4.30am and gaining a day.
Floris Botha, originally of Batch 1, had also stayed at Tinana but made a horrible mistake leaving the village and lost several hours in the dark this morning. However, he nailed the Vuvu valley and got there at about 12pm. He opted to stay but he must reach Rhodes tomorrow to bear the 8-day cut-off, which lapses at 6am on Thursday morning.
Joining him at Tinana for the night were the Payne brothers, Adrian and Nigel as well as George Oertel. These guys have not put themselves under any pressure but are reaching their daily goals with consummate ease. They took the old route down to the Tina River but had no problems picking up the route again.
Andy Wonnacott and Sean Privett made the most of today, riding all the way from Masakala to Mrs Knibi at Tinana. They got there at 7pm just making the scramble off Black Fountain in the fading light. Still on Black Fountain are Dirk Botha and Francois du Toit. They lost a lot of time trying to find their way to Koebung village, missing the track to drop them off the mountain. Black Fountain at any time is tricky and they could have their work cut out for them.
Mike Nixon, who was also riding with this group, had to detour into Matatiele to get bike spares. He rejoined the route again and wisely stayed put at Malekolonyane. He did venture out to perhaps try the Stations of the Cross loop, but got a bit confused and ended up missing a section, meaning he has to finish it in the morning before he can continue. Stewart Lombard seems to be managing his niggles and he and Annie Labuschagne cruised from Glen Edward to Malekoloyane along with Ingrid Avidon, who left her batch behind when she passed through Ntsikeni to stay at Glen Edward.
Back at Masakala, the Mpumalanga farmers were joined by two riders from the batch behind them, Fjord Jordaan and Mike Potgieter who have made good time so far. Anton and brother, Adam Wood along with Bruce McQueen, who also started with Leon and David Kruger have all been reunited, despite the Krugers pushing on to Glen Edward the day before.
Six-time blanket wearer, Marnitz Nienaber, is holed up at Glen Edward. He only committed to doing the race last minute and is complaining about the extra 7 kilos he is carrying. A couple more days and those will be gone and we can expect him to start doing some long hauls.
Michael and Ingrid Talbot, back for their second RASA, lost some time in the forests of Donnybrook but still made it comfortably to Ntsikeni getting in around 4.30pm. Mr Ncgobo is going to be pretty busy tonight as the final batch of riders stream through at all hours of the night.
First of the racers was Martin Dreyer (record holder) who has set a cracking pace. He swept through at 7.10pm which is a phenomenal time. About an hour and a half behind, is Alex Harris (multiple winner), closely followed by Jacques Tattersall and Leon Erasmus. Tim James, the most crowned rider in the race, has stopped for a nap at Centacow. The racing is far from over for the day though, as these guys will still keep moving tonight.
Whatever the goals, the race is now seriously on for every rider on the trail.
Charl van der Spuy (Blanket Wearer) and Fiona Coward (Blanket Wearer)
Preview of the Racers
Batch 8 of RASA 2017 starts on Tuesday, 13 June. The final batch of the season is traditionally the racing batch comprised of the so called racing snakes. Tim James, Martin Dreyer, Alex Harris, Leon Erasmus and Jacques Tattersall will start their 2300km with 37,000m of ascent at 06h00 on the ring of the bell in front of the city hall in Pietermaritzburg.
The riders in Batch 8 collectively represent amongst them the following:
- 15 RASA finisher’s blankets
- 7 RASA wins over the past 9 years (Tim James 2008/2009/2015, Alex Harris 2010/2011, Martin Dreyer 2012/2013)
- 5 of the Top 10 fastest RASA times of all time
- Several wins of the 600km distance races Race to Rhodes, Race to Cradock and Race to Willowmore
- Course records for RASA (Martin Dreyer), RTR (Martin Dreyer), RTC (Alex Harris) and RTW (Tim James)
The above list excludes their many other endurance achievements both locally and around the world. This batch clearly has pedigree, experience and a track record with RASA. All of these riders have come well prepared and with purpose and whist they may not admit their racing strategies out loud they are here to race hard, to improve on their best times and to compete for the line honours.
Tim James with 6 finisher’s blankets and 3 wins is the most experienced in this group. He is known as a relentless racer who is very efficient on the trail and keeps going like a metronome. Tim’s route knowledge will come into play at night time when maps and compass have limited value.
Alex Harris won his first RASA in 2010 and then broke the record in 2011. He is a strong rider and his experience conquering the Seven Summits, Tour Divide and several other expeditions makes him a serious contender. He is a meticulous planner and will no doubt be very well prepared for RASA 2017.
Martin Dreyer may be best known as the Dusi Duke for his 7 Dusi wins and the current RASA record holder (10d 16h40) but he has a string of other achievements that match these endurance accolades. He is also the founder of the Change a Life Academy. In April Martin completed a double lap of the 36One mountain bike race in just over 48 hours, so he comes to RASA 2017 in great physical condition.
Jacques Tattersall has earned 2 blankets with a best finish of 14d 12h38 in 2016 for a 22nd best time of all time. He completed RTC and RTW in March this year riding with good friend Leon Erasmus so his route knowledge will be fresh and the two of them may well team up and ride together, a definite advantage.
Leon Erasmus only recently joined the Freedom Challenge family earning his blanket in RASA 2016 (15d 12h38) and winning Race to Cradock 2017. He is a Top 10 Transbaviaans finisher and a regular stage racer.
What to Expect
These riders understand what it takes to ride a sub-15 day race and even faster. They will need to ride hard, ride with purpose and move efficiently along the course sacrificing sleep for progress. They will sleep when they have to and no more. They will move through the support stations fast and with purpose, only taking care of the necessary which will by and large involve hydration and nutrition. Soon enough they will look like death warmed up, they will speak with exhausted dragging tongues and will fight off sleep monsters waiting to pull them off their bicycles. They will grab a few hours of sleep at support stations and a few more minutes next to the road. At night they will have to rely on their route knowledge and navigate very carefully to stay on course and avoid costly errors. Each of them will start with a time schedule in mind and whilst they will mostly ride to their own pace, their eyes will eagerly scan check-in sheets for times of competitors to measure their relative progress.
During Martin Dreyer’s record ride of 10d 16h40 in 2012 he and Alex Harris (10d 23h57) pushed one another from the start for almost 11 days. In 2016 Theo van Dyk won RASA in the 3rd fastest all time of 11d 08h53 and again, like in 2012 it was a 2- horse race to the line with Bruce Hughes. Expect more of the same in 2017 - should these riders remain in close proximity and enjoy favourable weather conditions, then the current record will surely be under threat.
Race Pace (Day 1)
In the record breaking RASA 2012 race, Martin and Alex rode within 2 hours of one another deep into the Stormberg. On Day 1 Martin reached Allendale at 12h45 and Ntsikeni at 22h00. He then reached Rhodes at 13h50 on Day 3 (2d 7h50).
In 2016 Martin only did the RTR race breaking the record in the process. He reached Allendale at 13h15 after strong winds and rain in the morning, Ntsikeni at 21h20 and Rhodes again on Day 3 at 7h47 (2d 1h47).
In 2016 RASA Bruce Hughes pushed the pace reaching Allendale 12h55 and Ntsikeni at 20h30 on Day 1. He then grouped with Theo van Dyk and Tim Deane to reach Rhodes in 2d 12h30.
It is very likely that all of Batch 8 will push through to Ntsikeni on Day 1 and as far as possible into the second day before catching their first nap. Their progress will be eagerly tracked and speculated on and like gladiators in the arena; their accomplishments will be no less grandeur.It’s Race On!
Who on earth is leading the race?
The rest of the field is either on schedule or slightly behind. The first six days are tough but there is more than enough race to pick up a day or two.