15 June - quiet before the storm

By all accounts today was a great day on the trail. The weather was good, if a little windy, the navigation was pin sharp though rather boring  from a spectator’s perspective and several riders pushed through Support Stations to make up time towards their respective race goals. Riders are tonight spread over a distance of 700km along the Freedom Trail, from Pietermaritzburg all the way to Krantzkop. David Waddilove must be proud tonight.

First business is to congratulate today’s Race to Rhodes finishers and new Whip Bearers.  A special mention to Comeback Kid Tracey Lentin who, after a rather challenging 2014 came back to complete unfinished business and did so in style today. There will be no bigger smile at Rubicon tonight.

At the sharp end of matters, the fastest time to Rhodes so far has been just over 4 days. In today’s starting batch, RASA riders Fjord Jordaan and Theo van Dyk ripped through the trail, arriving at Centacow at around 18h30, the fastest time this year. In order to capitalize on this good start they should be aiming for an early start to try and push through to Masakala tomorrow. It may not be enough to avert the onslaught likely to follow from tomorrow’s final starting batch, but it will position him well for the coming days. Expect to see a 24 hour push through to Ntsikeni from tomorrow’s batch - will Charles and Sheila at Glen Edward need to be on standby for a brunch surprise?

Leading the field today and opening up the Support Stations has been Kommandant Johann Rissik who put in a solid effort from Slaapkrantz today, arriving at Moordenaarspoort just after dark and then deciding to push on to Krantzkop, a relatively short and easy section to navigate at night. He caused some stress when he zigged and zagged just before Rossouw.

Shortly behind Johann are Anton Wood and Gert Peens who appear to have teamed up and Maarten Witters on the fatbike. All 3 of them  left Chesneywold this morning and arrived at Moordenaarspoort early evening to succumb to the warm beds and hot showers at the guest house. Maarten got his North and South confused for a moment on top of the Slaapkrantz portage, almost missing out on the thrilling and humpy downhill into Loutebron. Fortunately sanity prevailed and he got his North back.

Mike Roy and John Bowen left Rhodes this morning and by early evening were struggling to find the right line down the Kappokkraal portage. The dark night conditions no doubt making it difficult and they were heading for a very tricky decent down some steep sections. Dinner will be waiting at Slaapkrantz so they can rest up for a difficult portages tomorrow morning. They resorted to numerous calls to the NightNavHotline so when they finally dropped out of signal into the Spitskop valley, they were at least headed in the right direction again.

Jacques Tatersall and Gary Preston made a charge today from Vuvu up the alternative route to Naudes Nek to get to Rhodes. There they split, with Jacques pushing on solo to Chesneywold, reaching the turnoff on top of the steep Bottlenek climb just after dark, so was well on track. Gary Preston elected to stop in Rhodes for the night. 

They will need extra fires at Rubicon in Rhodes tonight where a full house of riders has gathered with some having arrived from Vuvu and others like Gary Green, Kemsley Wood and Andrew Green having pushed through from Tinana Mission. Pretty much everyone will have something to celebrate as reaching Rhodes has a special significance and is an achievement to proud of for all. It marks a key point in the race journey and also signals the start of slightly easier navigation and riding conditions. If you can make it to Rhodes you have a good chance of making it to Diemersfontein.

Vuvu has been in the thick of it the last few days, with many sleepovers and a few ride throughs. The approach up the valley saw many variations today, the high line, low line, get out early and the overshoot - no matter, all roads eventually lead to Vuvu. Staying over tonight are Liehann and Beat, Gerrit, Willie, Fanus and Dave Gace, as well as Mike Ward and Andrew Hunt.

Whilst it appears that Tinana will have a quiet evening for a change, the same cannot be said for Malekholonyane where its full house. The batch has ridden together pretty much all of the past 4 days and no doubt enjoyed their early arrival today. Brad and Nicky van der Westhuizen, stalwarts of the trail, no doubt had a lot to do with the pin sharp navigation today, their experience and trail knowledge coming through. Their batch was joined by Andrew Blackburn, Nic Jordan and Mark Jason who started a day behind them and have completed 4 trail days in 3 days of riding.

John, Richard, Steve and Sean are the only riders heading for Masakala tonight but their challenging day is not over yet. They got caught by the sharp left in Ntsikeni, then got into big trouble at the crossing of the Little Mzimvubu and after a neat recovery were struggling to find the old house in the neck just after Shenxa. The dark night conditions made it extra difficult for them but once they are through that section they should be good for a late Masakala arrival. Fortunately tomorrow is a short day to help them recover.

The Ntsikeni arrivals appear to be home safely and will enjoy the hospitality and rest after one of the trails’ most difficult days. Those enjoying story time with Mr Ngobo tonight are: Mike Roy and John Exley, Alan, Andy, Mark and Ian, together with Nico van Zyl and Mike Devereux, who fortunately seems to have reset his internal compass after yesterday’s wanderings around Centocow.

Today’s batch took off like lightning and made quick time to Minerva and Allendale with Fjord Jordaan and Theo van Dyk pushing through to Centacow by early evening. The hot conditions seem to have caught up with the legendary Jack Black who also pushed past Allendale but was finding the going a bit more challenging. Being tough and experienced, he stuck to his plan and eventually arrived at Centocow at 22h15. After starting with Theo, Ann Harrison opted to jump off the bus at Allendale and hop onto a slightly more rational one - she joins Tony and Caren now for a slower cruise to Rhodes.

A long day,  lots of riders on the trail and a long day report. The real racing will start tomorrow and although there won’t be many squiggles from these guys, the pace will be hot and the daily goals ambitious.

Final thought: Blanket Wearer Alex Harris is currently racing the Tour Divide. To give some comparison between Tour Divide and Freedom Challenge, Martin Dreyer’s record into Rhodes (first 500km) is 2d7h45m. The TD leaders are tracking faster than Jay Petervary’s existing record pace and passed the 500km mark in 1d7h. Whilst it is not fair to try and compare two of the world’s toughest events, the first 500km into Rhodes is as tough a race as you will find and anyone making it there, no matter how long it takes, can be very proud!

By Whip Bearer/Windmill Keeper Carl Scholtz

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