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)

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