21 June - news from the sharp end

Were some interesting mind games being played at Kranskop?

Yesterday saw RASA leader Andrew Barnes retain his yellow jersey yet again when arriving at Kranskop support station in a quicker time than had Theo van Dyk and Fjord Jordaan, as well as beating Tim James to the line again.

But perhaps the feature of yesterday’s racing upfront was not so much Barnes in the lead but more a huge 22 hour push by James from Rhodes to Moordenaarspoort, a distance of 157km which includes some slow portages before and after Slaapkranz support station. It was a big show of determination, with James’ pace often significantly slower than Barnes over the same stretches, but James is showing that what he may lack in speed he is determined to make up for by riding longer hours into the night. In addition, it is more difficult to evaluate James’ speeds, because he appears to take short “cat naps” by the roadside to keep himself going, whereas Barnes seems to ride fast to support stations where he does most of his resting.

And this perhaps adds to the intrigue of the RASA. Because of the race’s non-stage nature, it isn’t necessarily the fastest rider that will win. If a rider can get by with less sleep better than another, he may end up being the winner. But of course we are still left wondering if James can indeed keep up such a brutal riding schedule. He rolled into Moordenaarspoort halfway support station at about 00h25 this morning for a quick bit of shuteye, before leaving again at just before 05h00 in pursuit of Barnes who was sleeping about 2 hours’ ride ahead at Kranskop overnight support station.

Barnes once again had run to his usual strategy, arriving at Kranskop early in the evening, from Chesneywold the night before, at around 18h05 for a good sleep. And a good sleep it was. Whereas we had thought he may leave in the early hours of this morning, he ended up only leaving Kranskop at around 07h55 after breakfast, and would have probably exchanged pleasantries with James who was just pulling in for a rest from Moordenaarspoort at about the same time, 07h55.

This is interesting from a mental point of view, and one wonders to what extent mind games are being played by Barnes with James. One can see this “meeting” as a possible mental boost for James. He worked extremely hard to get back into the race, and may feel vindicated at having got back into a position where Barnes is within sight, compared to yesterday at times where he trailed Barnes by up to 6 hours. On the other hand, if he is indeed a very tired man, which is possible after yesterday’s long push, is it perhaps demoralising to see a possibly very fresh and well rested Barnes departing just as he (James) arrives for breakfast after a few days of extremely hard work?

And, of course, we don’t know if the very long sleep taken by Barnes signals that he is tiring too? Barnes still appears to hold the aces, having had far more rest in recent days than James. But the mind is a funny thing, and James may just once again feel he is right back in the race, and this may give him renewed strength.

James did take a good breakfast break at Kranskop, and only left at around 9h20, so on Kranskop departure Barnes still possessed a lead, albeit a trimmed one, of 1 hour and 30 minutes.

But this sort of lead over a 2,300km races is rather insignificant. Key to watch through the rest of today is the relative speeds of the 2 riders. Has James been boosted by his closing of the gap or has he tired himself out? Does Barnes’ very long rest last night say something about his own condition?

The leader pace is far from record pace, in fact at Kranskop arrival almost a day behind the record pace. But it matters not. What is significant is that we have a race on our hands.

By John Loos (Blanket/Whip)