"The last of the riders doing race to Cradock have rolled over the finish outside the Oude Pastorie Guest House in Cradock. As with all finishers, smiles and war stories abound.
The final analysis it that the event went well. There were only 3 riders out of a field of 59 who pulled up short aided by fairly good weather.
That is not to say the weather was perfect. A few heavy downpours in the early part of the route added some excitement. Philip Kleijnhans and Trevor Elliot of Batch 5 were the first riders to show race intent which came up short when they lost their footing while trying to cross a rampaging river and ended up taking refuge at a farmhouse. Batch 6 rode out of Rhodes in the rain and Peter Hilder soon discovered how slippery the roads were a few kilometres out of town. Fortunately he avoided serious injury and only had a blackened eye to show for his fall.
The event was made up of riders with mixed ambitions as well as mixed experience.
There were a number who experienced the Freedom Trail for the first time and for the most part came along with someone with previous experience. That meant there were no major hiccups on the navigation which meant the lost souls phone was silent for the duration of the race.
A couple of old hands, and one trail rookie, came along to brush up on their navigation skills ahead of the Race Across South Africa that takes place in a few months.
Other old hands packed their start batches with friends and they rolled from one support station to the next each day and revelled in the joint experience.
A small percentage of entrants came to race hard and two riders, Bruce Hughes and Jacques Tattersall finished well within the previous race record with Bruce stopping the clock at 42 hours 52 minutes bettering the previous record by 4 hours 17 minutes.
The race experience of the hardened racers differed substantially from the daily support station hoppers. When asked if it was fun the racers all admitted that it wasn’t fun. They did comment that the riders they caught up with seemed cheerful. That’s not to say the racer experience wasn’t satisfying.
That’s the beauty of this event. In many ways it’s as hard as you want it to be. If you want to take 5 or 6 days to wend your way to Cradock and drink deeply of the hospitality of the hosts you will arrive in Cradock enriched by the experience. If you hanker after pushing your mental and physical limits you can power through the route with nothing more than one or two power naps.
There is no razzmatazz, no podium presentations and no money for winning the race. As the race blurb says, “The rewards for completing the Freedom Challenge are entirely personal.” I believe everyone found the race rewarding in their own way as it met and often exceeded rider expectations." - Mike Woolnough
After a day and a half of close racing, where the lead changed hands a few times between the leading three riders, it was Bruce Hughes who crossed the finish line as the fastest rider home for this year's Race to Cradock - his time of 42h52min was just over 5 hours faster than the old record. Not too far behind was Jacques Tattersall who finished in a time of 45h45min, also quicker than the previous record. Both completed the ride on less than 4 hours of sleep and apart from some wet roads leaving Rhodes, they enjoyed mostly good riding conditions along the rest of the route. Mike Woolnough also had his nose in front at one stage, passing Bruce and Jacques at Brosterlea but they reeled him in again at Romansfontein - Mike is still on his way home to Cradock and is expected to arrive this morning.
First it rained, then it stopped, then it dried out and then it rained a bit more.. This year's Race to Cradock is serving up surprises with each new day and testing riders' resolve even before they get started.
After it looked like the rain was over, yesterday afternoon provided a new twist, with heavy downpours near Slaapkranz support station. This scuppered the plans of Philip and Trevor, who had pushed on from Slaapkranz, aiming for Moordenaarspoort. Trying to cross what is usually a small stream, they both lost their footing and went swimming, resulting in two very wet and cold riders. They sought shelter at the nearby Goedehoop farm and ended up staying for the night.
After more overnight rain, the riders in Batch 6 were slightly less enthusiastic as they left Rhodes in a light drizzle this morning. A long day out on the muddy roads awaits them and any ambitions of getting beyond Slaapkranz today have been abandoned for now.
With Batch 7 gathering in Rhodes today, the racing snakes will have a day to study weather reports and hope the conditions improve before they get underway tomorrow. Things are about to get interesting..
With the final batch departing Rhodes yesterday, riders were strung out along the full length of the Race to Cradock route. As the racers hit the trail, the earlier batches were arriving in Cradock. The weather finally played along with clear skies, sunshine and a gentle breeze helping to dry out the wet roads leading out of Rhodes.
Bruce Hughes and Jacques Tattersall pushed the early pace with Mike Woolnough not far behind. By early afternoon, the whole of Batch 7 had signed out of Slaapkranz support station. Tim James started up the Bontehoek portage before turning around and going to ground at a nearby farm - he wasn't feeling well and opted to rest for the night and continue the next day. Gavin Horton and Janine and Mark Stewart reached Moordenaarspoort, with Gavin pushing on to Kranskop to sleep there. Ahead of them, the duo of Bruce and Jacques made it to Brosterlea before opting to sleep there. While they slept, Mike slipped past into the lead. After a two hour sleep, the duo got going again and eventually managed to haul Mike in just before Romansfontein.
After heavy rains in the last few days near Rhodes, conditions have been difficult for some of the earlier batches of this year's Race to Cradock. Thankfully the weather seems to have stabilised now with cooler temperatures remaining but also some sunshine and light winds to start drying things out. Batch 4 were somewhat slower than the other batches in getting to Slaapkranz yesterday, as they had to deal with the aftermath of Thursday's heavy rain but they reported improving riding conditions as the day progressed. So far all the batches have managed to arrive at the various support stations with daylight to spare and ther have been no major navigation errors along the way.
The remaining batches may try to inject some pace into proceedings, with ambitions of getting to Cradock in less than the 6 day cut-off and by the looks of things, the improving conditions could help them along the way.