RASA | RTR 2019 Partners

Mike Woolnough's RTR

"I’m back in my office having just finished my 6th Race to Rhodes. To be honest while my body is in Johannesburg my mind is still out on the trail.

Going into the event I wanted to finish inside of 48 hours. By the time I was 32 hours in I realised that I wasn’t going to realise that goal. From then on I took my foot off the gas and took my time. Instead of solely focusing on moving forward I had time to interact with people I came across. Toward the end took a one hour time-out to enjoy a coffee and toasted sandwich at a lodge at the top of the mountain before riding down to the finish—something I haven’t allowed myself to do previously when racing hard. I certainly felt the freshest I ever have at the finish line and although I hadn’t met my goal I rolled over the finish line with a deep sense of satisfaction and appreciation of what I had seen and done over the preceding days.

I’ve traversed this part of the Freedom Trail 16 times since 2007 so there are few new wow moments now that eclipse my experience of my first time in 2007. However, being familiar with the route I am able to focus on the smaller detail that underpins just how special this race and route are. Each time I travel through I am struck not only by the obviously poverty but also by the richness of spirit these communities share. 
There is always a wave and a smile as you pass and whenever you stop they ask where you’ve come from and where you are going. The underlying truth is that although we might have started our race in Pietermaritzburg or that we live in a city far afield we come from a world far removed from their day to day reality. It’s impossible not to be touched by their challenges as we pedal our bikes through the places they call home. 

When I rode my first Freedom race in 2007 it transformed me as a cyclist and a person. In the intervening years I am drawn back to these races because as you ride layers of yourself are peeled back as you discover more about yourself and this country of ours."




23 July 2019

We are now into the 7thday of RASA and there are 7 batches out on the trail. Up front Brad, Richard and Derrick (AKA Brad’s bunch) together with Fanus and Nigel are the first riders to lay down tracks past Rhodes. They have been riding well, finishing most days comfortably in daylight and enjoying their time on the trail. They bid farewell to Sandy and Beth at Rhodes who both had fantastic RTR rides, well done ladies. They will go over Koppokraal today and then two big portages tomorrow morning which marks the end of the long portages until Die Leer. 

Heading up Lehanas today was team Kranskop, Ie. Sandy, Willem, RG, Sarah and Johan L. Harko joined them up Lehanas but Philip E and Johan R opted for the Mcambalala detour route. They were all safely in Rhodes by 4pm. Photographer, Llewellyn Lloyd found them on Lehanas so feats your eyes on some of these incredible images!!!



Radislav stuck with his new team: James, Bryn and Graeme as they headed out of Malekgolonyane, over black fountain and up the Vuvu valley. This was probably a safer bet from a navigational point of view considering how lost he got on his own during day 2. 


Nigel and Adrian have caught up a day, despite their sleep in Snakefields on Friday night. They will be an hour or two behind the other up the Vuvu valley but should still arrive in daylight. 


Charles and Francis had an early start out of Masakala in order to push through Malekgolonyane and will be the first rider to sleep at Tinana this year. Charles was feeling ill for the first couple days but latest reports are that he is much better now. 


Kobus, Alan, Francois and Mark S had a reltively chilled day day from Masakala to Malekgolonyane, which would have been a welcome relief after the first 3 tough days. Kobus has been struggling a bit with saddle sores since Allendale so sure his bum enjoyed an afternoon off the saddle.


Renier, Gavin and Andrew made it from Glen edward through Masakala to arrive at Malekgolonyane at sunset. A great effort by them effectlvely now having ridden the first 4 days in 3 days. 


Mark B and Grant had an early start out of Ntsikeni and made steady progress to arrive at Masakala at 15h15. 


Joining them at Masakala later tonight will be Derrick B and Kevin. They have now made it to Masakala in 2 days which is no mean feat. 


Gary Scoular had to serve a 4.5 hour penalty yesterday at Centocow for getting a new wheel but he still got to Glen Edward last night and still pushed to Malekgolonyane today to catch up with the other 3 from his batch. This was not without a little bumbling in the bushes on route down from Mparane to Gladstone. 


Grant H and Leon K left Centocow early and had a good ride through Ntsikeni but after 2 big days decided to stop for decent rest at Glen Edward.


Starting today was Anthony Avidon, Gawie du Plessis, Scott James and rookie: Kyle Dohne. They all had ambitios plans at briefing with minimum goal of Centocow in their sights. PMB local, Kyle, had a massive crowd bidding him farewell so the startline was a festive affair. 


They all did well to reach Allendale by 14h30 and swiftly pushed on. Antony kept the dot-watchers entertained with his tiger-line from Umko crossing straight up to the Hella hella hairpin. Not sure if it was faster but he won the tough-guy prize for the day, especially seeing as he is carrying his 18 year-old “rocking char” bike. 


They all reached Centocow before dinner but Scott was the only one to push on and should be at Ntsikeni shortly after midnight.




Race to Rhodes Results


Mike Woolnough won the 2019 Freedom Challenge Race to Rhodes in a time of 56h54m.


RTR is a 475 km, non-stop, self-navigated mountain bike race starting in Pietermaritzburg, KZN and ending in Rhodes, Eastern Cape. Riders are allowed a maximum of 7 days to complete the ride. It is a non-stop event, so riders are not required to stop every day/night as in other stage races. Riders are required to be self-sufficient and carry all their own personal belongings with them.

Mike set off with an ambitious plan of breaking the record and going under 48 hours. He flew through the first day and his plan was on track for the first half of the race but sleep-monsters grabbed hold of him on second night and eventually he decided to rather just enjoy his ride, take in the views and appreciate the beautiful surroundings, not without still posting an incredible time to Rhodes. 

In second place was Roger Nicholson, in a time of 63h30min, riding a single speed! Roger rode his own race and was steady and consistent throughout. 

3rd Spot went to Carlo Gonzaga in time of 75h33m. What makes this effort particularly impressive is that it was Gonzo's first Freedom Challenge event and he came close to breaking 3 days to Rhodes, which is almost unheard of amongst FC rookies. 

Well done to everyone who took part. Full list of results above and photo gallery below. There are plenty more pictures on Facebook and Instagram.






Trail Tales - 21 June 2019

By: Steven Burnett 


Pictures by: Llewellyn Lloyd


If you take a snapshot of Freedom Trail today, you see riders spread out from Pietermaritzburg all the way to the famed Vuvu Valley. The first Race to Rhodes(RTR) participants put rubber on the ground on Tuesday June 11th, and started the steady stream of riders on their way to Rhodes. We have just two RTR riders left out there, Sandy Olivier and Sarah van Eeden who started on Mon 17thand Tue 18threspectively. They should finish over the weekend.

We now move onto the big kahuna, the Race across South Africa (RASA) which kicked off on Mon 17th. There has been a daily batch of 5-8 riders setting off each morning from PMB, with their end goal being Diemersfontein in Wellington 2200km away. These batches have stuck together quite closely, doing what has been required without racing ahead the day’s standard schedule. Batch 1 have arrived at Malekgolonyane (Support Station 4) in the early afternoon of Thursday 20th, and chose to stay put.

Batch 2 are on course to do the same thing, and we will have to see if anyone from their ranks decides to move on further to Tinana Mission, halfway to Vuvu (SS5).

Batch 3 are on their third day of riding, and have a minor split in that Radislav Zemandi has made a crucial nav error and is now in the wrong valley – we will see where he ends up later today.


Batch 4 has our first breakaways. Arriving at Allendale (SS1) in the early afternoon, brothers Nigel and Adrian Payne moved on to the alternate station of Centacow Mission. They are experienced riders returning to the route for 4thtime each and are aiming for Masakala (SS3) on their 2nd day.

Batch 5 got going this morning, and we will see if any of these 6 riders are feeling adventurous enough to move beyond the comforts of Allendale (SS1) later in the afternoon.

Looking ahead we seem to have good weather in the immediate future and the train of riders will continue to make their progress westward into the Malutis and beyond.


15 June 2019

Mike was now alone up front. After a cold, tough night he arrived at Vuvu at 4h30am for a quick nap before heading up Lehanas at daybreak. Realising his record aspirations were now out of reach, he decided to just enjoy a the spectacular final day over Lehans – for the 16thtime in his Freedom Challenge career!!! He even allowed himself the luxury of a Tena Head coffee stop. He has still had an incredible ride and was the first person to make it to Rhodes, arriving at 14h54, giving him a race time of 56h54m. Well done Mike! The race is not yet over and it is possible but not probable that Roger (or Carlo, Henry, Pieter) could sneak inside his time so he ‘waits in the clubhouse’ to see what the rest of the field can muster. 


“Trevor’s Tour Group” had a breathtaking ride over Black Fountain, through Tinana and up the Vuvu valley where they will spend the night. 


The The whole group of 13 from Masakala moved onto Malekgolonyane for the night nd they will be joined by the four racers passing through around midnight. Will they stay or will they go???



Phillip has been riding very consistently and efficiently for three straight days and finds himself at Masakala tonight with the big Durban group of Mark, Hugo,, Dirk, Darroll, Stuart and Janine. 


Chris, Michael, Michael, Paul and John (or the ‘old bats’ as they call themselves) continued to enjoy Michael Potgieters intermit route knowledge to make good work of day 2. James has been riding his own riding and enjoying some solo navigating but doing very well to keep things smoothly on track. 



14 June 2019

The forth and final RTR starting batch includes: Carlo Gonzaga, John Barrow, Roger Nicholson, Michael Patchitt, Chris Charter, Paul Arnott, Michael Potgieter, Pieter van der Westhuizen, James Housten, Henry Angove. 



The two Michaels, John, Chris, Paul and James settled into things with a standard (but tough) day to Allendale. Henry, Carlo, Pieter and Roger pushed on to Centocow for dinner and then onto Ntsikeni. Roger is riding a singlespeed which made his 11 pm arrival at Ntsikeni all that much more impressive. The other three took a wrong turn on the climb up to Ntsikeni resulting in a couple extra hours for them, arriving around 2am. 


Mike Woolnough continued his flying pace through Masakala late morning and Malekgolonyane by 16h30 where he took a 10 minute cat-nap and continued into the night to Vuvu. 


The Stewart gang all rode nicely from Allendale to Ntsikeni. Unfortunately Andrew Pearson withdrew at Centocow. Axel had a few hours sleep after losing his in Ntsikeni the night before so he took a relatively chilled day to Masakala to spend the night with his friends, the Louws. 



The Knowles brothers continued their steady and consistent progress to arrive at Masakala just after dark. Merak and Oliver joined Mike as he passed through Ntsikeni last night (at 10pm) and the 3 rode together through the night for very early breakfast at Glen Edward and ontoi Masakala where they said goodbye to Mike and enjoyed an afternoon rest. Nic, Chris, Stuart and Ivor also had a good day from Ntsikeni to Masakala arriving late afternoon. Masakala is a full house tonight with 13pax. Nic Adams celebrated his 60thBirthday on the trail today. Happy Birthday! 


Wade, John, Nico and Nicolas spent last night at Glen Edward and took another recovery day to Masakala and are all felling nicely refreshed and ready to get back into the daily grind!


Up front, Trevor, Chris, Johan, Clyde and Greg had a chilled day in more ways than one as they exited a freezing Masakala, across the flats, over Mparane and arrived early afternoon at Masakla for an afternoon of mountain gazing whilst sipping some well deserved Zamaleks. 

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Event Related Blogs


2019 Freedom Challenger Blogs

Philip Erasmus - One Giant Challenge

Carlo Gonzaga RTR report - Race to Rhodes – the race that loses its young. More musings from a novice



Chris Fisher +27(0)78 702 9178 (Race Director)
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