The Freedom Challenge

The Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa is an "unsupported" non-stage mountain bike race of approximately 2,300 km across South Africa. While recent winners have won in around 11 days, the race cut-off is 26 days. The race starts in Pietermaritzburg in early-to-mid-June, and ends in Paarl near Cape Town. Temperatures are known to drop as low as minus-10 deg. Celsius. While there are periodic "support stations" which will feed and accommodate riders should they require, the race is unsupported in the sense that riders must carry their own clothing and equipment, are responsible for their own maintenance and navigation (without the aid of GPS), and there are no marshalls or safety officials on the course (Race monitoring is done by satellite tracking). Estimates of cumulative ascent are around 37,000 metres, and the highest point on the route is approximately 2,700 metres above sea level. See the following link for an introductory slideshow by Mike Roy -

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Lehana's Pass portage, and a very muddy Rhodes and beyond beckon for Dreyer and Harris tomorrow, with possibility of rain

Martin has tweeted his intent not so long ago to sleep at Tinana Mission. Anton Mayberry and Jack Black believe both Martin and Alex will stay at Tinana and leave together in the early hours of tomorrow morning.

But I personally am waiting for the hijinks to start. Tinana is not a compulsory sign in and out support station. Alex is reportedly about an hour behind Martin. Alex arguably knows the route better, making his night navigation better (Martin already had some difficulty with navigation in Ntsikeni). Is this an opportunity for Alex to switch his lights off and sneak past Tinana and on into the Vuvu River Valley portage under the cloak of darkness.......???...This is the sort of stuff I'm waiting for as the race intensifies. Martin seems faster on a bike. Alex is perhaps going to have to be cleverer. When does the real fun stuff start???

But most probably tomorrow, some big portages await. First, the riders have to negotiate the Vuvu River Valley, much of it on foot, and then its on to Lehana's Pass which is the "short cut" portage up the side of the Southern Drakensberg for a few hours to Tinahead Lodge which is near the top of Naude's Neck.

The only significant climb on the Tinana-Vuvu section is when one climbs up out of the Vuvu River Valley to the town of Vuvu. Cumulative climbing for the whole stage is +879m, while the cumulative descent is -592m. The climb out of the valley is just short of 300m, and the stage to Vuvu is 27.4km.

If done in the dark, the river valley can conceivably slow a rider navigation-wise.

Then, after Vuvu comes the big one. Lehana's Pass is a portage up a ridge to the top of the southern Drakensberg. It involves about 1000m climb over a distance of around 9kms, bike on back. Thereafter the road from the top of Naudes Neck, the highest road in South Africa, winds its way down to Rhodes. The estimated distance for this stage is 52.7km to Rhodes from Vuvu, but kms don't mean that much when such a big portage is involved. The weather conditions can also come into play at this stage. The wind on Lehanas can often be of gale force proportions that would impress even the Cape Town riders. But more significant this year, perhaps, is that recent days have reportedly seen major downpours in the Rhodes area and beyond, the the roads may become muddy, slowing the riders down and, or course increasing the risk of technical issues with the bikes....the plot may well thicken. The total climbing on the Vuvu-Rhodes section is +1834m and the cumulative descent (most of it doen the other side of Naude's Necj) -1734m. 

In past years, Rhodes would have been a probable sleepover on the 3rd night for the race leader. This year it looks as if the 2 speedsters will reach Rhodes with significant daylight to spare, and move on either to Chesneywold or even at a push to Slaapkrans overnight support station

The stage to Chesneywold is simple navigation-wise, pretty much remaining on district roads the entire way. The stretch is 67.3km in distance. It has a cumulative ascent of +1504m and cumulative descent of -1488m.
Simple, theoretically, but the question is how muddy will the district roads be?? That can be the game changer. And the tweets are that it is extremely muddy.

And then, the final possible stage, from Chesneywold to Slaapkranz, a possible stretch target for Alex or Martin tomorrow night so I include it here. The stretch is only 23.7kms from Chesneywold, but there are some portages and navigation tricky spots if one hits the section at night, which would be likely if they pushed on to Slaapkranz tomorrow.

Last year, Alex harris' recorded time from Vuvu to Rhodes over lehana's was 7 hours, 5 hours 20 mins from Rhodes to Chesney wold, and about another 4.5 hours to Slaapkranz.

While it is the downpours past which sound like they will make going past Rhodes tomorrow tough going, tomorrow's weather forecast is for more rain. See weather forecast links below:

7mm of rain forecast in Vuvu

5mm rain on Lehana's Pass and reasonably cool at 8 degrees Celsius

7mm of rain forecast at Rhodes

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