With the race office set up in Willowmore last night and this morning, we had a first hand look at both Martin and Alex as they came through the support station.
Martin arrived in the early hours of the morning, after a long push from Hadley (200km+). He had just ripped his waterproof pants climbing over the game fence on the approach to Willowmore and was wide eyed and awake. He considered going straight on after some food but after 30min was still undecided. He had a huge supper, while simultaneously trying to plug in chargers, repack his bag, dry wet socks and look at the maps for the next section - basically he was like an excited kid. (possibly even a bit "loskop") He said he was losing time to small navigation errors and knew Alex wouldn't be making the same errors. But most of all he felt "empowered" by the whole adventure and was having lot's of fun.
When Alex arrived mid morning the following day, he had already been on the bike for 6hrs, having left from Dam se Drif. Apart from a raging appetite, he said the legs felt good and he was going well. He also put away a huge breakfast without blinking and calmly went about repacking his bag. Overall he was more organised and took less time to get ready but seemed a bit less excited and more focused on the next stage. He asked about Martin's check out time and sleep hours but also had time to tell us about his episode with the electric fences and bee hives at Cambria.
These are two very different characters who have been racing each other for the last week. The gap is now about 7 hours but in the greater scheme of things, that's not much. A mechanical or even an injury could quickly change this. Both are going hard to the finish and both are on track to improve on last year's record. Even though Martin may currently have the upper hand, after 8 days of racing, there's really not much in it.
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 - http://mg.co.za/multimedia/2010-02-04-extreme-endurance-the-freedom-challenge