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

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Martin Dreyer has a slender advantage as Alex Harris runs into a technical glitch

The race drama amongst the front runners is beginning to unfold. Martin Dreyer reportedly left Kranzkop support sation at about 01h40 this morning. The motive for the early start would probably have been to ride on as much mud as possible while it was still possibly frozen, the freezing making it easier to ride in mud. Alex Harris was probably not far behind him out of Kranzkop.

Martin appears to now have the upper hand (for the time being), with Alex having "bust a bolt" on his seat for the 2nd time. The bolt is part of the attachment of the saddle to the seat post, so he'll need to stand and ride to Brosterlea, and hopefully find a bolt at Brosterlea that fits (normally farmers do have a all sorts of "stuff" that can assist).

The standing and riding will be tiring though, and he's already significantly behind Martin, so Alex is now going to have to dig deep and show his character. Martin is most likely going for Hofmeyr at least, making this a day in excess of 200 kms (see route profile posting from last night). Depending on how long Alex takes to get to Brosterlea and fix the saddle, will he get past Romansfontein tonight? Could today represent the first "split" between the 2 riders? If so, Alex will have his work cut out to catch Martin over the next few days, as indications are that the heavy mud stretches all the way to Toekomst support station.

But such is the nature of this race. The conditions are heavy on both the riders and bikes, so the fat lady ain't sung and there are no guarantees that there won't be more technical problems with both Alex's and Martin's bikes. Hopefully technical problems won't ruin the contest as a great "Twitter Spectacle" though.

With regard to the race record falling. It is being made tough by the wet and muddy conditions. Already yesterday the weather took its toll, shortening the 2 riders' day to Kranzkop, when in dry conditions they probably would have slept at Brosterlea. But former winner Tim James still estimates that  Martin is about 5 hours ahead of race record pace.

Mike Woolnough and Trevor Ball, the original race pace setters, are on their way to Brosterlea, and could see Martin pass them today.

Further back there are a few rider troubles, with Garth Flanders (one of the original racing snake batch J) having knee troubles (Iliotibial band friction syndrome, or ITB). And then some lads had a sleepout high on Lehana's Pass. Jody Forrester, Andre Visser and Dino Marusich got horribly lost as darkness descended on Lehana's Pass last night. This could have been dangerous, given the freezing cold and huge wind chill factor that high up in the mountain, but fortunately there is a large cargo container-shelter up on the mounain that they managed to seek refuge in for the night, and are probably on the way to Naude's Neck and Rhodes by now.

The forecast is for less rain today, but the mud will still be with the riders for a few days I would guess, with temperatures through the day remaining in single digits, too cold to dry mud out fast.

We're now living in very interesting times.

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