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 -

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Pre-Race Interview with Glenn - Question by Question with Background Comment - Question 1

As the big Tuesday start comes closer, I conducted an interview with Glenn, and will post the question one by one as I’ve typed them up. I will also provide some background comment to the questions/answers as I go along.

Background: The Race Across South Africa can be won or lost not merely on riding ability. It is also about navigational errors or other key decisions which may or may not have been optimal. Last year, Glenn came 2nd, in 13 days, 10 hours and 50 minutes.  This was a mere 19 hours and 20 minutes behind winner Alex Harris.

John Loos: “Glenn, tell me…last year you came 2nd, perhaps pleasantly surprising a few of us folk on your single-speed bike. It could perhaps have been even better had you not made a few “calculation errors”. Where did last year’s race perhaps go wrong, if you could call it "going wrong"?”

Glenn: “It went wrong at Elandsberg (a “portage” section over the Elandsberg  mountain just after Hofmeyr), which is round about the 1000km mark. It was all on track going into the Elandsberg portage. I was about an hour ahead of my schedule approaching Elandsberg, but the portage…I ended up getting lost on the mountain because the grass was longer than previously, and it didn’t look familiar in the dark. I went into the portage at about 6pm that day, just after dark, and I stumbled around in the dark until about 11pm without finding the track (that I needed to get onto to get over the portage). Normally it should take about 2 hours to get the whole thing done, so it was at about 11 pm that I decided that I wasn’t getting anywhere, and I couldn’t find my way off, so I decided to “sleep out”. It was a miserable night, freezing cold. I probably had about 3 hours of good sleep, shivered for another 4hours before the sun came up. When the sun finally did come up, I found the path within about 5 minutes, and then went down to the house (the Elandsberg support station), had breakfast, had a bit of a break, and started riding further. But that effectively cost me about 6 or 7 hours.”

Author's Comment: Glenn had mentioned previously in a Freedom Challenge presentation that the problem with “sleeping out” with only one’s clothes and an emergency blanket in sub-zero temperatures is that I isn’t only about the time delay caused directly by the “sleep out”. In addition, the hours of shivering and shaking use up valuable energy, leaving the rider exhausted and taking a few days to fully recover. On the RASA, there are thus important choices that one has to make in this regard. Does one go for the “very light” travel option, with only an emergency blanket available for a possible “sleep out”? Or does one carry an extra 1-2 kilograms in the form of a lightweight sleeping bag and bivvy sack/tent? Glenn and Alex Harris, and most of the other top riders seem to take their chances with the lightweight option. Glenn “paid the price last year. Another former winner, Tim James, takes the other option, carrying a bivvy sack and sleeping bag strapped to his bike. He thus makes himself independent of support stations, and can stop pretty much anywhere he likes and have a reasonably warm and good sleep.  The trade-off is a heavier weight for Tim to carry, and weight can become extremely important during the extremely long days that these riders are known to do. There’s no right or wrong on this one, and each can have consequences.

1 comment:

  1. And they laughed at me for years after getting lost at elandsberg! The self sufficient option can only work if you train at it, and can fall asleep quickly and comfortably in a sack. Otherwise ride till the next spot, which could be miles away