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 2

Question 2 of the pre-race interview with Glenn is with regard to pre-race navigation preparations.

Background: Navigation is crucial in The Race Across South Africa. Obviously, getting lost can cost you a few hours, as it cost Glenn last year. But even if you don’t get lost, having to stop at every turnoff to check the maps and narrative for the next set of direction can all add up to an extra few hours over a day. For us back markers, that is not crucial. As a matter of fact I often welcomed the rest. But for the top racers it is important to know the route well enough so as to hardly ever have to look at maps, because this dramatically reduces riding time (increases average speed).

 JL: “How much time does one of the competitive racers like yourself spend recce-ing the race route in advance of the race, to make sure that your navigation is right, and are there any changes or new sections in this year’s race which are a bit “sketchy”?”

Glenn: “As far as reccing goes, ideally you’d want to recce anything that has changed (since last year’s race), or anything that you may have got wrong in the past. That was my intention, but I haven’t been able to do that because of work commitments this year. So I’m basically going on memory again and having to navigate (perhaps use the maps and narrative)  some of the stretches, and perhaps to make sure I get to such stretches in daylight, when the navigation is far easier. The only stretch I would have REALLY wanted to recce is Elandsberg (where I got lost and “slept out” last year) and ideally in the month before the event to have gone and seen what it is like, and see what conditions one can expect on the day. So I haven’t done that, and that might affect the way I approach Elandsberg, hopefully trying to do this section in daylight, but if I have to do it at night then so be it. But if I have to end up sleeping on the mountain, then this time I will sleep until I wake up from the cold, and then I will get moving again (as opposed to shivering for another 4 hours) and try to find my way off the mountain in the dark. So, ja, the only other changes I know about…and there was potentially a change around Stuttgart (near Cradock), but its been changed again. So I’d planned to go and recce that but it wasn’t necessary, because the new route around there is now all on district roads, and the navigation is fairly easy in both day and night, so I’m not too worried about that. There’s a small change going out of Maritzburg on day 1 within th 1st 10 kms or so, but I’ll go and recce that the day before I start. I’ll also go and check the river level of the Umkomaas just before Hella Hella portage, to see if it is worth crossing the river early and saving 20 minutes or riding round to the Hella Hella Bridge. Other than that, there are some other stretches that I find tricky, such as the Anysberg Nature Reserve (in the stage before Montagu, Western Cape). I’d preferably want to do that in daylight because it’s a lot quicker, and the odd other thing here or there, but I’m planning to hit all of those in daylight. But the only one that really bugs me is Elandsberg, but nothing I can do about that now.”

Comment: Glenn is arguably one of the more experienced riders of the RASA, and the fact that even he got lost on Elandsberg last year shows just how significant a part of the race navigation is. Rival Alex Harris is now also something of a veteran. But the other serious contender, Martin Dreyer, would probably have had to have done far more work on recceing the route for the 2012 RASA, as 2011 was his first time out. When sizing up the race contenders, one would think that navigation is one of Glenn’s strong points.

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