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 -

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Yesterday's Pre-start article from the Freedom Challenge Website - 18 June

Last riders start in 2012 Freedom Challenge
18 June 2012
Steven Burnett/

The 2012 edition of the Freedom Challenge 2300km Race Across South Africa started with the first group of riders leaving on the 9th of June. Every day since then batches of riders have been departing from Pietermaritzburg and the last group leaves at 6 am on Tuesday 19 June. Now is perhaps the time for some idle speculation about how the race is likely to play itself out over the next two weeks.

Gerrit Pretorius of Batch A is now at Support Station 9 near Molteno(SS9), still ahead of the rest of the field and seems destined to lead the charge across the Karoo. Brian O
Regan who left Pietermaritzburg in batch B is riding strongly and may catch Voorryer Pretorius soon.

Tracking back 800km all the way to Pietermaritzburg the riders who left Pietermaritzburg over the first week have tended to stick together and remain on the
recommended time schedules for a finish within the 26 day finish.

The first riders to make solid racing moves started in Batch H, on Sunday 17 June. Arriving during the afternoon with 100km of riding under their legs, four riders chose to push on from the first support station at Allendale. Mike Woolnough, Trevor Ball and Allen Sharp rode onto the alternate stop - Centacow mission station, where Allen chose to rest up for the night. 57 year old Richmond Macintyre who had taken a fall earlier caught up to Allen during the night and both left Centocow together in the early morning. Trevor and Mike did the aggressive opening
double up move, and rode all the way to May Lodge in the Ntsikeni Nature Reserve in one big go. It is 197km and about 6500m of climbing, in the time of 19hours. They took about a four hour nap and then completed another double stage all the way to SS4, Malekholonyane Lodge arriving just before midnight. Richmond and Allen also did a big push of their second day riding from Centocow through Ntiskeni to SS3/Masakala for their second day.

ll keep an eye on these four. There dont seem to be any other dark horses amongst the field pushing aggressive strategies. That is not to be frowned upon in any way. With 10% of the starting field having already withdrawn just completing each stage of this race is an achievement in itself.

However, excitement is brewing in Pietermaritzburg, where arguably the strongest field of out and out racers have assembled in order to leave at 06h00 on the 19 of June. They are the Batch J race snakes and we are expecting fireworks when they pedal away from City Hall. It is likely that the overall winner will come from this group, and they will no doubt reel in riders already on the course from the onset. More on them later.

An interesting race within the race that has developed is the unofficial
line honours victory, which goes to the first rider into the finish at Diemersfontein Wine Estate in Paarl. Currently Gerrit is leading the field on the trail, but he is probably on the recommended 22 day race schedule. The Batch J race snakes start 10 days behind him. If they are looking to finish within the race record of 12 days they will only close on him near the end.. probably going to catch up to them soon, and might decide to push on ahead. Mike and Trevor will no doubt be looking over their shoulders and ride hard to retain their two day headstart over the Batch J racesnakes all the way to the finish. Only time will tell. The two day headstart may even prove to be the key to victory here. With cold fronts starting to move in over the country if they have managed to move beyond the high lying parts of the trail when it hits they could get a marginal weather window which would seem them move ahead whilst the worst of the weather holds back riders behind.

So who are these racesnakes that seem to hold the key to the race?

The favourite for many would be Alex Harris, who has won the past two races and blown the record down to 12 days and some change. He comes from a mountaineering background and has, amongst many other feats, done Everest (twice), the seven summits and trekked to the South Pole on foot.

Glenn Harrison came second in 2011, finishing less than a day behind Alex. He is the single speed and tandem course record holder. This year he has been training more, and has swapped his singlespeed for a geared bike. That must be faster!

Martin Dreyer is one of the greatest endurance athletes South Africa has ever known. He has 7 Dusi titles to his name and has continued achieving in long distance adventure racing since his paddling peak.

tweet Bird has followed a similar path to Martin, and currently captains the Merrel Adventure Addicts AR team. Both Tweet and Martin rode within themselves to finish very fast times in 2011, and have come back for more.

Also in the batch are Garth Flanders who led the 2011 field for much of that race and Andre Visser, who has been training with Glenn. He and Glenn could end up riding together for a while, and he may be the shot in the dark guess for the first rookie to finish in this very strong field.

The riders in J batch are expected to blow hot from the start. They might stick together or race each other into the ground. They all have enviable racing pedigrees and will have been devoting a lot of time this year to planning, training and mentally preparing for this race. It is unlikely that they will go much further than Mike and Trevor by two double up moves and reaching SS4 on the second night, but who knows where the competitive spirit will take them? Now is not the time to pick a winner now, but look forward to this contest going all the way to the finish.

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