With four batches already out on the trail and another two more to go, the 2017 Race to Rhodes is in full swing.
Batch One: Nick Taschner, Rob Verseput, Roger Nicholson, Andrew Walker, Nigel Basel and Tracey Lentin are the furtherest down the trail and tonight they sleep at SS4 - Malekgolonyane. After the relatively short stage today from Masakala, they had some time to rest up a bit and enjoy the spectacular views of the surrounding Maluti mountains. Nick, Rob, Roger and Andrew got in early enough to ‘ride the loop’ which means they have ticked off tomorrow’s tricky exit already and can leave via the dirt road to rejoin the route after the first tricky navigation section - this allows them to leave in the dark and bank some precious daylight for the end of the day when going the the tricky Vuvu valley section - a smart move. Nigel and Tracey were content to rest up though after the last three late nights out on the trail.
Batch Two: Mandy Joyce, Johann Lombaard, Andrew Holmes and Russell Holmes and Philip Fullaway all left Ntsikeni at first light this morning and had no problems getting through to the snack stop at Glen Edward by mid morning. From there they spread out a bit with Philip forging ahead but only until a sidewall cut stopped him in his tracks. His spare tube and some duct tape allowed him to continue slowly though, which meant the rest of the group eventually caught up. They all arrived at Masakala just before last light. The Race Office has arranged for a spare tyre to be delivered there, so hopefully Philip’s troubles are over for now.
Batch Three: Grant Cowen, Nicky Nairn, Janine Stewart and brother Mark Stewart all left Allendale before sunrise this morning. Doing the tricky navigation out of Allendale Farm in the dark didn’t pose too many problems for them and by mid morning they were enjoying a welcomed break at Centocow. Initially Grant was thinking of pushing past Ntsikeni to Glen Edward but decided against it in the end. Mark, Janine and Nicky all arrived comfortably before dark - another solid ride for them. After a miserably cold night sleeping out in the Umko valley last night, Andrew Pearson called it quits and phoned in during the wee hours to withdraw - he was plucked from the trail at 04h30 and brought back to the start in Pietermaritzburg. Mark Leisher faired slightly better under those trying conditions and got going soon after first light. Having eventually found the jeep track through the thick bush, he got to the road and stopped in at the Hela Hela Adventure Centre for water. From there it was a long, slow trudge up the steep 9km climb on tired legs but he got to Allendale by late afternoon, where he will recover tonight and continue tomorrow.
Batch Four: Andrew Blackburn, Simon Blackburn, Richard Erasmus, Rowan Matthews and Steven Kitto, together with Ralph Gilbert, all left Pietermaritzburg in good spirits this morning. With good trail knowledge among them, they made good time today and after the customary soup stop at The Oaks Hotel in Byrne, had ticked off the Umko valley by lunchtime. This put them in Allendale with daylight to spare, strong riding from all of them.
An interesting day it has been, for some everything went according to plan, for others, the riding continues into the night..
Batch One: Nick Taschner, Rob Verseput, Roger Nicholson, Andrew Walker, Nigel Basel and Tracey Lentin all left Ntiskeni this morning at first light. The tricky section at Politique kraal posed no problems for them and all stopped in at Glen Edward for snacks. Things spread out a bit as the day progressed, with Nick arriving at Masakala first by late afternoon and Andrew, Roger and Rob not far behind. Nigel and Tracey slowed during the afternoon, which meant they ran out of light approaching Shenxa village - this leaves them with some tricky night time navigation to do and another late night out on the trail.
Batch Two: Mandy Joyce, Johann Lombaard, Andrew Holmes and Russell Holmes made a pre-dawn exit from Allendale with Philip Fullaway opting to wait for first light. The foursome got through to Donnybrook cleanly but Philip went on a major detour before rejoining the route just after Donnybrook. He made good time from there, catching up to the others again at Centocow. From there it was heads down and some hard miles up the steep climbs approaching Ntsikeni - Philip arrived first with the others all getting in before sunset.
Batch Three: Grant Cowen, Nicky Nairn, Janine Stewart, Mark Stewart, Andrew Pearson and Mark Leisher left the city hall on a quiet Sunday morning. Janine and Mark rode quickly and soon distanced themselves from the rest. When they stopped at The Oaks, Grant snuck past and got the the Umko valley first, where he opted to cross the river. But halfway up Hela Hela, they had all regrouped and from there it was a steady ride through to Allendale, Janine and Mark arriving first, then Nicky and Grant. For Andrew and Mark L, the day was somewhat more eventful - they missed a turn on the way to Minerva and added some extra time and distance to the day, only arriving at The Oaks for lunch. From there they made their way tentatively into the Umko valley. Slowed by the thick bush and feint paths, they still found themselves in the valley as the sun was setting. The bushwhacking continued into the night as they struggled to find the jeep track which would take them out to the bridge and the main dirt road. After such a long day, they may opt to sleep out in the valley tonight and get going again when the sun rises.
After a fairly pedestrian start yesterday, the Race to Rhodes delivered a few surprising twists today. Batch One: Nick Taschner, Roger Nicholson, Rob Verseput, Andrew Walker, Colin Ogilvie, Tracey Lentin and Nigel Basel all got to Allendale yesterday. This morning Nick, Roger, Rob and Andrew left at 4am but by 6am were back at the farmhouse for coffee after having stomped around in the dark for two hours. The second attempt, which included Tracey and Nigel this time, was more successful and they headed off towards Donnybrook soon after first light. Colin was less fortunate though, forced to withdraw at Allendale due to a chest infection. By late afternoon, Nick, Rob, Roger and Andrew had reached Ntsikeni, while Tracey and Nigel were still a few hours away. They are expected at Ntsikeni before 10pm tonight, another long day on the trail.
Batch Two: Derik de Jager, Johann Lombaard, Mandy Joyce, Philip Fullaway and the brothers Russell and Andrew Holmes all made good progress this morning, all stopping to refuel at The Oaks by mid morning. Philip raced on and had arrived at Allendale by mid afternoon. For Russell, Andrew, Johann and Mandy the pace was slightly more sedate and they all arrived safely before dark. For Derik, the day came to an early end at The Oaks - he was having trouble with his eyesight, already having crashed once because of it, so decided to withdraw.
The weather also turned this afternoon, with light rain coming down in Pietermaritzburg and also out along the route at Allendale and Donnybrook - tomorrow things could get interesting..
Seven riders from RTR Batch 1 left the city hall under slightly cloudy skies this morning - Tracey Lentin, Nigel Basel, Colin Ogilvie, Nick Taschner, Rob Verseput, Roger Nicholson and Andrew Walker were the first riders to hit the trail this year. The day played out as expected, with everyone stopping in for a mid-morning snack at The Oaks hotel before heading off to the Umkomaas Valley. Progress slowed a bit here but everyone was through and up the Hela Hela pass before dark. Nick arrived at Allendale by mid-afternoon, Roger, Rob and Andrew arrived before dark, with Colin arriving just after sunset. Tracey and Nigel were the last to arrive at 7pm after a long day out on the trail.
Countdown to RTR and RASA 2017
Less than a month from now, the first of this year’s Freedom Challenge riders will be lining up in Pietermaritzburg for the Race to Rhodes and soon after for the Race Across South Africa. As if on cue, the weather service is predicting the possibility of snowfalls for next week, signalling the arrival of winter 2017. Riders can look forward to an amazing adventure out on the trail but will need to be equipped and ready to deal with whatever Mother Nature may throw at them.
With riders still packing their race boxes and deciding on final kit selection, the clock is ticking and the excitement builds. The respective fields for this year include a mix of old and new with many first timers lining up in both events. This year also sees an increase in the number of international riders: Shane Little and Phillipa Crocker from the UK, Colin Ogilvie from Mauritius, Mark Leisher from the USA, Maarten Witters from Belgium and Jacques Tattersall from Namibia.
With the field now finalised and the batches released, we can also see a few well known names lining up - the 2012 duel between Martin Dreyer and Alex Harris looks set for a repeat - will we see a new outcome and what is the likelihood of a new course record being set? That story will play out as the race gets going and should be exciting to watch.
For many returning riders, the aim is a quicker finishing time and a hopefully smoother ride to the finish. But as they well know, the trail will have the final say and on the day, those who can adapt to the conditions, make good decisions and keep moving forward are the ones who will succeed. We wish all the riders well and look forward to the start of the action.
Live tracking and news on the RASA | RTR events
start May 25th, 2017