Early breakaway in extreme endurance event
Ntsikeni 13 June 2011
It is two days into the 2011 Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa, the 2300 km non-stop, unsupported expedition mountain bike race from Pietermaritzburg to Diemersonfontein Wine Estate, outside Cape Town, and there has already been a significant break away.
Leaving Pietermaritzburg on Sunday morning, current tandem record holder, Mike Woolnough immediately made his intentions clear. Heading through the Bisley
Nature Reserve he rode away from the rest of his starting group. Despite good weather he was unable to cross the Umkomaas River, swollen with the recent rains and was forced to take a detour. He climbed with efficiency out of the Hella Hella and arrived at the Allendale support station in the Sisonke District in the early afternoon. Where those who left Pietermaritzburg before him had stopped, Woolnough pushed on.
By nightfall Woolnough had ridden through the Nxumeni indigenous forest and dropped down to the Umzimkulu River. He stopped briefly at the historic Centocow Mission before continuing on in darkness to climb the Gxalangene mountain. His progress was slowed when crossing the Ngwangwane River he came to the assistance of a group of three riders who had left Pietermaritzburg a day earlier and who had spent the previous three hours trying to find the route through to the Ntsikeni Nature Reserve.
Woolnough arrived at Ntsikeni after midnight having climbed in excess of 5500 metres and ridden 210 kms over a period of 19hrs and 30 minutes of near continuous cycling. After a few hours sleep he left Ntsikeni and is now headed across the upper catchment of the Umzimvubu River towards the Maluti Drakensberg mountains.
Woolnough’s effort not only puts him well ahead of the rest of the field, but on par with the 2009 record setting pace of current men’s record holder, Tim James.
Those following this extreme race now wait to see whether the current window of good weather will hold, whether Woolnough has the physical and mental reserves to sustain this pace for two weeks and whether any of the participants who will be starting in the batches that will leave Pietermaritzburg over the next few days have the capacity to match him.