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2021 RASA Race Report #11 | Mike Woolnough

Wednesday 7th 21:00

It’s been a day where everyone has simply got on with the job. I’m not going to bore you with a blow by blow but rather offer a few snippets.

It seems there’s been a reprieve from the wind that’s been hounding the field since the start and the deathly cold of the last few days has eased. By eased I mean it’s only -10°C in places and no longer plummeting to -17°C as reported 2 nights back. Although Sutherland is regarded as the coldest town in South Africa, Buffelsfontein near Molteno once recorded -20°C with in the coldest temperate recorded in mainland South Africa. It looks like that record may well have been tested this week.

I caught up with Sarah van Eerden and Franci Joubert this evening. We’ve had no news from these ladies over the last 2 weeks. All we’ve been able to say is that they are moving steadily along the trail every day.

Chatting to them was a delight. They are perky and currently living their best lives out in the trail.

Franci did say the first few days were tough and she almost lost hope. But chatting to her this evening that is clearly a thing of the past. She did say the narrative in places could do with slightly more detail. However, looking at her tracks from the start there’s only been one small glitch. They are obviously a lot more adept at navigation than they think.

Sarah is also in high spirits even though her crew spent the afternoon thrashing through Mordor getting clear of the last river crossing before last light. Although she got through without any issues she did mention that Andrew Green in the excitement of having having cleared Mordor mashed his pedals up the rocky jeep track to the final gate. In his enthusiasm he trashed his chain. Apart from that they only suffered a single puncture. She says the biggest challenge so far in the race has been the wind. Particularly from Malekgalonyane to Rhodes where she reports seeing roofs blown off. When they arrived in Slaapkrans Joyce mentioned that cell reception wasn’t optimal due to a Vodacom tower being taken out by the wind. In Moodenaarspoort they were told that the local OVK had lost its roof. They are currently in Kudukaya looking through weather and wind apps trying to decide if the wind which is currently favourable all the way to Prince Albert is to be taken advantage or not. Damsedrif or Willowmore tomorrow is the decision to be made.

Roger Nicholson’s batch took full advantage of the favourable winds today and sailed through to Prince Albert from Willowmore. They are also contemplating their next move based on wind predictions which don’t look favourable later in the week. Yesterday Andrew broke a shifter. Roger swapped bikes so that Andrew who is finding to going a tad hard could move ahead while Roger did the single speed derailleur adjustment thing after which Roger pedalled through to Willowmore on Andrews bike. This included riding up the Nuwekloof Pass out of the Baviaanskloof. Fortunately Roger is no stranger to single speeding.

Carlo and Casper met up with Greg, Ollie and Merak in Romansfontein last night and they all headed out before sunrise this morning. Ollie, Merak and Greg had their sights set on Elandsberg while the other 2 were going to push to Groenfontein. Once over Aasvoelberg a tailwind propelled them forward resulting in them arriving early afternoon in Elandsberg. With the wind still in their favour they all got back on their bikes and scuttled off to Groenfontein. An uneventful day in comparison to their exit from Kranskop the previous day. Leaving Kranskop Casper judged the ice on a stream to be strong enough to use as a step. Well, he misjudged. A short while later he realised he’d lost his Cateye odometer. Heading back to look for the Cateye they found a sheep caught in a fence. After successfully liberating the beast they found the Cateye submerged in the river. Casper pocketed it and after getting to Romansfontein he dabbed it dry and it’s still working. That’s a plus for Cateye.

What’s not a plus is the failure of at least 3 Extreme lights which apparently are not extreme. The cold has resulted in cable failure for Charl, Greg F and Ollie. It’s an ongoing problem for that popular brand. I thought they had addressed the problem. Apparently not adequately. Certainly not for minus plenty temperatures.

Gavin Horton was breakfasting at Romansfontein when the others headed out. He followed 30 mins later and by Elandsberg had caught up. Intent on pushing to Fietskraal he pushed off ahead of the other 5.

Nigel Payne wants the dot watchers to know the reason for the their tardy progress is the food on offer at all the support stations. He reports that the quality and quantity has resulted in them gaining enough weight that they are hardly feeling the cold.

Mike Nixon took a knock to his shin a few day back cycling off Lehana near Tenahead. He though it was simply some broken skin. 24 hours later it was really sore. 48 hours later it became uncomfortably sore. After consultation with the race doctor he’s was prescribed some antibiotics. He is on the mend and will be resuming his charge in the morning. His biggest contribution right now is allowing us to report that the field Is now spread out over 1114 kilometres. The next closest rider is 226 kilometres ahead. He’s got work to do if he doesn’t want to keep the buffalo herders waiting too long at Kudukaya.

Talking of Buffalo herders. Fiona Coward and Mike Potgieter, no strangers to the Freedom Trail, have reported for duty in Cambria. I’m sure there are going to be plenty of reunions and conversations between them and the riders coming through.

I suppose we should say something about the sharp end of the race. Fjord is currently out front. He arrived in Pearston a few minutes ago at 20:20. He left Pietermaritzburg only 6 days 15 hours ago.

Chasing him is Axel, who after a sluggish start—for him—has his head down. He is currently less than 6 hours behind. Arriving in Fietskraal now he needs to choose between a quick nap or pressing on. It will be a pivotal decision for him. If he can’t catch Fjord before Hadley it might mean the Cambria gate becomes the arbiter of who wins the race. Notwithstanding the fact that from Cambria they still have just shy of 800km to the finish.

Gavin Horton has bounced back from a bad chest and is moving well. He breezed through Groenfontein and barring any mishaps should get to Fietskraal by midnight.

These guys are tough. It’s a tense game of cat or mouse where the outcome can turn on a mechanical issue, a missed wake up alarm or a Navigational zig when they should have zagged.

Lastly I’ve heard whispering that we might have one or two more withdrawals from the race. I’m not privy to who they might be. It’s always best to sleep in decisions like that. Sometimes a new day brings better perspective.

Race pics | 7 July 2021 | Llewellyn Lloyd // Reblex Photography

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