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Race Preview

The first batch of the second running of Summer Race Across South Africa is underway, having left Pietermaritzburg City Hall at 6am this morning. The only other Summer RASA was in 2020, COVID having forced the postponement of the Winter RASA earlier that year. Readers will remember the win by Alex Harris, the first time a rider went under ten days for either version of the event. Debate has raged ever since about the relative difficulty of a winter versus summer RASA.

There seems to be consensus that the winter version remains the ultimate test, but it would be a very foolish rider indeed that starts Summer RASA thinking that it will be a breeze. Extreme heat, winds, potential rain, and even snakes are all in play. Good also to remember that it has snowed in the Drakensberg in every month of the year. Nigel Payne was at Tenahead three weeks ago and experienced 30cm of snow. See pic below.

During Summer RASA two of the shorter events are being held, Summer Race to Rhodes and Summer Race to Paarl. Although there is a relatively smaller field for RASA the fields for RTR and especially RTP are pretty good, so there will be plenty to follow over the next three weeks or so.

I reached out to our wonderful support station hosts asking what riders could expect. Never a bad idea to get it straight from the horses’ mouth. Feedback ranged as follows:

“hot and windy” (Jackie from Victoria Boutique in Hofmeyer)

“has been extremely hot at Allandale” (Dana)

“same as usual.. weather conditions always full of surprises” (Joyce from Slaapkrantz)

“plenty of milking goats at Fietskraal, watch out for Caesar the ram” (Charne)

“wind, wind, wind and extremely hot” (Sandra at Kranskop)

“weer swart droog na Junie se reen” (Hannes from Bucklands)

“very little rain, only Smitskraal has water” (Hestelle, Damsedrif, Baviaanskloof)

There you have it. Windy, dry and hot. The thought of riding through a bone dry Baviaanskloof (after the gate) in 40 degrees is scary. The Buffalo Herders remember escorting Alex Harris through such conditions in 2020. Not for the fainthearted (the cycling, not the Buffalo Herding, although the latter does require some unique talents A bit like props in rugby. Nothing too flashy).

I made a few calls to a number of the RASA entrants for this year’s event. Mike Woolnough (6 blankets) is riding with Janine Stewart (1 blanket and loads of shorter race finishes). Mike says he is in the best shape of his life (he is at no risk of being asked to be a prop). Janine currently lives in the UK and hasn’t been able to get in as much training as she would have liked. I mused as to whether Janine would be gunning for a sub 15 day ride, only one women rider, Jeannie Dreyer has managed that before (12 days and some change). “Not impossible” said Mike “she is more than capable of it. Ntsikeni by the end of the first day will mean a sub 15 day RASA”

Mike himself must be in line for his first RASA win, perhaps a joint win with Janine? Mike spoke of the unique opportunities Summer RASA offers – “the world looks completely different. It might be the same terrain but it is a very different ride”. In other words, if you are thinking about riding Summer RASA, come and do it. I was only kidding about the snakes. Not really.

Tim James is riding with his son Murray (23 years old, lives in Australia). Tim will get his tenth blanket if he finishes, the all-time record. He will also turn 65 shortly after his intended finish. This is Murray’s first ride, his father tells me that the two of them are very much looking forward to riding together. Father and son (any family combination for that matter), something very special.

“Murray has been at the finish so many times, cheering me on. I really hope he will get to experience the huge emotional relief and sense of achievement riding across the dam wall and up the avenue at Diemersfontein” – Tim James. It will be interesting watching Tim and Murray’s progress. Rumour has it Murray can ride like his Dad (as in very fast). Perhaps the race winners come from this father and son duo?

Nigel Payne was his passionate and eloquent self when I chatted to him. He and brother Adrian will be riding their sixth RASA together (Nigel is doing his seventh). As usual they are riding for a good cause, Reach for a Dream. This is the second RASA event they are riding this year, they call it the “DoubleUp” challenge, asking donors to double up their contributions to Reach for a Dream. They have reached 360k of their 500k target.

Nigel had an interesting observation about this year’s field - “lots of couple combinations – the Paynes, the James, the Talbots, Mike and Janine”. I would like to stress that Mike and Janine are NOT a couple in the traditional sense of the word, I’ve made that error with Janine before, as Mrs Biccard may well recall.

I also caught up with Ingrid Talbot, twice leading lady in previous RASA events. She and her husband Mike will be riding their third RASA together. They are targeting around 17 days, but Ingrid stressed that they will see how it goes.

Batch one is interesting, all newbies. Every single one of them, not one of them has ridden any RASA event before. That is just wonderful, they will have a unique experience, never to be forgotten. May they find themselves somewhere along the trail, in every sense. Two other riders also started this morning on their RTR journey, Sarah van Heerden and Shaun Knowles. They aim to get to Rhodes in a pretty quick time, so the rest of Batch 1 are unlikely to get much navigational help from them.

That is about enough for the opening report. The next batch is only starting on Monday, so I expect the next report will be later on that day. Actually there is one very interesting rider in that Batch (to be fair they are all interesting, but as of yet we haven’t pinpointed the exit reasons for this. Don’t panic the Freedom Writers will reveal all in time (about the other Batch 2 riders, just to make it clear).

Ian Henderson makes movies. Really good movies, Netflix type movies. The big news is that he is going to be making a documentary/film about Freedom, and is using his ride as the film chassis. This means he will be carrying a drone with him. Apparently he is a very capable rider but we will all watch his journey with great interest, and look forward to the celluloid end result. He reminds me of the rider some years back who started RASA with a bird book and binoculars, wanting to record all.

On the Race Office front it’s the usual suspects. Chris Fisher, Race Director, is handling things at the start. Julia is in Cape Town handling everything else. The Buffalo Herders are ready. We look forward to renewing friendships with riders and support station hosts, as well as Post Office personnel along the route, the few that are left.

I have a sad little story to tell as well, about the second navigator on the Shackleton aircraft that crashed in Stettynskloof. As we get closer to McGregor I will write about it, and I promise that you will shed a tear, as did I.

Tears are not uncommon on RASA, and we bid all the riders the best of luck.

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