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Race report 4 July 2022

At least two topics for this morning’s report, probably more as I get going. I’m writing this from Trouthaven, the support station before the last leg of the Race Across South Africa. Every rider who has been here is very familiar with the sense of foreboding as one cycles (or even drives) up the road to Dwarsberg (Trouthaven). The valley narrows. The surrounding mountains get steeper. Darkness comes quickly as a result. Each rider, veteran or newbie, fears what lies ahead. There is less banter amongst the riders. The final rite of passage to earn that blanket. There has been talk over the years of changing the last day, “too difficult”. That topic doesn’t last long, jealously guarded by the protectors of the legacy, the collective body of blanket holders.

We have three riders in contention to win RASA 2022. Rowan Matthews, Bruce Biccard and Enslin Uys. The scenarios are complicated by Rowan Matthews having started two days before the latter two. Dot watchers have been running virtual comparisons over the last few days. “Who looks stronger? Who has had more/less sleep?”

It is likely that it will boil down to what happens at Trouthaven. Bruce and Enslin will have the advantage of arriving at Trouthaven knowing what Rowan’s finishing time was. Bruce is currently 50km or so ahead of Enslin but both will arrive at some stage in Trouthaven tomorrow. Will either of them take the plunge and dive into darkness for an overnight attempt, with an almost guaranteed sleep somewhere along the way? Alternatively an earlier start than Rowan on Wednesday might be enough. Whatever happens the winning time will be 14 days and some change, change that really matters this year. Good luck to all three.

Comment from Tim James:

“Race through Stettyns is the most likely. BB could still be more aggressive and go under 14 by sleeping an hour at Macgregor at midnight and then going till the end. He could still almost get out of Stettyns by sunset tomorrow if no mistakes. But he hasn’t done well so far with nav or strategy so could make for interesting viewing”

Amongst the women a very similar scenario is playing out. Ingrid Avidon and Omphile Joy will finish today, their 23rd day of cycling. Dawn Bell will in all likelihood start the Stettynskloof leg tomorrow morning, knowing exactly what she needs to do to get the win, which will be her second if she gets it.

Today should see Grant Hill (his third), Paul Moxley (first), Adriaan (first) get their blankets at Diemersfontein. Together with Omphile’s first blanket this will mean that at the end of today there will be 301 blanket holder’s somewhere out there in the world. Many more blankets than 301, as a healthy percentage of riders have more than one blanket (I have that stat somewhere, don’t worry).

This figure will increase over the next few days as there are quite a few newbies that are due to arrive at Diemersfontein. I think of Quinton Rutherford (sadly without his wife Cindy who had to withdraw today due to an injury), Rebecca Sands, Jeremy Steere, Matt Denny (who himself had to withdraw due to injury a few years ago, Cindy will be back to do the same I am sure), Justin Bark, Janine Oosthuizen, Chris Mortimer, John Barrow, Paul Arnott, Michael Patchitt, Peter Roux, Gerald Holland, Nienke van Schaik, Andreas Diacon, Andrew Setzkom and Enslin Uys himself. I hope I haven’t left anyone out. 16 more blanket holders which should bring the total number to 317.

We will talk in reports over the next few days about those on course who are about to earn additional blankets to those they already possess. I think in particular of the Payne brothers. Actually let’s quickly talk about these two. Nigel is riding his sixth RASA, brother Adrian his fifth. In October they will be doing a double-up, as they are both down to ride the Summer RASA, threatening Tim James’ record of nine blankets. Quite an achievement, as is the work they have done for the various charities that they have ridden for on every single RASA.

There has been an interesting discussion over the last few days on FC social media about the number of riders who attempt this event without being adequately able to ride properly self-supported, as the race ethos requires. Buffalo Herders have been getting a bit of a roasting (making things too easy for the riders being at their beck and call), which was a bit of a surprise for us Herders. Herders are a sensitive lot and bruise easily. It will hopefully come as some comfort to the naysayers that we share the sentiment expressed, that being that many riders are under-prepared (nothing new, it has been like this since the start in 2004). Perhaps it might help those who have commented to remember that the Herders are all part of the same community as those who have commented. We all have blankets or whips or whatever, have been involved with the race for a long time and hold the ethos of the race as close to our hearts as the rest of our FC family. We, to the best of ability, also try to protect what this race is all about. One observation worth making is that the highest drop-out rates over the history of RASA have been over the last two years, a fact that hardly supports a race that is getting easier. I’ll leave it there, other than to say we are always open to ideas that will help the sustainability of this wonderful race, the very reason why we have offered our help in the first place.

I’ll close this report here, other than to note that all support stations up to and including Willowmore are now closed for 2022. We again thank you for your loyalty to the Freedom Challenge. You are us.

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