What qualifies as a racer you may ask? Well for RASA the cut-off at Diemersfontein is 26 days, but the trail, and arrangement of support stations lends itself to a 21 day “tour” from support station to support station. So anything from 21 to 26 days would general be regarded as a “tour”. 16 to 20 would be regarded a a “ride”, but a tough one. 16 or less would be “racing”. Each day one shortens the “ride”, the harder it gets…exponentially harder!
For the RTR riders the “tour” needs to be completed in 7 days, average riders take 5-6 , and racers are generally aiming for a sub 4 day finish, the most accomplished aim for a sub 3. For a sub 3 one would have to ride 3 “doubles” (2 days in 1), which is no mean feat. Having said the Thursdays batch of RTR participants would be looking not only at the win, but perhaps the RTR record and even aiming for the FKT (more on that tomorrow).
Today's start includes the first two RASA “racers” of Andy and Sean. They are aiming for a sub 15 day RASA! That is racing…….They certainly are experienced, but thats a tough riding schedule and they will need to aim for repeated day-and-a-halves, and some doubles (weather and fitness permitting). A surprising early nav error on the climb up to Cunningham’s Castle cost them lots of time. They only arrived at The Oaks at 12h30 and still haven't caught the Erasmus’s. This early setback would have impacted their “nav confidence”, and although I expected them to head for Centocow, I suspect will probably pull up at Allendale to regroup.
The 2nd of the “racing batches”, of Mike Woolnough and Janine Stewart (RASA), start tomorrow alongside the first RTR Racer (I’m assuming he’s racing), Enslin Uys. These 3 are experienced. I dont expect to see any “squiggling” from Mike and Janine (they will be riding together). They’re both “trail hardened” and even with some rain, mud and mist (significantly impacts night nav) being an issue, are unlikely to struggle. While Mike is in great form, Janine has done little training in the last month (work seems to interfere with everything) and feels a bit “under cooked”…but at least her legs are fresh. They plan a 17-18 day “tour” (yes, for those racing snakes a 17 day RASA is achievable at normal riding pace without much night nav, and plenty of R&R at the SS’s, hard to believe!).
It will be interesting to see if Mikes unbridled competitive nature forces a change of plan? Janine's reluctant I can tell (think she’s using this as a recce for another time), but her ability to vasbyt is legendary, and Mikes quite persuasive…so I wont be surprised if they are the 1st to do a double to Ntsikeni. That may set them up for a faster RASA … lets see how it unfolds.
Enslin won Winter RASA this year, and I’m assuming he’s not just here to tour, and therefore may be aiming for a sub-3 day finish at Rhodes. So he will probably be aiming for Ntsikeni tomorrow night. 13 individuals have done this in the last 20 years on a RTR (you can add a few more riders to that total if you include RASA entrants, and therefore not on the RTR sub 3 list). I’m sure he’ll want to correct some of the “squiggles” Bruce and he made during Winter RASA this year…so he’ll be good to watch. Could he pip Alex, Arno and Jacques to Rhodes, we’ll see…a lot depends on conditions (its been a bit wet) and intentions (are Arno and Jacques just riding for fun?).
The “Dot Watchers” (DW’s) be watching these “Racing Batches” intently. There is a fascination with their ability to move forward no matter what. But the racers are pushing the envelope and are more likely to come unstuck. Look at what happened during Winter RASA this year.
The RTR riders from today, Richard, Lucy and Kathleen, seem to have stuck together, and with Richards experience I expect them to cruise through to Alandale for well deserved R&R. They’re drumming down into the Umko as I write this.
As far as the earlier batches are concerned, the trail blazers have been steadily progressing along the trail. Andrew, Sean and Sarah set out with an ambitious plan of doing a “Double” on day one to Ntsikeni, which is a tough day on the bike. It’s 200km of Freedom Trail (and this is no ordinary 200km mountain bike ride) with 5300m of climbing (if you dont get lost and have to retrace your path), add to that the portages and some tricky night nav through the Bosholweni Forrest and the entrance to the Ntsikeni nature Reserve.
They called it a day on Saturday evening, and stopped short at Centecow (still impressive). Subsequently they’ve reverted to a stage a day, or a stage and a ½ per day, and progressed smoothly through to the Mpharane Ridge yesterday before they made a nav error and dropped off the ridge too soon. This incurred a 90 minute penalty which they will sit out from 16h30 this afternoon. That may put a spanner in the works, and will leave them just short of Vuvu with sun setting by my reckoning. This makes a sub 4 day finish unlikely unless they are prepared to move through Vuvu, hit Lehannas tonight and drop down to Rhodes later this evening. I suppose they may choose the safer option around and up Naudes Neck pass (easier nav) but they’re on day 4, have fatigued legs may be too shattered to push on? I suspect they’ll hold up in Vuvu tonight….
As an aside, Andrew has had a few nav errors when not in the company of Shaun and Sarah, but considering he’s new to the trail, has done well and corrected early…It will be interesting to see how he copes past Rhodes, as he’ll have the trail to himself until Mike and Janine catch up.
Other than Stefan, Janine and Guy loosing each other on entry to the Ntsikeni Nature Reserve on Sunday evening, they continue to progress uneventfully along the trail making good time and are on the standard 21 day schedule and should spend tonight at Malekgolonyane. This is a shorter day than the last 2 and allows for some rest, recovery and bike admin.
Marelise and Nicole have been spot on with nav, but after a tough 1st day (and an unconventional crossing of the Umko), are a bit behind a 21 day schedule after riding a ½ day to Centecow on Sunday, and another ½ a day to Ntsikeni on Monday. They should be in at Masakala tonight, and although an effective day behind the normal riding schedule so still comfortable for 8 day Rhodes cut-off.
Regards yesterdays starters, Gavin Robinson tells me he’s not in great shape, but seems to have dusted off any cobwebs and is moving smoothly along. Ian, Mark, Jacqueline, Craig and Dave, all “newbies”, seem to be doing the same. Despite the nav assistance from “Mrs Robinson” and Gary Preston (he’s escorting Jacqueline along the trail), they still managed to perform some “Donnybrook Manoeuvres”, having said that they corrected quite quickly and haven't provided much entertainment for the DW’s (dot watchers). Ian, Mark, Jacqueline, Craig and Dave are only just through Boshelweni, so will have to negotiate the Ntsikeni entry in the dark…good luck guy’s, Dalu Ncobo’s hospitality is legendary, and his beds that rival the comfort of Dennehof.
I’ll be following Dave Templeton’s progress carefully….. well to be more specific, the progress of his Rolhoff hub. Orthopaedic surgeons are well known for their love of gadgetry…the question is will the Rolhoff survive RASA conditions or fail like the last “Unbreakable Bit of Kit” seen on the trail (Gawie’s Gates Belt Drive).
Let the racing begin!