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The race for Diemersfontein – adapting strategy, it’s all still to play for

There are three contenders vying for the line honours at Diemersfontein, they are current leader Mike Woolnough, tracked by Roger Nicholson and a bit further back Gavin Horton. I’d suggest that it is too early to say that Mike has this in the bag as just the past 48hrs have shown that anything can happen both in terms of the conditions as well as the rider’s fortunes. Sadly, we saw the withdrawal of Bruce Hughes who most would have bet on would beat a pair of considerably older men on single speeds, but his race was run at Romansfontein.

To start with, the conditions and the route diversions have been a twist due to mostly swollen rivers and a rogue grumpy Cape Buffalo. The effect of these diversions is to take out the Struishoek Portage, the Osseberg/Grootriver passage, the hills of the Baviaanskloof as well as the portage of Die Leer. Looking at the revised route I would say it favours pure riding over portage/ hiking. Roger and Mike are riding single speeds and neither have tri-bars. Gavin is an ex-triathlete with a geared bike and a set of tribars – that says to me advantage Gavin with the revised route.

In addition, Mike and Roger know the Osseberg very well, they can visualize most of the Osseberg river crossings and I would bet on them being able to do that passage to Cambria at night if needs be. Two years ago I found Gavin sleeping under a bush at the start of the Osseberg he had gone in at night and had stopped when he realised there was no way he was going through there alone at night without getting lost. I was armed with Mike’s crib notes and we made it through without too much effort – thanks to Mike. I’d put Roger not far behind Mike in knowledge of that passage – so again advantage Gavin over Mike and Roger if that section is taken out.

Regarding the rider’s individual fortunes, we have heard that Roger is suffering from hand numbness and it is affecting him badly, this is always a concern for the numbers of professionals who do RASA and need their hands to perform work when the race is done. At the time of writing Roger appears to be soldiering on, he is determined to finish if possible and is still in the race. Sadly, it is seldom that the condition he has gets better and it is threat to him professionally. Given the competitive nature of Roger and his good-natured duel with Mike, I doubt he would have conceded this weakness if it was not bad. Let’s hope his dot keeps moving.

Turning to Mike, the favourite and frontrunner, he has shown no sign of weakness and has been metronomic in his daily effort, the only unusual thing was a bit of a sleep in yesterday when the torrential rain and mud made no sense in heading out in the dark, so he rested. The videos of Mike which he posts have him come across as relaxed and easy going, which he is. This demeanour should not be misconstrued, as he is someone who prepares meticulously and who has invested a significant part of his life studying every part of the route and the optimal combinations he can unlock to get to get through a section as quickly as possible. He will know that the route variations have taken away some of his advantage, I am sure he will adapt. He remains the favourite to win RASA on a single speed, undertrained and riding some unknown sections of trail – who would have thought!

Let’s not count out Gavin Horton, he has formed part of Alex Harris’s winning team at times, he usually gets better as the race goes and he has a bike prepared to go fast on the open roads which the route deviations have offered up. Gavin will know that if the Osseberg and the other portages are excluded he will have gained an advantage over the single speeds. If there is any slowing by Mike, Gavin will be back in contention.

While it is a cruel reminder, not even Enslin would have thought he would have been in with a chance of winning RASA after the Baviaanskloof last year when he said adieu to his riding partner Bruce. So let’s not be lulled into thinking that this is all over just yet.

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