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The Race… to Willowmore

With the riders all chasing down those “Crazy Runners” that departed on Monday afternoon, the 2 racing batches of Race to Willowmore start today and tomorrow.

Lets set the scene…….Departing today were Mike “I’m Mad” Woolnough, (just off a bruising encounter with R2C on a single speed to boot), Mark Basel and Mark Cowley. I suspect the 2 Marks are aiming for Bucklands tonight and a ambitious sub 3 day finish. “Mad Mike”..who knows what goes on in his head…will probably try to ride through to try and get the 1pm “Gate” tomorrow and a sub-2 day fionish. More about “The Gate” later.

Tomorrow, Axel Poser and Daniel Otto (second placed finishers 2 years ago) will forsake their racing ambitions to introduce Guy Dudley and Blaine Peckham to “The trail”. Also leaving tomorrow are Arn de Haas (taking some extra time to get saddle sores settled from a gruelling R2C) and current women’s record holder Ingrid Avidon (a smidgen under 63hrs, ) and her protege Omphile Motaung. Omphile we wish you well on your 1st outing, try and hang on to Ingrid’s wheel, but do check her nav (she’s still not sure where her compass actually points, does she even carry one? Hope you have yours!). This is an amazing initiative of Ingrid’s, raising funds for aspiring female endurance athletes, while doing her 12x 12 challenge.

Last but not least is Anthony Avidon (Ingrid's saner half, experienced campaigner, and current R2P record holder). Anthony is not apparently not accompanying Ingrid and Omphile on their race, but racing all out for the win.

Allow me to explain a bit about R2W. It’s a bit different to the 2 preceding sections of the trail. In general navigation is distinctly easier, with the bulk of nav being done on district roads and good farm roads. Like the other events however, there are some tricky nav bits you'd rather not do at night. There are 3 of these. The 1st two are the Stuishoek portage and Karoopoort / Koedoeskop sections. These are relatively straightforward to navigate during daylight hours, and for the racers and faster riders, are usually traversed before sundown (baring any technical mishaps), and therefore not really “in play” on R2W so to speak.

Therefore the 3rd and trickiest part of R2W, the Osseberg portage (affectionately termed Mordor), one of the iconic portage sections of the Freedom Trail, comes into play. The Osseberg portage sits menacingly just before the support station at Kudu Kaya in Cambria, about 15 minutes ride from “The Gate” (an innocuous boomed entrance to the Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve). These 3 hurdles will have the greatest roles to play in the race.

The 11 km Osseberg Portage, will take seasoned racers on average about 5 hrs to traverse, and the average neophyte about 11-12 hrs……think about that, 1km/hr folks… Add to that the fact that most riders (even experienced campaigners) entering the Osseberg after sundown, end up sleeping rough waiting for the sun to navigate the way out.

From a racing point of view, The Gate is a also key limiter / hurdle in progression along the trail. This is because the Eastern Cape Parks-board only allow cyclists ( to pass through the Baviaanskloof if they are accompanied by a support vehicle (in case cyclists are confronted by Buffalo which were reintroduced to the area a few years back). Mike Roy and his dedicated band of “Buffalo Herders” provide the escort support. To allow the herders to return to Kudu Kaya before the reserve gates close, only 2 escorts leave a day, the 1st at 6am and 2nd at 1pm. Arrive after 1pm and you get to spend the night in Cambria (a most pleasant experience, but it will derail your race strategy if racing).

The idilic Kudu Kaya is also a hurdle in itself that needs to be overcome. It takes great resolve to sign out and drag ones-self off to “The Gate”, instead of luxuriating in the hospitality of the loyal herders, while waiting for the 6am “Gate” the next day. I’ve done both…..and the “take a break and wait” option wins hands down. Its one of the most memorable experiences on “The Trail”, ice cold beers and evening braai overlooking the Kudu Kaya orchards, reliving the Osseberg traverse and picking out Cactus Thorns……:):):)

Pieter Van Der Westhuizen and Henry Angove, the 2020 winners, and at that stage, race record setters (66hr22min), elected to pull up at Bucklands (for a 4-5 hour sleep) and hit the 6am gate on day 3 (48hrs into the race) . The current record holder Mike “Who’s Completely Mad” Woolnough smashed that record with an impressive sub 43hr ride, ambitiously aiming for the 1pm gate on day 2. He got there with a handful of hours to spare (even got a 1hr power nap in). Impressive stuff.

Mike then completed the final not inconsequential 160km from Kudu Kaya to the finish in Willowmore at a blistering pace with a 10minute power nap just past the Sleutel …….

Any time under 3 days is impressive and puts you in the top 10 FKT’s (fastest known times)……the record target is 42h50min…can that be beaten?

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