12 June 2009
The 2009 Freedom Challenge, also known as the Race Across South Africa, started in Pietermaritzburg on Saturday. A courageous – some would say mad – field of 60 mountain bikers are tackling a 2 300-kilometre route that covers the full range of the country’s spectacular terrain.
For competitors in the Extreme Triathlon, it is part three of four demanding tests. Only five brave souls have entered for the triathlon, which consists of the Comrades Marathon, the inaugural Dusi Trail Run, the Race Across South Africa, and the One-Stop Berg Canoe Marathon.
The Dusi Trail covers 88 kilometres from Durban to Pietermaritzburg, while the One-Stop Berg, which takes place on 4 and 5 July, turns the already fearsome 240-kilometre-long canoe marathon into an intimidating test of endurance and skill.
Historically, the Extreme Triathlon has featured the Comrades Marathon, the Race Across South Africa and then the Berg River Canoe Marathon. Because of a change of dates in 2009, the Dusi Trail Run was introduced. And with the introduction of the One-Stop Berg a very tough trial just became a whole lot tougher.
The Ride to Rhodes, the third of the three race options, covers the first 550 kilometres of the Race Across South Africa. It is the easiest of the three challenges, but it is by no means easy.
When the cycling challenges begin, the Extreme Triathlon competitors will no doubt be feeling a little sore. That’s because the Dusi Trail Run takes place the day before the cycling gets under way.
The Dusi Trail Run will become an annual event and forms part of a local initiative being conducted by the Freedom Challenge in partnership with the Dusi Umgeni Conservation Trust (DUCT). Its aim is to develop a locally-managed adventure trail, running through the valleys of the Umgeni and Umsundusi Rivers, which will be open to people throughout the year.
DUCT project manager Andrew Booth said: “We are very excited about the initiative. We are looking to set up local community mountain bike guides, as well as locally-serviced overnight stops in the valley. In this way we hope to encourage adventure-tourism activities in the valley that can provide employment throughout the year.”
Competitors in the Race across South Africa have 26 days to complete the 2 300-kilometre route. For Extreme Triathlon participants, the challenge is even tougher – they have only 20 days to make it to Paarl, otherwise they will miss the start of the Non-Stop Berg.
Tim James, the 2008 champion, is hoping to better the race record of 14-and-a-half days that he established last year. His aim this time around is to finish the event in 12 days.
Unlike the Ride to Rhodes competitors, the Race Across South Africa contestants have to complete the route without support, with no seconding permitted.
For the Rhodes riders, there are compulsory overnight stops, where riders can get meals and accommodation, but the rules stipulate that they have to get there without GPS systems.
As an introduction to the Race Across South Africa, the Ride to Rhodes has proved very successful, with half of the riders who have done the 550-kilometre event going on to participate in the longer race.
The format of the Race Across South Africa is different; it is a non-stop event.
The Freedom Challenge was initiated in 2003 when its founder and director David Waddilove ran 2 500 kilometres, from the Two Oceans Marathon to the Comrades Marathon, and laid the basis for a mountain bike trail.
The following year he created an extreme triathlon; he ran the Comrades, then mountain biked to Paarl, and arrived in time to take part in the Berg River Canoe Marathon.
In 2005, the extreme triathlon was repeated, with Dominee (Minister) Wessel Cronje, riding in veldskoene (traditional farmer’s shoes made of cow hide), winning the race.
In 2006, a 550-kilometre ride from Pietermaritzburg to Rhodes was introduced, and in September of the same year the first cyclist tours of the Freedom Trail took place.
Each year since then, the Freedom Trail has attracted an ever-increasing number of visitors. It can be ridden in its entirety, but doing sections of the route is also an option.
The Freedom Challenge is about more than racing and a physical test, however. It has a number of objectives, including:
- To establish the Freedom Trail as an adventure trail from Kilimanjaro to Cape Town
- To run annual race event (The Freedom Challenge) on the Freedom Trail
- To support community projects along the Freedom Trail
- To develop the route as a natural and cultural heritage trail focusing on geology, palaeontology, biodiversity, archaeology, pre-and post colonial history and craft and culture.
- Men’s race record: 14 days, 12 hours, 15 minutes
- Tim James (2008)
- Women’s race record: 19 days, 9 hours, 3 minutes
- Hannele Steyn-Kotze (2007)
- Single speed record: 20 days, 10 hours, 15 minutes
- Andre Britz (2007)
Number of finishers
- 2004 – 3
- 2005 – 5
- 2006 – 4
- 2007 – 13
- 2008 – 19
- Total number of women finishers to date – three.
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