2009 Race Preview

Some have been preparing the full 12 months and a few just a couple weeks, but for all the waiting is almost over. The 6th edition of the Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa is upon us.
2009 sees a record field as the event continues to grow and at last count we have 37 intrepid entrants who will be riding from Pietermaritzburg City Hall to Diemersfontein Wine Estate between Wellington and Paarl. The field is spread over four days with the first batch starting this Saturday the 13th June. Amongst that group is a select five who will be taking on the Extreme Triathlon. They will most likely start a little slowly with heavy legs having completed the inaugural 88km Dusi Trail Run the preceding day from Durban. To complete their challenge they have a two day canoe leg down the Berg River to Velddrif waiting for them 21 days later.
Looking at the field it is very hard to pick a race winner as the combination of weather conditions, mechanical issues, navigation errors, injuries and many other variable factors affect the progress made by riders. The entrants have been roughly weighted to have the faster riders in the final batch starting Tuesday the 16th, but the eventual winner (calculated on elapsed time) could come from any of the four batches. In the past, winning breaks have been made as early as the first day and as late as the Karoo. If a winter storm system comes in during the first week it could split the field between those who conquer the high lying areas of the Southern Drakensberg before it hits and those left behind who battle through extreme cold and possibly snow at these altitudes.
The 2008 race winner, Tim James, coming back to defend his title starting in the final batch. He will be a marked man and will have to keep an eye out for all the unknown riders from amongst the field. There are quite a few riders who have also previously finished the race and they will benefit from a basic knowledge of the route. One will have to wait and see who emerges from the large group of first timers as potential race winners, but to win this race will most likely require some bold moves from the outset.
Despite it having the race element at the front, for most of the field the main goal is to get to the finish in one piece inside of the 26 day cut-off. That in itself is an achievement of the highest order and a journey to remember. During the first week a group of 21 will also be tackling the section of the route to Rhodes with backup support, this is quite an adventure in itself.
Good luck to all entrants, as one of the hardest parts of the race (just getting to the startline) is almost over.

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