Snow slows cross country cyclists

Wednesday, 16 June 2010
David Waddilove

Ntiskeni Nature Reserve

With temperatures dropping below -10 overnight the Race Across South Africa is proving to be not only a battle on the bike but also a test of the mental endurance of these athletes.

The racers must make decisions as to where to stop to sleep in miserable conditions. Such was the case with the De Decker brothers. They battled through sleet, snow and howling winds to arrive in the Ntsikeni Nature Reserve in the afternoon of Tuesday. The brothers pushed on with a goal to make it to the next support station at Masakala 97 kms away before midnight. Unfortunately the weather would have other plans for them. Fighting their way through the bitterly cold night the two got lost on the slopes of the Swartberg. They were forced to stop well short of their target at Banchory Farm, just outside of Franklin, well after midnight.

Meanwhile adventurer Alex Harris is hot on the trail of the boys. He left Pietermarzburg early on Tuesday morning. Riding through the same cold front that caught the brothers he was able to push past Allendale into Centocow. On Wednesday morning Harris took advantage of the turn in the weather to push past Ntsikeni and arrived at Banchory shortly after sunset. With the De Decker Boys spending the night at Masakala Harris has now moved into the position of race leader, a position that he will look to consolidate in the morning.

After pushing and hobbling along on his bike for the past few days RASA front runner Trevor Ball was able to fix his freewheel hub in Masakala on Monday night. On Tuesday morning they rode through the Malekhalonyane support station at the foot of the Ongeluksnek Pass and continued on through Black Fountain before descending in darkness down the cattle tracks to Tinana Mission where they arrived at midnight. Trevor and his riding partner Ugene Nel have bean the race's weather barometers, giving the following field the heads up on the weather approaching from the west and the riding conditions that lie ahead. They pushed through the Vuvu support station in the early afternoon but were then confronted with deep snow on the Drakensberg and weather closing in. As a consequence they were forced to abandon the direct 1000 metre ascent up the Lehana's Pass mule track and proceed by the more circuitous route up Naude's Nek Pass. They are expected in the village of after midnight.

For some this is more then just a race. It is an opportunity to enjoy the landscape and feel of South Africa. Patrick Veenstra was struck with the same misfortune as Trevor and, with a broken freewheel hub, was forced to push his bike the last 7 km into the Ntsikeni Nature Reserve. This Cape Town based father of one was raised in the Pietermaritzburg area. "I grew up here, you don`t know how high these mountain are until you try to cycle up them!" Veenstra who works on the oil rigs off shore of Brazil, is enjoying a more relaxed pace on his journey across South Africa.

With 18 RASA still to leave Pietermatzburg City Hall over the next three days the stage is being set for an exciting 2010 Freedom Challenge Race across South Africa.

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