Tougher than the Tour de France

Tougher than the Tour de France

Riding 2,400km in 26 days sounds quite achievable to your average road cyclist but to ride this distance on footpaths, tracks and trails in the height of winter whilst climbing a cumulative altitude of 47,000m is a remarkable accomplishment. One realised by the 28 riders who completed the 2010 Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa.

On Sunday, 11 July the last five riders in the field arrived at the Diemersfontein finish of the Freedom Challenge in Wellington outside Cape Town. Gerda Gruner, one of the three women to finish, had been riding for 25 days, 13 hours and 20 minutes to narrowly beat the 26 day cut off. She had ridden alone for four days through the Southern Drakensberg and Great Karoo before being caught by Freedom Challenge Extreme Triathletes Keith Little and Leon van der Nest who then rode and finished with her. Keith and Leon, who ran the 85km Duzi Trail Run the day before they started cycling from Pietermaritzburg, have two days to rest before taking on the 240km four day Berg River Canoe Marathon in the hopes of join the ranks of six others who in the seven year history of the Freedom Challenge have completed the Freedom Challenge Extreme Triathlon.

Also finishing on Sunday was Ingrid Avidon and her husband Anthony. Despite a time penalty for a route deviation on the final run into Diemersfontein they were credited with a time 23 days and 6 hours making Ingrid the fastest women finisher of the 2010 event. Speaking afterwards Anthony spoke of riding the 2009 Tour de France course and described the Freedom Challenge as harder.

Finishing the day before these five was the third woman finisher, Estelle Labuschagne, as well as Freedom Challenge veteran Errol Derrick. “This was the greatest thing that I have done in my life” enthused Estelle.

The overall winner of the 2010 Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa was polar adventurer, mountaineer and track cyclist Alex Harris who finished in 14 days 8 hours and 10 minutes. He was followed by North West mielie farmer Carl Crous who had finished three days later in a time of 14 days 19 hours and 55 minutes. Crous’ charge to the finish, which had carried him over the last 400 kilometres with very little sleep unraveled when heading up the Stettynskloof, 40 kms from the finish, at night. The batteries on his light failed, the moon set and he settled down to sleep in the shadow of the Shackelton that lies wrecked in the valley. Overcome by exhaustion he slept well into the morning.

The 2010 Freedom Challenge will be remembered for many things; the heavy snow and extreme cold of the first week or the race; the feats of those riders who ascended the Lehana’s Pass up the Drakensberg escarpment at night; the race at the front of the field between the self proclaimed “Boeretrain” of Carl Crous, Marnitz “sponsored by PG Glass riding for Miles for Smiles” Nienaber and August Carstens and lone rider Alex Harris; the great single speed ride of Glenn Harrison on a Giant 29er and individual incidents such as solo rider Travis Saunders staring down three white rhino at 30 yards at Spekboomberg; Justin Bouwer getting even closer to two black rhino and a herd of buffalo in the Baviaanskloof and David Bell riding 1,500km with a broken wrist. But ultimately the 2010 Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa will be remembered for the remarkable achievement of all 28 riders who completed the event and claimed the Basutho blanket awarded to every finisher on arrival at Diemersfontein.

Final race positions were as follows:
1. Alex Harris 14 days 08 hrs 10 mins
2. Carl Crous  14 days 19 hrs 55 mins
3. Marnitz Nienaber (PG Glass/Miles for Smiles) 15 days 11 hrs 04 mins
3  August Carstens 15 days 11 hrs 04 mins
5. Glenn Harrison (Giant)  15 days 14 hrs 20 mins (new single speed record)
6. Trevor Ball 16 days 20 mins
6. Trevor Ball 16 days 20 mins
8. Travis Saunders 17 days 18 hours 40 mins
9. Justin Bouwer 18 days 09 hours 55 mins
10.Zane de Decker 19 days 09 hours 52 mins
10.Zane de Decker 19 days 09 hours 52 mins

1.    Ingrid Avidon  23 days 06 hrs
2.    Estelle Labuschagne 23 days 09 hrs 35 mins
3.    Gerda Gruner 25 days 13 hrs 20 mins



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