As I sat in Masakala doing the math trying to figure out if I had enough time to finish the race and still make my connecting flight to our family trip to Kruger National Park, it dawned on me that I had another option. It'd been there all along but I’d never considered it before—I could switch to the 400km race.
The Freedom Circuit is the hidden gem in the Freedom Challenge bouquet of options. It allows the new or "not so sure I can" endurance mountain biker a delectable introduction to the Freedom experience, an hors d'oeuvre if you will. It has two options a 700km true hardcore next level endurance test and the 400km shorter loop back. Don't let the distance of any one of these two options fool you, to make the 120h or 5 day cut-off is no mean feat. The format is GPS assisted and there are support stations scattered along the length of the route. All in all it’s the perfect introduction to the Freedom Trail.
At 09h00 on Monday 24 April, the 36 athletes assembled on the start line outside Underberg were sent on their way. Eduan Viljoen stormed into the lead opening up a hour by the time he got to Centocow (CP1).
The chasing group of Marc Adam, Timothy Calitz, Nic Stathoulis, Mark Farmer and Leon Erasmus had a quick stop and made their way to Fitwick Lodge (CP2) for some devine lasagne and next level lodge hospitality. Most of these contenders resisted the temptation of a warm bed and pushed on to Masakala Guesthouse (CP3) in pursuit of Eduan. Eduan had a quick nap at Masakala before shooting off as Leon and Marc entered the Masakala guesthouse dinner hall for top notch Eastern Cape local cuisine.
Marc Adam left at 03h00 in pursuit of Eduan while Mark Farmer headed out to continue his lead of the 400km Circuit.
Leon who had entered the 700km version decided to switch to the 400km. That decided he got some sleep and only left Masakala at 08h00. Nic left shortly after to carry on to Vuvu. Timothy chose to stay in Fitwich with a large group of the 400km contenders and a couple of 700km riders.
Mark Farmer paused briefly before pushing on to Two Springs. Less than an hour after arriving he was out the door and on he way to Ntsikeni for a quick stop and go before heading out to win the 400km in a time of 35h59 followed by Timothy in second and Leon in third. Both the latter switching to the 400km option out of Masakala.
At time of press Guy Cluver and Sarah van Heerden, Shaun Knowles, Martinus Victor, Ruan Voster, Rebecca Sands and the brothers Peter and Wally Hilder have finished the 400km.
We are expecting Chaunce Slabbert, Mark Smith, David Smart, Jason Lane by midday. Shaun Tischdorf, Gerrit van der Merwe, Ken McCrindle and Emma Lombaard will finish late afternoon. They are all on the 400km Circuit.
Eduan is serving a time penalty under the Ntsikeni apple tree and will finish second later tonight. After a super executed strategy Marc Adam, expected in before 16h00 will win the 700km Circuit.
Nic Stathoulis, Gordon Belton, the du Plessis brothers Gawie and Willie, Mathilda Uys and the Barclay Brothers are still out on the trail. Some tired bodies still out there.