Freedom Challenge starts

MEDIA RELEASE: With the world’s attention focused on South Africa, the 2010 Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa – 7th edition – is about to begin. Called the soul of mountain biking, the Freedom Challenge is a mountain bike race; along a 2300km course that stretches from Pietermaritzberg, over the Drakensberg, across the Great Karoo Basin, through the Cape Fold Mountain Range and finishes at Diemersfontien in the winelands of the Western Cape. 

The race begins when the first batch of riders departs from in front of the City Hall in Pietermaritzburg at 6am on Saturday June 12th with the goal of arriving at the finish before the 26 day cutoff.  The race occurs on the visually stunning Freedom Trail , which was created in 2003 as a fully serviced mountain bike trail running across the interior of South Africa.  The Trail is a breathtaking mountain bike route that links nature reserves and remote wilderness areas.  The Freedom Trail was created with the intention of ensuring meals and accommodation are available every 50- 80 kilometres making it possible to travel across South Africa off road and unsupported.  The rest of the field of 39 racers in the 2010 Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa will depart in batches over the course of the next week, with the last group setting off on Saturday June 19th.

In addition to cycling, some riders have prepared for the 2010 Race Across South Africa by hiking Table Mountain with a bicycle on their back, sleeping in the garden to get used to the freezing temperatures of the Drakemsberg and trying to load two litre ice cream containers, that will be available at the 26 support stations, with as much food and clean socks as possible. 

This year’s race lineup includes, five Australians, a Mauritian, six female competitors and one racer, sponsored by GIANT, riding the challenging distance on a single speed bicycle.  Andrew Barnes, Keith Little and Leon van der Nest are completing the Extreme Triathlon. They will run from Durban to Pietermaritzberg on Friday 18th June in the 85km Duzi Trail run. The next morning they will  set off as part of the last batch of riders in the Race Across South Africa. They must reach Wellington in time to  paddle the 240km Berg River Canoe Marathon. 

The race this year is guaranteed to be an epic battle. ‘Commander’ Carl Crous who is competing in the Freedom Challenge for the third year, and his racing rival Marnitz Nienaber are expected to be major contenders in this year’s race. Other contenders include second place 2010 Tour d’Afrique racer Jethro De Decker and his Cape Town based mountain bike racing brother Zane. Jethro completed the 10 country 120 day Tour d’Afrique ride less then three weeks ago and is looking forward to putting away the slick tires and returning to the dirt. “I love mountain biking.  I think the most challenging part of the race will be putting the bike down and forcing myself to get some sleep.  It will be difficult to get off the bike after cycling through some of South Africa’s epic mountain bike trails”, says Jethro De Decker.  Another threat is accomplished mountaineer and south pole trekker Alex Harris.  Harris, who is use to isolated areas in the world having climbed the Seven Summits, is looking forward “to seeing some of the most remote parts of South Africa”.  Other returning racers to watch for include Andrew Barnes, who led much of the 2009 racee, Allen Sharpe and Mark Mitchell.  Mitchell, who finished 3rd in 2009, is looking forward to another epic ride, “I went away from the Freedom Challenge in 2009 knowing that we live in the most spectacular beautiful country with the most amazing incredible kind people in the world. I want to experience that again, and of course there is always the issues you have with yourself that have to be resolved. In a race as gruelling as this one, you have to dig deep to conquer and overcome your weaknesses”.

The 2010 Race Across South Africa has already claimed its first casaulty. Competitor Jaco Strydom completed the Freedom Challenge in 2008, shortly thereafter he was diagnosed with cancer.  He has devoted much time since introducing riders to the Freedom Trail.  Strydom is also working with the Freedom Challenge to extend the trail northwards towards Kilimanjaro.  On 29 May 2010 he set off from Beit Bridge with a view to riding 1400 kms along the proposed extension of the Freedom Trail to arrive in Pietermaritzburg in time for the start of the 2010 Freedom Challenge. He rode 1000kms through the Wolkberg and into Mpumalanga. Three days ago descending the Drakensberg escarpment at Kaapsehoop, into the battlefields of northern Kwa Zulu Natal, he fell and broke his ankle. He will be watching the race from his hospital bed.

Freedom Challenge Director David Waddilove is looking forward to this year’s race.   “The Freedom Challenge offers participants a unique opportunity to enjoy some of the most spectacular parts of rural South Africa and to experience the diversity of her people whilst taking on this extreme endurance event. Some riders will be racing against each other; others will simply be looking to finish within the 26 day cut off. Some riders will battle with the elements, including freezing winter temperatures and snow.  Others will battle with injuries or mechanical failures.  All of them will be tested physically and emotionally and in ways that they have not previously experienced, whether they be Freedom Challenge novices or veteran campaigners.  The true test of each of them will lie in how they respond to this challenge. So not only is it a journey across the country but it is a journey into the soul.”

The 2010 Freedom Challenge Race across South Africa can be followed live at