Casper-John and dad Casper with the two little trophies they received. Photo supplied.
Date: 06 April 2019 By: Andries van Zyl
Father and son duo Casper (52) and Casper-John Venter (17) from Louis Trichardt cycled to victory last Friday and won the gruelling Race to Willowmore (RTW).
The RTW forms part of the Freedom Challenge and is the second of four annual races, the first being the Race to Cradock (RTC). The RTW is followed by the Race to Rhodes (June) climaxing with the Race Across South Africa (RASSA) in June/July.
The RTW took place from 24 March until 1 April. The 554 km, non-stop, self-navigated mountain bike race starts in Cradock and ends in Willowmore, on the border of the Eastern and Western Cape. The route follows a section of the Freedom Trail, which traverses a wide variety of off-road terrain, including dirt roads, farm roads, old historical wagon routes and animal tracks. Apart from the riding, riders encounter a few portage sections where they have to hike, push and even carry their bikes. This includes the iconic Baviaanskloof Wilderness area.
Riders are allowed a maximum of six days to complete the ride and, as it is a non-stop event, riders are not required to stop every day or night. They are required to be self-sufficient and carry all their own personal belongings with them. The only assistance they get is at five support stations on the route and three emergency stops. Here they can stop, rest and recharge for the next section of the route.
Although riders compete individually, Casper and Casper-John decided to ride together. The RTW was a first for both, although dad Casper has done the RTC (575km) three times before and the RASSA (2300km) once.
The racers set off in batches over a three-day period, with Casper and Casper-John setting off in the third batch on Tuesday, 26 March, at 06:00 (in a 06:00 to 06:00, 24-hour cycle). The idea is to allow the slower riders to set off first and the stronger riders later, so that all riders finish in about the same time.
Casper-John did not hide the fact that it was tough going. “I got very tired as I am not used to long rides. The longest ride I did was the 175km Kremetart Stage Race. This race is almost three times that,” said Casper-John.
The Venters maintained a gruelling pace from the start. “After the first 13 hours of cycling, we had three hours’ sleep. Then we started cycling again at midnight from the second support station and we raced non-stop until 22:00 the following night. We got a bit lost, so we slept in the Baviaanskloof Wilderness at Osseberg for eight hours until six o’clock the next morning. With the light, we managed to find our way again,” said Casper-John.
The first stage of the race took the riders from Cradock to Gegun (122km), then from Gegun via Koedoeskop to Toekomst (52km), Toekomst via Kleinpoort to Bucklands (120km), Bucklands via Hadley to Cambria (90km), Cambria to Dam se Drif (82km) and finally from Dam se Drif to Willowmore (88km).
The riding was fairly smooth for the Venters until they got lost en route to Cambria on the second day. That put somewhat of a spanner in the works regarding their overall race planning. They were planning to reach Cambria by 19:00 but had to spend the night roughing it in the wild until dawn. That meant that they missed the 06:00 escort vehicle at Cambria through the Baviaanskloof Wilderness and had to wait for the 13:00 vehicle. Riders are escorted through the reserve because it has buffalo and rhinos.
Following this minor setback for the Venters and after catching up on some much-needed sleep, they tackled the final two sections from Cambria to Dam se Drif (82km) and from Dam se Drif to Willowmore (88km). Exhausted and extremely hungry, Casper-John said, they cycled into Willowmore at around 03:40 on Friday in an overall time of two days, 21 hours and 39 minutes, securing them a first place.
For the Venters, however, the race was not about winning, but more about the challenge. “It’s just for the glory of finishing. There are not even any cash prices. You only get a little trophy. The guy who wins gets the same as the guy who comes last,” said Casper-John.
As for preparations before the race, Casper-John said he and his dad were already fairly fit prior to the race. The bulk of their race preparation consisted of figuring out what to pack and learning the route. “Before the race, they send you 1:50 000 maps. On the map is a green line you need to follow. Every 100km is a checkpoint. Actually, it’s more of a support station. There you can get something to eat or drink. It is optional to sleep, so we went on most of the time … We studied the maps a lot, as you are not allowed any electronics. You are only allowed something that can measure distance. No GPS at all. You navigate with the physical maps in front of you,” said Casper-John.
Regarding their race plan, they initially planned to race through the night three times, but things did not work out like that. “The weather in the beginning was quite cold and misty, but the further into the Karoo we went, the hotter it became. It was probably 35 to 40 degrees towards the end. Luckily, we finished at night. It’s better, obviously, to race in the daytime, because you can see around you, but it is a lot hotter. So, all the tricky navigation sections you want to do in the daytime, but if it is just on a gravel road, it is really nice at night because it is quite cool,” said Casper-John.
As for the route itself, Casper-John said that it was extremely challenging. “There are a lot of climbs and technical stages. It is a mix of everything. You go up a lot of passes … and there are a lot of big gravel roads with corrugations, as well as cattle tracks and footpaths. At some points you have to carry your bicycle because you cannot ride. Believe me, after 400km even a small climb feels quite steep,” Casper-John said jokingly.
For now, the two Venters are done racing, at least for this year, as Casper-John is in his matric year. Asked if he had enjoyed the race and if he would do it again, Casper-John replied with a definite yes. “At the time, not really, but afterwards it was very enjoyable … I was completely stuffed at the finish. I was sore and stiff, and it took a bit of time to fix, but now I am better,” said Casper-John.
Andries joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in April 1993 as a darkroom assistant. Within a couple of months he moved over to the production side of the newspaper and eventually doubled as a reporter. In 1995 he left the newspaper group and travelled overseas for a couple of months. In 1996, Andries rejoined the Zoutpansberger as a reporter. In August 2002, he was appointed as News Editor of the Zoutpansberger, a position he holds until today.