Seven-time Dusi Canoe Marathon champion and top adventure sportsman, Martin Dreyer, returned to competitive racing with a bang when he claimed the 2012 Freedom Challenge Mountain Bike Race Across South Africa (RASA) title on Friday night, shattering the course record in the process.
Dreyer reached the finish at Diemersfontein, near Wellington in the Western Cape at 22:40pm on Friday, 29 June, after starting in Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal on Tuesday 19 June at 6am. His total time was 10 days 16 hours 40 minutes, hacking a massive 1 day 22 hours 10 minutes off the previous record of 12 days 15 hours 30 minutes, set by 2011 winner Alex Harris.
Harris, winner in 2010 and 2011, finished second to Dreyer with a total time of 10 days 23 hours 57 minutes, also well inside his previous record. Harris is an experienced mountaineer and has completed the Seven Summits (the highest mountain on all seven continents). He is also the first South African to walk unsupported to the South Pole.
The final podium place is likely to be filled on Sunday, probably by current third-placed rider, Graham Bird, also a former top international canoeist.
Dreyer and Harris were never separated by more than seven hours, ensuring an enthralling battle for the coveted title. There is no prizemoney in the event. For his efforts, Dreyer received pizza and a special commemorate Freedom Challenge finisher’s blanket.
The RASA follows the Freedom Trail, an east-to-west route over a distance of 2 300km with 37 000 metres of total vertical ascent. It takes place through mid-winter where temperatures can vary from -10 to 30 degrees Celsius. The terrain is varied and includes mountains and semi-desert as well as multiple river crossings.
The riders complete the event unsupported and self-navigate their way throughout (no GPS pemitted). There are 25 support stations on the route at which they can get a meal and sleep under shelter. The leading riders stop only when necessary. A total of 47 started the 2012 event and only 28 are likely to finish. There is a 26-day cut-off.
Dreyer was met at the finish by his wife Jeannie, one of South Africa’s leading adventure sportswomen, and their two children, Callum (2) and Ruby (5 weeks).
“I feel relieved and ecstatic at the same time,” said a weary Dreyer at the finish. “This race empowered me. I’ve not really tested myself for a few years and this allowed me to do that. I wanted to go into De Hel at midnight and sleep at the bottom of the Swartberg Pass in sub-zero temperatures. I didn’t go into this race planning to win. That was a bonus. I wanted to do something extreme again. And I did. I’m very satisfied.”
Dreyer says the record was never a goal for him.
“It’s like a canoeing race on a river. The river level changes each year so the race times will vary. We got lucky with the weather this year. There was some snow and rain, but not as bad as it has been in the past.”
Unlike Harris, who had to deal with a broken saddle clamp from early on, Dreyer said that he had no mechanical problems.
“I didn’t even puncture once. My bike, a GT Zaskar carbon fibre hardtail 29er, was just great! Just as well, because I’m not very mechanically minded.”
From a nutrition perspective, he said that keeping energy levels up was the main challenge.
“You can only eat so much solid food – and believe me, I ate as much as I could at the support stations. But it’s just not enough. So I used USN Epic Pro, which is a carbohydrate, protein, vitamin and phosphate mix. It’s the perfect supplement for a long race like this.”
The 43-year-old, who runs a multisport development academy in KwaZulu-Natal, was struck by a passing struck on the final day. It clipped his elbow but he managed to maintain control of his bike and avoided crashing.
“It shook me up. My elbow hurt but I was just bent on getting to the finish. I didn’t let it bother me. My family was waiting for me at the finish. I wasn’t going to let anything stop me getting there as fast as I could,” smiled Dreyer.