Land Rover G4 Challenge Day 8: Cape Town - South Africa

"It’s hard to believe that only two days ago were skiing," said the UK’s Tim Pickering as he looked out over a sun drenched Cape Town. It was a severe culture shock for the 16 competitors of the Land Rover G4 Challenge. After experiencing temperatures of –20 degrees Celsius in up state New York, they were now faced with the 30 degrees heat of Africa’s most southerly city.

But there was no time to acclimatise. Day one of the second stage of this global adventure was to be the most physically testing of the challenge so far. At 11am, the competitors met at the famous Signal Hill Battery, overlooking Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope. After warm words of welcome from Valli Moosa, South Africa’s Minister of Tourism and the Environment, the names of the eight leading competitors from stage one were announced.

To a round of hearty backslapping, Canada’s Jim Kuhn was named as the early leader, followed by Belgium’s Rudi Thoelen and the UK’s Tim Pickering. Each of the top eight were asked to pick a teammate from the remaining eight competitors, who’s ranking was not announced. The scene may have resembled a schoolyard football match, but it provided a fascinating insight into the psyche of the competitors. Who did they think would complement their own strengths? Who would they want to share their tent with?

Kuhn was first up and chose South Africa’s Chester Foster, no doubt hoping to benefit from local knowledge. Second pick went to Rudi Thoelen from Belgium who picked Australian Guy Andrews. Pickering (UK) had third choice and chose US Marine, Nancy Olson. The Brit admitted that it had not been an easy choice, but was confident that he’d made the right call. "Nancy and I had so many laughs last week," he said, "and good humour is really important in such a stressful competition." He chortled before adding, "I reckon that by the end of the week we’ll either love or hate each other."

The rest of the teams lined up as follows:

Paul McCarthy (Ireland) - Dirk Ostertag (Germany) Franck Salgues (France) - Inigo de Lara (Spain) Erik den Oudendammer (Netherlands) - Shinichi Yoshimoto (Japan) Chris Perry (Arabia) - Sergey Polyansky (Russia) Cuneyt Gazioglu (Turkey) - Alberta Chiappa (Italy)

There was barely time to discuss strategy before the sound of the Navy cannon marked the start of the second stage. The competitors’ first task was to scale Signal Hill, a vicious, rocky ascent that exposed them to the full venom of the South African sun. Half way into the gruelling course the competitors were already strewn across the hillside with Germany’s Dirk Ostertag, Belgium’s Rudi Thoelen and Guy Andrews of Australia leading the way. At the rear, there was a special cheer for Japan’s Shinichi Yoshimoto, who at 43 is the G4’s oldest competitor.

This early test was not without drama. Pickering lost his identification microchip, without which he would be unable to score points. The plucky Brit ended up climbing the hill twice before he found the tag. The two female competitors – Nancy Olson (USA) and Alberta Chiappa (ITA) – also found themselves in difficulty. After taking a wrong turn, they missed crucial checkpoints and would score no points on the section.

The high temperature was taking its toll on the 16 competitors. Even local hero, Chester Foster claimed that he was "surprised about how hot and hard the climb was." The only person who seemed to be revelling in the conditions was Chris Perry, the representative of Arabia. "It’s like a nice spring day for me," joked the Dubai resident who spends his time managing a water park.

Having sprinted back down the hill, the competitors swapped leg for pedal power. What followed was a tricky, off-road descent on mountain bikes back towards the city centre. After a hot and exhausting run the challenging bike course tested competitors endurance, skill and focus with several tumbles occurring as challengers pushed themselves against the clock and each other.

For event leader, Canadian Jim Kuhn, a high-speed tumble off his mountain bike left him with lacerations to his left elbow, left knee and right wrist. After attention from the Land Rover G4 Challenge medical team, Kuhn was patched up and returned, defiantly, to complete the driving test. "I will do everything I can to continue," he declared, to rapturous applause.

Chester Foster performed excellently all day, but was understandably concerned for his teammate welfare. "Jim’s my teammate, and I’ll help him all the way," he said.

Already physically and mentally exhausted, the competitors arrived at Cape Town quayside to face a tough kayaking course around Table Bay. Fierce paddling was followed by a number of testing obstacles. For one control, competitors were required to tie up their kayaks, climb a cargo net, sprint along the top of a boat and finally dive 15m back into the water. For tired, aching limbs, it was quite a challenge.

Back on dry land, the competitors were able to snatch a bite to eat before the day’s final challenge, a testing off-road circuit constructed on the edge of the bay. For the South Africa leg of the Challenge, the competitors have swapped their Freelanders for a Defender 110 TD5. The ‘classic’ Land Rover remains the ultimate off-road tool and more than proved its capabilities on the demanding course. As the Land Rover G4 Challenge now heads into the remote stage, the Defender will be tested to the max as they make their way Northeast to finish in George.

To increase the difficulty of an already technical course, the organisers had placed a series of "G4 Challenge" markers on the ground, over which one of the front tyres had to pass. It was an extreme test of the coordination and understanding of these still fledgling partnerships.

"I’m still getting used to driving with the steering wheel on the right," said Cuneyt Gazioglu from Istanbul, "but the car handled really well." His teammate, Italy’s Alberta Chiappa had clearly enjoyed the experience. "It was very, very funny," she exclaimed. A huge cheer went up when Kuhn completed the course.

At the end of the day, the results of the Cape Town Maximiser were announced. These were as follows:

1. Rudi Thoelen (Belgium) - Guy Andrews (Australia) 2. Franck Salgues (France) - Inigo de Lara (Spain) 3. Paul McCarthy (Ireland) - Dirk Ostertag (Germany) 4. Chris Perry (Arabia) - Sergey Polyansky (Russia) 4. Erik den Oudendammer (Netherlands) - Shinichi Yoshimoto (Japan) 6. Tim Pickering (UK) – Nancy Olson (USA) 7. Jim Kuhn (Canada) - Chester Foster (SA) 8. Cuneyt Gazioglu (Turkey) - Alberta Chiappa (Italy)

It was a brilliant performance by Andrews and Thoelen, but on this day, every competitor deserved credit. Thoelen described the challenge as "the hardest thing I’ve ever done," and he spends his working life flying jet fighters for the Belgian air force.

At the completion of the day’s activities, the competitors and crew packed their Land Rover Defenders and departed in convey for their first camp at Hottentots Holland. Over the next five days the Land Rover G4 Challenge will camp at four different remote venues before completing the South African stage in George on 11 April.

Published 15 April 2003 Melanie Carter
 

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