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Getting to know Ryan Sandes

This year’s Roving Race champion, Ryan Sandes, is a familiar name to the 4 Deserts Race Series. When he first entered the Gobi March in China back in 2008, the young South African still had a desk job. But after winning that race—and then going on to win all the other races in the 4 Deserts series—he turned pro.

Since then, Sandes’ life has changed dramatically. This year may be one of the most intense of his life. So far in 2014, Sandes has achieved first place in the 2014 The North Face TransGranCanaria, he got a record time in The Drakensberg Grand Traverse, came second in The Ultra Trail Mount Fuji, fifth in the Western States 100 Miler, and is currently first place in the 2014 Ultra Trail World Tour.

Interestingly, when we meet up with him at the end of Stage 4, it turns out that his huge amount of recent racing has seen him veer away from multi-stage races. And he’s forgotten just how tough it is to sleep in a tent without a shower. “I’d love to have a hamburger or pizza or a shower right now!” he says with a smile, reminding us that his last multi-stage was in the Roving Race in Nepal in 2011.

Of the racing here in Madagascar, Sandes says: “The race has been comfortable for me so far, but I’m conserving energy because I’ve been very busy for the first half of the year with other races. I had expected Madagascar to be more like a jungle like in the movie,” he adds with a grin. “It’s a lot more hot and dry than I expected.”

The heat is something Sandes was struggling with today—as a race leader, he often comes into the finish line just past 11am before the mid-day sun has a chance to fully fill the sky. But today, Sandes was struggling with the final few kilometers.

“The last bit from the last checkpoint to camp has been the hardest part of the day for me. It’s because it starts to get into the higher temperatures at that time. My legs are good, but the heat is draining.”

Despite Japanese competitor Wataru Iino overtaking him today, Sandes feels confident about his lead on the race and it was the second stage where he really came into his own. “I love single track, that’s my thing, you know? Stage 2 was good because it had single track, scrambling and inclines, which is what I love. Then, during Stage 3 and 4, I was about to relax and take in and enjoy the landscape more than the previous two days.”

Of his plan for the Long March, Sandes said: “I want to keep conserving energy but keep an eye on Iino to make sure he isn’t getting too close.” It’s something this 32-year old pulled off effortlessly by the end of the race this week. And despite looking somewhat wilder by the end of the race than going in (the lack of showers made for a huge ball of hair) he was smiling and radiant by the time he completed.

With yet another gold medal to his name, Sandes is powering ahead in a record-breaking year.

By Clare Morin

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