Home-court advantage ends up saving Team Nike
VAIL – All was peaceful at 4 a.m. Sunday morning, minus the heavy breathing of some 70 adventure racers launching into the abyss with maps in hand and headlamps on full blast.When it comes down to an unknown route, the team that best knows the lay of the land is bound to prevail, and while there was a little slip up and a big comeback involved, Sari Anderson, Mike Kloser and Richard Uscher of Team Nike came through with the victory in Sunday’s Adventure Sprint Championships.The team finished in 6 hours, 28 minutes and 25 seconds, while Go Lite-Timberland No. 1 finished second in 6:40.50 and Go Lite-Timberland No. 2 finished in 6:48.52. The 30-mile course required a wide variety of recreational gear, including mountain bikes, rappel harnesses, inline skates, snowshoes, scooters and inflatable kayaks. For those unversed in adventure racing, the objective for each team is to navigate an unknown course the fastest, using maps, altimeters and necessary equipment in hitting a number of checkpoints from start to finish.Sunday’s course began with a mountain bike-trek portion up Bald Mountain for 4,000 of the nearly 7,000 feet of elevation gained during the race. Team Nike racers made a mistake when they hauled their bikes up to the first few checkpoints and realized they were about 15 minutes behind the then-leading Go Lite team.”It was all about where you dropped your bike and how you approached the checkpoint,” Kloser said. “We ended up in a bunch of snow.”
Luckily, it was early enough for the snow to still be suitably frozen and Team Nike didn’t have to use its snowshoes. By the time the course came back down Bald Mountain and took racers up Vail Mountain, Team Nike racers, who know Vail Mountain about as well as they know their own houses, began closing the gap. Sticking with what you know”They really put a big move on Go Lite going up Vail Mountain,” said race director Billy Mattison. “The homecourt advantage helps. Those guys have ridden their bikes up that mountain more than anybody. The Go Lite team, I saw them pushing their bikes up ski trails and stuff.”In addition to lacking familiarity with the terrain, other teams were also not as acclimatized to the altitude. Sara Wallen of Go Lite No. 1 said the haul up Vail Mountain was tough on her system, which was conditioned to the Southern Hemisphere.”You go like normal, but it’s hard to recover,” Wallen said. “I’m living in New Zealand, and we’ve got winter there right now. It’s a bit of a shock coming into the heat and altitude.”The repercussions of what might seem like minor mistakes take their toll quickly in adventure racing. Seasoned racer Ian Adamson, racing with local Dan Weiland and Breckenridge athlete Monique Merrill, forgot his asthma inhaler and his team ended up finishing fifth, following Team Spyder.
“I dragged the team down a little bit,” Adamson said. “I had asthma and it slowed us down a lot.”From Eagle’s Nest, which Team Nike reached via Gitalong and Lion’s Down roads, the course traversed Cougar Ridge to a huge cliff drop over Two Elk Creek. Team Nike managed to reach the ropes first and rappelled 200 feet to the Eagle River, where racers jumped into their inflatable kayak and began paddling in what turned out to be rather fast, tricky rapids. Each of the top five teams took at least one swim in the river portion of the race.Unexpected swim”I was in the front of the boat, and it was a little tippy,” Anderson said. “I fell out and was back in two seconds. Then all three of us fell out, but we didn’t lose much time. It was actually a nice, refreshing swim. We were hot.”Not everyone thought it was nice. Adamson described the water, which he was also immersed in when his team’s boat filled with water and then went sideways on a rock, as “gasping cold.” Go Lite No. 3 overturned its boat three times.
“It was cold,” Wallen said. “The river was almost the hardest part. I though we were quite a good team. I imagine some of the other teams are probably really struggling there.”Sure enough, teams could still be found late Sunday afternoon making their way down the last leg of the course, where racers had an option to take either inline skates or a scooter on pavement from the take-out point of the Eagle River across from the Holy Cross Ranger District back to Vail Village. “I think they could have had better signage letting people know we’re out there skating on the (frontage) road,” Kloser said. “The frontage roads are in pretty bad condition.”Nonetheless, teams made their way 700 feet uphill from the river on the bike path and road to the right turn east of the Vail parking garage, at which point they had to take off their skates and tromp barefoot as fast as possible down the asphalt to the finish.”It was fun anyway,” Anderson said. “You got to finish in your socks.”
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