Racers get left at start but make the podium
DOWD JUNCTION – Chris “Mongo” Reeder is the only member of the Behind the 8 Ball raft team allowed to look back to check the gap between his boat and the rest of the field in a paddlecross race.If any other members of the team so much as glance over their shoulders, they get a paddle in the head. And he always tells his team the race is much tighter than it actually is.”Even if we’re blowing someone away, I’ll tell them it’s really tight so they keep paddling hard,” Mongo said. “If someone is right on our tail, I tell them they’re trying to pass. It fires them up.”In Wednesday’s rafting paddlecross final at the 2006 Teva Mountain Games, 8 Ball’s gap was established at the beginning. While other teams writhed from the waist up with furious paddling they simply couldn’t close the gap and indeed remained behind the 8 Ball through the finish.The local team of world-champion rafters, which will embark on a Guinness world record in a couple of weeks in an attempt to paddle from the Pumphouse on the Upper Colorado River to Moab, Utah, in 24 hours, defended its standing Teva paddlecross title. As in past events, and in the manner that just about any brand of cross race is won, Behind the 8 Ball captured the race right from the start.
On your marks …”You can start jockeying into some type of strategic positioning from the start. That’s what the strategy of the whole race comes down to,” said 8 Ball’s Todd Toledo. “Our experience in the boat has helped us not only here, but in all the international races and everything else we do.”Race organizers decided to move the final race about a quarter-of-a-mile downriver to where Gore Creek converges with the Eagle River, making the first paddle strokes more frantic than ever.”You start with the boats really tight and get some battling right in the heart of the chute and make it a little more exciting and spectator-friendly,” Mongo said. “It worked, for sure. The boats stayed really tight the whole time and there was some great battling at the beginning. We were lucky enough to get a little bit of a head start right off the bat and hold them off through the chute.”Behind the 8 Ball defeated a battling second-place Pinchie Time from Breckenridge, and fellow local team Go Lite/Nike, most of which was compiled of team members who weren’t even rafters, and thus unaccustomed to the splashy start.”We’re all adventure racers,” said Go Lite/Nike’s Billy Mattison, who was the most experienced rafter on his team. “Those guys who do raft races all the time knew it’s not exactly when they say start. You have to be aggressive beforehand for a floating start. We were kind of left standing at the starting line. I’m still not sure how it works.”
1-2-3 paddle After an early lead is sealed, the key component of raft paddlecross is teamwork.”Rafting is the ultimate team sport,” said Behind the 8 Ball captain Mike Reid. “You gotta have all six guys on the exact same page. You gotta have all six people on the same plan, doing everything, or it just doesn’t work right.”The Eagle was running at about 4 1/2 feet on the gauge Wednesday – roughly 1,800 cubic feet per second, which due to last weekend’s cold temperatures, was a bit lower than expected, but just right for a fair race, according to competitors.”For us, the higher, the better. It would be nice bigger because we know the stretch really well,” Mongo said. “But this is a great level for everybody -for spectators, racers and attendance. It brings out the people who might otherwise not race.”
Behind the 8Ball said there were about six teams contending for the finals, whereas in previous Games, only two or three are recognized as serious competition. Mattison’s team was pleased to make it as far as it did and to close the gap a little bit since playing catch up is not an easy task on the river.Boat block”Not only did we not get the hole shot, but we ended up at the back of the back at the start,” Mattison said of the finals. “The only way we could have done better is if one of those guys made a mistake. But in the finals, nobody was going to make any mistakes. We actually tapped the Breckenridge team. We hit the back of their boat twice, but it didn’t have any effect. To be honest, we were just happy to get to the finals with so many good teams here.”Mongo equates paddlecross to stock car racing, saying that energy is expended blocking oncoming boats from sneaking by.”You get her done at the beginning, then you just hold them off and maintain your position,” he said. “Like stock car racing, you block them out, and make sure they don’t get you on the inside of the turns.”Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 748-2936 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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