The Merrell Adventure Team finished in 11th place in 151 hours 29 minutes to show once again that experience plays a big part in getting a team to the finish on an expedition race.
The Merrell team was the leading RSA team for many years in the AR World Series, finishing as high as 5th in the World Champs in 2013 and winning Expedition Africa in 2012 and 2015. This was the 9th AR World Championship for team captain Graham Bird and post race interview area he asked where the team finished. The racers congratulated each other when they got the answer and he said, “I think that speaks to how we race as a team. We didn’t think about position or other teams at all, we just raced our own race.”
Leo Sorensen spoke about his experience of the course and said, “We saw the spectacular rawness of the Eastern Cape. We felt it more than anything! There were really beautiful sections; the flat lands of the Karoo with those long roads are very appealing in their own way and you get beautiful sunrises and sunsets. We all loved the paddle and being on moving water, the Baviaans was really spectaular and the dune fields are a special place.”
Just ahead of them in the rankings, and showing that experience isn’t everything, was the FEAR Youth team from New Zealand, who finished in a remarkable 9th place.
The team range in age from 18 to 20 and have only be been competing in long races for the past 18 months. This was their first international race, and for such a young team to finish an 840km World Championship course and to compete with, and beat, many of the world’s best teams is totally unprecedented. The FEAR Youth team have announced themselves on the AR world stage!
Fynn Mitchell said, “It was hot, real hot, and the landscape was so vast and we got to see the scale of the country.” Dean Stewart said he loved seeing and hearing all of the animals and Josh Pearson said, “You had to be really brave when you woke up in the morning on a riverbank and knew no one was there to help you. I’m not good in the mornings anyway!” Team coach Andy Magness pointed it this was their first unsupported race. They’ve always had assistance in transitions before, so this race was a big step for the team.
He added, “It was hard watching them in transition!” Fynn Mitchell’s parents are in South Africa too and said it was tough watching them today. The team was moving slowly and suffering badly in the heat, but so have all of the teams.
Almost all of the finishers so far have carried racers with injuries or worked as a team to allow overheating team mates to recover and keep moving. Third placed Estonian ACE/La Sportiva stopped at a farm for to allow Timmo Tammemae to recover when in a state of collapse.
Race winners Swedish Armed Forces Adventure Team kept moving despite an ankle injury to Malin Hjalmarsson and Oskar Svard being affected by heat exhaustion. Emily Caseria on Bend Racing/Skin Doctor had a badly swollen leg and when asked what kept a team going she said, “You have your team with you, and it’s not all about you. You’re not individuals, you’re a unit and that what keeps you going. If I was out there on my own I’d have quit on the first day.”
The US team were a downcast in the finish line interviews, having come for a top 3 finish and feeling they’d had a bad race with a lot of problems. They had no idea where they had finished and were surprised to find it was in 6th place. They might have slowed down a lot, but so did everyone else, and like all of the top teams they pushed through and kept moving towards the finish.
Most of the teams in the top 10 had no idea where they were in the rankings, and when told they were surprised at how high up the rankings they were.
The Vidaraid team (Spain) hugged and jumped up and down on the stage when told they had finished in second place. They had the most remarkable race of all. They were caught in the kayak dark zone overnight and had a 10 hour stop which meant the 6 leading teams broke away from them. Normally that gap would be too much to bridge, but not for Vidaraid, who set a blistering pace to overtake all but the winners on the second half of the course.
Speaking on the finish line Mari Chandler explained the team had a strong motivation and belief to race to their limit and not give up the fight. She added, “I was new racing with these guys this year, and our first race didn’t go great, but I feel the team really gelled here.” Marco Amselem added, “It’s still a dream to win the World Title”, so it seems Vidaraid will be challenging next year in Ecuador with renewed belief after their result in South Africa.
Completing the podium were Estonian ACE/La Sportiva who lost many hours with heat exhaustion and to the difficult navigation in the Sand River Dunes on the final trekking stage. They explained their random track on the map from searching back and forth by telling a story that a baboon stole their tracker and run off with it! Even after 127 hours of racing they kept their dry sense of humour (and had some of the crowd believing their tale)!
The final top ten ranking shows teams from Sweden, Spain (x2), Estonia, Brazil, France, USA, Ecuador (x2) and New Zealand. Some teams also include racers from different countries so racers from the UK, Ireland, RSA, Argentina, Chile, Thailand and Canada were also racing in the top 10 teams.
Adventure Racing is unique in having such a multinational sporting community and this is reflected in Adventure Racing World Series events, which take place all over the world, and in the entry for this World Championship, which is the most internationally representative adventure race ever held.
The majority of the teams are still racing, going into their 7th night of competition, and the course will be open for another 3 days.
You can follow the progress of teams and see the rankings on the live tracking at www.expafrica.live, and hear and read their stories on the ARWS Social pages by following @arworldseries
To see daily video features subscribe to the ARWS on Youtube at; https://www.youtube.com/c/ARWorldSeries