Briefing day for the Weng’an Mountain Quest and Flavio was sick. Not just sick but crook in bed sick. We were not even sure he was going to be able to make it to the start line…. We managed to get him out for some dinner before the race, I dont know that he ate anything, or whether there was any point to him eating anything anyway…. but none the less we tried. This was totally not ideal, especially the day before the start of a race… I was going to be doing a bit more work this time around, not that I was that phased by it, rather excited by the challenge of it to be honest!
The Morning of the race the usually warm China weather had escaped us, with persistent rain waiting for us on the start line. The rain intensity increased as the opening ceremony dragged on and it was cold. Not my favorite pre-start conditions, it felt like I was going through the motions of a head cold coming on and especially not great for a rather sick looking Flavio who requires lots of clothing layers in cold conditions.
Flavio was still not great but he insisted on being one of the basket carriers, and our obvious choice for basket two was the resident fireman Nathan. The ridiculous looking start with about a hundred people running though the streets with Chinese carrying baskets on their back got underway. I was amazed how fast the quick team got out in front and stayed out in front. Julia and I hung back and helped by pushing Flavio’s basket while Nathan sped off in front. It was pretty hard work just pushing so I cant imagine how wasted I would have been had I been actually carrying the basket. Once done with the basket it felt like the real race could get underway. I took charge with the tow rope and set the pace. We managed to make a move, passing two teams and getting us into a solid position on the bike.
The bike started well, it was on the road, up hill and quite wet, so later it was going to get muddy. We started off ok, even passed the first ranked team as they fixed some bike problems and stayed ahead while we were on the road. ONce off the road it was a different story. Julia started to struggle a bit with the technical bits, then it started to get really muddy and we were down to pushing the bikes. It was quite difficult for us during this section, and a couple of teams managed to sneak past. There was so much mud on the bikes that the wheels stopped turning making it even harder to push. The roads turned to a mixture of terrain after this section, again we had troubles with Julia’s chain coming off. This cost us quite a bit of time constantly fixing or trying to fix the problem.
It was quite a relief to get off the bikes and I was looking forward to getting rid of my jacket I’d started with as it was quite cold on the start line! It was also good to get running, I started to warm up and was feeling better once we were on some single track. The run to the abseil was quite interesting, and I think I quite enjoyed it. With all the river crossings it almost felt a bit like the coast to coast. Up the hill then down and along we reached the transition for the flying fox stage…and there was a huge line waiting! We had to stand around shivering for 30-40min before we could finally blast up the hill and jump on the flying fox. Julia and I managed to get the good line, with good fall on it and coming into the end we both even had to brake to stop from smashing into the end. Unlucky for Flav and Nathan, they had sunk to the slack point of there rope halfway and had to pull themselves hand over hand to the end.
Just a 5km uphill road run to the finish. There was some suffering going on there, and felt like I was digging deep into my reserves to get across the line, but also Flavio sick as a dog still powered along tucked alongside the pain train, I was very glad to get to the finish! Day 1 done.
Getting up on day two I was not feeling great, the long bus ride after the stage one had me feeling a little bit green and frustrated, so I didnt have mush time to recover as well as I felt like I needed too. The cold was coming in strong and again the weather was average. On the startline it was even raining again. I reluctantly took my jacket off and rolled with arm warmers. Everyone always talks about how hot it is racing in China, so far I’m not sure I’ve seen much of this hot racing weather at all!
We started the day on Mountain bikes on a big blue bike path. It was quite fun hooning along and around the bends at high speed, until we almost had a moment of disaster. Nathan came into a corner a bit hot, skidded scarily close to the corner barrier, then Julia slammed on the brakes right in front of me, sending her into a skid also. This gave me very little time to brake too, I skidded also and almost cleaned up Julia, but somehow we managed to all survive and keep the heat on.
We came a bit unstuck on the muddy trail just up ahead however. Julia struggled a bit riding in thick mud, then her bike started to play up yet again with her chain coming off. At one stage Nathan and I who were ahead had to go back and see where Flavio and her had got too they were taking so long to come. From here on in Julia and I switched bikes, in an effort to make us go faster. I was able to battle with the chain while Julia could keep riding. Almost a bit of a mistake letting her ride my bike as she was pretty keen to keep it!
Next up was the biathlon, not biathlon in the conventional sense by a bike/run section where two run and two bike. We took my bike instead of Julia due to her bike issues and set off quickly. Unfortunately this section was really tricky to find the way and at one point we got separated. luckily we all figured things out and found each other again but id say that cost us a little bit of time we didn’t want to have to loose. At times it was hard work riding, and at times hard work running, but I think we worked pretty well together to come into the mammoth 27km kayak almost where we left off placing wise that morning.
27km of flat paddling is quite a long way. I felt good for a large part of it, Flavio not so much to begin with and we sat on the wash of Julia and Nathan most of the way. It was tricky navigating without a map or a GPS which turns out to be quite disconcerting! Towards the end I began to struggle, we were however catching some teams up and even finished the paddle clocking the 5th fastest time.
Todays stage was a big one and getting out of the kayaks after around 6 hours racing with still a big run up a steep hill to go it felt like we had got hardly anywhere! On the plus side the sun had come out to warm things up and to cause a bit of sunburn while we were at it. Crap, why did I not think to put sunscreen on 6 hours ago when it was raining and clouding and cold….The climb was pretty tough work anyway, there was some tired bodies dragging themselves up the hill. It wasnt all bad once we were at the top, we had company in the form of a Chinese team. This gave us a bit of a boost, right when we needed it. Then it was just a blast into the finish for the end of one of the biggest days racing I’ve done in China so far.
Today when I went into hurry the guys up to get down to the buses, Flavio made a joke! Yay, he seemed almost back to his old self, the sun was shining and I was feeling better too. I had a feeling that today was going to be a good day. It didn’t start all to well with the other guys almost missing the bus, unbeknown to me they had actually made it on the last bus to leave. A little bit stressful but having been well down the pack with not much room to improve it was quite relaxing chilling out waiting for the day to start
Right from the start line my calf muscles were a bit stiff, we started off at 30 second intervals and made good ground straight away. Julia blasted ahead, leaving us three to work together to help keep the whole team moving fast. Then Chaos at the kayak put in, there was teams everywhere, and we were right in the mix which felt good for a change in this race! We had a strong kayak to the abseil section, quickly dumped Flavio out of the boat and while he ran up to the top of the bridge, I navigated the chaos at this transition even taking a t-boning into the kidneys from another in coming kayak.
The abseil section was pretty amazing, 180m from the bridge above down to the water. As Flavio blasted up the hill, we had pretty much nothing to do other than to sit and wait in our kayaks and eat some food. A rare moment for relaxation in the high paced world of adventure stage racing. Then suddenly the calmness was broken with “Fuck! its burning” yelled out from above from a fast moving Flavio. The friction on the rope caused the gear to heat up and his gloves were not ideal for this situation. Anyway after a flurry of activity he was back in the boat and we were back in the game sitting in about 7th or 8th place.
Towards the end of the kayak we were pushed for pace but the North Face team, and I almost blew myself to pieces. The hundreds of dead fish didnt do much for my stomach either as we cruised into transition. From here it was a steep climb on foot then a 5km run on the road to the Bikes. Julia once again was strong on the flat and down hill and Nathan was in the box. Flavio and I did a bit of work to keep the train moving, and we reached the bikes in good stead for the leg ahead.
Nathan was struggling on the bike to begin with so my tow rope came out for a bit, then Julia dropped her chain yet again… We pulled things together, lost a bit of time, but then with a climb up the gravel road working in our favour we pulled back some of that time. I pretty much had the mindset of “empty the tank” and rest of us were moving fast to match the motivation. We had a slight hiccup before getting into transition which resulted in a bottle getting thrown at one who shall remain nameless!
The GPS orienteering was next and what a nightmare. If it had been pure orienteering we would have smoked it no doubt but this dumb GPS navigating thing really favours those with a good GPS. This was not something we had, and it cost us time… what turned out to be heaps of time. Aside from the stress of getting the co-ordinates in there was a little bit of frustration creeping into the team and a little bit too much backchat…which slowed us down even more. None the less we finally got near the finish, just two obstacles to go a great big cargo net to climb, then a 3.6m wall to cross to finish. This in particular provided the crowd with some entertainment as our plan didn’t really get communicated all that well… in the end it was left with me at the bottom. I had to jump up to grab Flavio, hanging down, first with his feet, which failed, then his arm. Nathan was holding Flavio and he had me, but it was Julia who also reached down to grab my hand that stopped me from falling, then I could be dragged over the wall to finish!
The finish was a bit of a let down for me, I felt like we had worked so hard all day and then just stumbled on the GPS orienteering right at the end, slipping from 7th to 13th for the days result. Well I guess it goes down as yet another China experience. Still some work to do in being more efficient, as I think we proved if only to ourselves that we can race fast and up within the top ten comfortably on that final day. We just need some luck and some ideal conditions now!
A pretty cool video of the race:
Special Thanks to Fran for being our team leader, getting us snacks, speaking chinese for us, taking heaps of cool photos and everything else!
Thanks also to St Martins New World, Bivouac Outdoor, Cycleways, Inov8 and Pure Sports Nutrition!