Kloser closes season with Raid win
ST. MARTIN DE LOS ANDES, ARGENTINA – Mike Kloser might be headed back to Argentina in January for another adventure race with his Team Nike ACG-Balance Bar.Might, as in maybe, as in Kloser might also decide to relax a little bit longer after crossing the finish line of the grueling Raid World Championship Dec. 2 in St. Martin de Los Andes, Argentina, in first place.Kloser and teammates Danelle Ballengee, Ian Adamson and Michael Tobin completed the 17-discipline, 637-kilometer race in 5 days, 3 hours and 48 minutes to win the $50,000 first-place prize purse. “It was probably the hardest race of the year we’ve done because of the duration, which was supposed to be approaching six days,” Kloser said. “It was probably the toughest, most competitive race of the year. Primal Quest was certainly difficult, but due to the nature of that event, with the death (of Team AROC’s Nigel Aylott), the restarts and the sleep periods during it because of that, I wouldn’t classify it as difficult.”The final stretch of the Raid World Championship was a four-hour paddle on Lago Lacar to the finish line on the lake’s shore. With a brisk tail wind to aid them along, Kloser’s team had an unimpeded push to the win. The smooth ending was in direct contrast to a frustrating beginning on Day 1 in the opening trekking leg of the race.Kloser and his team took a bad trail, which eventually dissipated into nothing, and were forced to do a little bushwhacking to make it to the next checkpoint.”Right from the get-go, we set ourselves back a bit by having made a bad choice on a route up this valley to a saddle through the bamboo,” Kloser said. “Along with a number of the other potential contenders, we took an earlier trail that diminished to essentially nothing halfway up the mountain. I tried convince the team that we should backtrack. They opted no, saying that we needed to push forward.”The mistake wasn’t too costly. Unlike some other teams that traversed across the forest and ended up in a creek drainage – a time-consuming hassle – Kloser’s team made its way to the second checkpoint without having sustained too much damage.Back and forth
On Day 2, after a mandatory rest period, Team Nike ACG-Balance Bar caught up to Team Nokia, a Finnish outfit, but were still an hour behind the British team of Saab-Salomon.From the get-go, Kloser expected the Nokia team to be one of the handful of teams that would challenge for the first-place prize purse, but Saab-Salomon was actually the quartet that mounted the biggest challenge. “They’ve been around,” Kloser said. “Some of the team members are very seasoned athletes and they’ve been racing for a number of years. Anyway, they definitely took their abilities to another level in this race. We weren’t considering them to be one of the real true favorites, and then as the race wore on, obviously they made some good navigational choices throughout most of the race.”Team Nike ACG-Balance Bar reeled in the leaders on the hike up Mount Lanin, a trying 8,000-foot ascent up the volcano to a vantage point with spectacular views. The lead would be short-lived, however.The back-and-forth dual continued when Saab-Salomon grabbed the lead again on the way down the volcano heading into a mountain biking leg that crossed over into Chile.”Once we hit the dirt at the bottom of Lanin, we knew we were going into a bike segment and we had 30-40 pound packs on our back,” Kloser said. “We didn’t need to kill ourselves running down the hill fast (like Saab-Salomon). Once we got on the bike, we took over the lead again and then they passed us one time on the bike through Chile.”Kloser’s team finally put a little distance on the Saab-Salomon squad that night after the mountain-biking leg on a paddling section before stopping for a little rest.Pick your spotsWith each team having to take a mandated 21 hours of rest – which had to be at the bare minimum measured out in four-hour blocks – Kloser said choosing the best times to sleep became very strategic.Dark zones along certain sections of the course – meaning the course was shut down and teams had to wait until daylight to continue on – meant there was time to be lost if teams had already used up too much sleeping time before reaching those points. The objective, Kloser said, was to finish with the exact minimum of 21 sleep hours.
More strategy came into play during the horse-riding leg of the race, considering there were two mandatory vet checks, which took about an hour each. Kloser said that instead of idling around while the vets checked the animals, that time could be used to sleep. The strategy, in essence, was a way to kill two birds with one stone.Border crossing checks were also a good time to steal some shut-eye.”They implemented this, which really became a strategic factor in the race,” Kloser said. “We had several short stops where we had to stop 15 minutes. Everyone had to stop at the Chilean border crossing and the Argentinian border. Between the two crossings we had an hour there. Then we had an hour once we went onto the horse and another half-hour vet check during the horse ride. So, if you slept for an hour during one of those vet checks, you could utilize one of those hours as one of your four hours, which means you’re basically saving yourself an hour.”A good laughKloser said one of the most adverse points in the race actually came during one of the vet checks for the horses.The situation could have cost the team the race considering Adamson could have been severely injured.After the race, however, Kloser laughed when he recounted what happened with Adamson, his horse and a dedicated French veterinarian.”Right at the first vet check we were going to go in and sleep because we’d been struggling with night-time navigation with the horses and we’d lost several hours and had lost a couple of hours on our lead over some of our rivals,” Kloser said. “At that vet check, Ian got thrown off his horse because the chest strap on the saddle had broken and spooked the horse or something. The horse started bucking and the saddle then spun and came loose and Ian’s foot was in the stirrup. The horse started tramping around and backpedaling and what have it and stepped on Ian’s knee and drug him around a bit. Thankfully, he was able to pull his foot out of his shoe. It didn’t have one of those breakaway stirrups. We were really fortunate then.””The vet, this was classic, and I’m not sure if he was French or Argentine, he could care less what happened to Ian. He’s standing there and he just walks out calmly, grabs his stethoscope and puts it up against the horse and checks his heartbeat. I was like, ‘Hey, you saw what happened. I wouldn’t worry too much about the horse,’ in French or broken English to this guy. He didn’t give a (expletive) at all.”
Winning heals allA lot of Advil and a champion’s heart kept Adamson in the race.And, with its trademark tenacity and perseverance, Team Nike ACG-Balance Bar managed to hold off Saab-Salomon and the rest of the field to pick up the win.Kloser said he prefers to win adventure races in less dramatic fashion.”I like to win and win convincingly,” he said.Still, the win – regardless of how it came – was another victory for the most decorated adventure-racing team on the planet.”There’s a lot of diversity in that race, which is always nice, because you don’t just get tired and completely bored with one discipline and just can’t wait for change,” he said. “It’s a great way to finish the season.”Of course, that is, if Kloser really is done for the season.”I’m really enjoying relaxing right now,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”Staff Writer Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Colorado