Local adventure racers have some local advantage | VailDaily.com

Local adventure racers have some local advantage

Shauna Farnell

BEAVER CREEK –Take some of the most elite athletes in the world, give them a map, 24 hours to run, bike, swim and kayak across dozens of mystery miles, and $100,000 dangling at the finish line, and you’ve got yourself a race.

Beaver Creek will host the first race in the three-part Balance Bar 24-hour Adventure Series Saturday as part of the Ford Adventure Sports Challenge.

Although the event will feature teams from throughout the United States and Europe, some of the top contenders reside in the High Country.

Teams will tackle almost 100 miles of trail running, mountain biking, swimming and kayaking, but will have to take each leg, so to speak, in stride. As is the nature of adventure racing, teams won’t know where the course is until they are given maps right before the race begins at 4 a.m.

Team Nokia from Finland will be among those competing, as well as Team Montrail from California. Team SeaGate, which won the 2003 Eco-Challenge in Fiji and are the defending champions of the Ford Gorge Games (the Adventure Sports Challenge predecessor) opted out of the Beaver Creek race.

Although all teams face the same navigational challenges on the unknown course, there’s no question that local competitors have a distinct advantage because of their familiarity with the area; some are hoping it lands them on the top of the prize purse.

“It’s in front of the hometown and they’re expecting a lot, so I better perform,” said three-time Eco-Challenge winner Mike Kloser of Beaver Creek, who will compete with his team Nike ACG-Balance Bar along with Summit County resident Danelle Ballengee and Michael Tobin of Idaho.

“We’re put against tough fields,” Kloser said. “You never want to bank on anything, but it’s definitely an advantage when someone’s racing in a hometown – where the course is undisclosed. We’re already familiar with a lot of the stuff other people might have to stop and look at.”

Breckenridge resident Monique Merrill, who will compete on Team Balance Bar with teammates Harald Zundel and Addy Goodvibes, said the local advantage centers around a knowledge of route possibilities than outsiders.

“It’s like if someone told you to go from (Breckenridge) to Vail and you had to make the choice on which way, you could take the bike path or the Colorado Trail,” Merrill said. “They could take us up and over the Gore Range. In adventure racing, you have to make choices. You have to think on your feet and be resourceful and creative. If you do all your training preparation and show up to a race like an Xterra (the 2003 Central Championships which also take place this weekend in Keystone) or an Ironman race, you will do well. In these races, you could do everything right, but still come in last. It’s about athletes being adaptable. It’s just anyone’s race.”

Local racers competing this weekend suspect the water portion of the race will take place on the Upper Colorado River through Little Gore Canyon, which is home to several sections of Class 3 and 4 whitewater.

“We might have to swim Gore Canyon,” said Ballengee, who, in the course of her recent “light” training, won the Summit Mountain Challenge mountain bike race No. 3 Wednesday and the Summit Trail Running Series race No. 2 Thursday.

“The paddle could be anywhere between the Pumphouse and where the Colorado comes out at Wolcott,” she said. “The good Colorado teams will have an advantage in this race. The money is obviously a big draw for everyone. I’d just like to do well. It’s a personal thing, because it’s going to be competitive.”

Top teams will probably complete Saturday’s race in about 15 hours. The winning team Saturday will win $60,000 to split among its three members, which is incentive enough for many teams, considering with the bittersweet prospect of all-day suffering.

“Swimming down those rapids is going to be brutal,” Merrill said. “I like it. I must have had an easy life in my past life because I like to suffer. I have elevation on my side and I know the layout of the area where the race goes, but it’s going to be brutal. No matter how prepared you are, you’re still going to deal with something you’re not prepared for.”

To register, or for more information on the Ford Adventure Sports Challenge, visit http://www.fordadventuresportchallenge.com.

Shauna Farnell can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 236, or at sfarnell@summitdaily.com.

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