New Zealand wins Eco-Challenge, Vail’s Mike Kloser and Team Go-Lite/BALANCE still battle for second
Air Pacific of Australia is still currently fighting for second place, but remained one stage behind Team Go-Lite.
With a crowd of staff, media, volunteers, family and fans cheering on the Kiwis, Team Seagate.com NZ paddled two kayaks in unison toward the finish on the sand in front of the Sheraton Royal Hotel. Eco-Challenge creator Mark Burnett greeted the exhausted but smiling team with congratulations, traditional Fijian Sulu wraps and a bottle of champagne.
“I congratulate the Kiwis on an outstanding race and a tremendous comeback from adversities faced in this true expedition,” Burnett said. “Halfway through the race, no one, including myself and the Kiwis, thought they could finish even in the top three. But just as in life, when people keep pushing, keep moving, and work together, they are able to achieve great things. There’s a morala in this victory that could apply to all of us.”
He championed the team’s resilience along the course despite both Kristina Penny-Strode’s perseverance after taking ill for 12 full hours during the race and Team Buff AXN’s day six lead of almost 24 hours.
Another local, Bill Mattison, heads a crew on Team Spectrum Access including Cory Nielsen, former member of the U.S. Kayak Slalom Team, Charlie McCarthur, a kayak instructor from Aspen and Monique Merrill. They had finished checkpoint 13 (out of 18) as of Friday morning and were in eighth place.
The win was sweet redemption for the Kiwis, who suffered a heart-breaking meltdown less than 24 hours from the finish line in last year’s Eco-Challenge on their home soil. That strategy of racing without any sleep served as their ultimate demise after sleep depravation and total exhaustion forced them to rest as the winning Eco-Internet – the team racing under the GoLite moniker this year – passed them by en route to their second consecutive title. A mere 14 minutes split the two teams’ final times.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.