Team Nike out to defend its title |

Team Nike out to defend its title

Devon O'Neil
From left Richard Ussher, Mike Closer, and Sari Anderson of team Nike rollerblade through Vail, Colo., during the final leg of the Teva Mountain Games adventure race Sunday, June 4, 2006, in Vail. Team Nike won the event.
AP | Vail Daily

MOAB, Utah ” When people talk about the favorites going into this year’s Primal Quest expedition race, the conversation begins with Team Nike more often than not.

There is good reason for this. Nike won the first two Primal Quests outright (the first while racing under a different name), then tied for the win with New Zealand-based Seagate in 2004, the last time the race was held.

For three of Nike’s four team members this year, Primal Quest Utah ” which begins Saturday in the desert terrain surrounding Moab ” means living up to the “favorite” status they’ve earned.

“Really, we’re out there to defend our title,” said Vail resident Mike Kloser, Nike’s famously hard-nosed veteran and one of the most successful adventure racers ever. “We’re not going into this thing hoping for second.”

Breckenridge’s Monique Merrill, the lone woman on Nike’s squad and an elite-level veteran, will be competing with the champs in a Primal Quest expedition for the first time. She wants to win just as badly as her three teammates, but her reason could not be more different.

Whereas Kloser, Boulder’s Ian Adamson and Idaho resident Michael Tobin have won almost too many expedition races to count, Merrill’s victory total looks like a hula hoop.

“I wanna win one,” she bellowed while en route to Moab on Wednesday night. “I’ve been second so many times, and I’ve been third so many times. I’ve won a lot of little ones, but not any big ones. I just like winning.”

If Nike is going to make it four straight PQ victories, its traditional, built-over-time experience is sure to play a large role. Kloser calls this year’s squad “without a doubt our most experienced team” ” which is all the more relevant considering most competitors believe this race will be won by a team with exactly that sort of race-tested makeup.

Although determining strategy is difficult in a race of PQ’s length (about 400 miles) and location (Moab’s average high temperature in July is 101 degrees), Nike plans to go with what’s worked in the past. As in: sleep, early and often.

“Obviously we have other teams to contend with,” Kloser said. “But I really think we have to worry about racing our own race. We need to keep the big picture in perspective. It’s hard to sleep early in a race when other teams are passing you by,

but you also have to look at it as money in the bank ” sleep in the bank.”

Adamson, Tobin, Kloser and former team member Danelle Ballengee used exactly that strategy to store the late-race stamina that keyed their win in 2004. It’s not a lot of sleep (four hours is a good night), but it leads to triumph.

After spending too many years on the wrong step of the podium, Merrill, for one, recognizes the importance of little tips like that.

“There’ll be so many variables,” she said, alluding to the Utah heat in particular. “But hopefully with an experienced team we’ll be able to cut those variables in half.”

Devon O’Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-4633, or at

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