Who’s it gonna be?
MOAB, Utah ” The biggest and baddest adventure race in history is now officially one of the closest, too.
With two teams closing in on the finish line at a pace as furious as their bodies would allow six days into Primal Quest Utah, Friday night’s hotly anticipated finish went into the wee hours of the morning. Nike/PowerBlast, with its three Coloradans (Monique Merrill, Mike Kloser and Ian Adamson) leading the way toward the Red Cliffs Lodge finish line, 14 miles east of Moab, led GoLite/Timberland by less than an hour (the latest estimate put the margin at around 20 minutes with two hours to go).
But what neither team knew at the time was that a race jury had awarded a 37-minute time credit to GoLite due to a bout of bad luck two days earlier. If Nike finished first ” and all indications pointed toward them doing so ” the four physically and mentally drained athletes would be required to wait out GoLite’s time credit as the three Kiwis and one German pushed toward the finish.
Making matters even worse on a night when nothing seemed to be going according to plan: A lightning storm (the first inclement weather of the week) had forced race officials to put the competition on hold at the final ropes section, which features a 400-foot ascent and rappel, then another 400-foot ascent to a Tyrolean traverse.
So the racers waited in the dark, their bodies suffering almost unimaginably, with $100,000 on the line.
The fact that the race came down to a matter of minutes was improbable in its own right. At 9:30 Friday morning, Nike held a 50-minute lead heading out of the La Sal mountains, where they reached elevations above 12,300 feet after spending most of the week in the scorching desert. GoLite seemed to be more in the hunt than it had been all week.
Conceding the race?
But while Nike wasted nary an instant in its transition area, GoLite acted with no urgency whatsoever. German racer Marcel Hagener explained the reasoning: his team had already conceded the race.
“We just want to keep our position safe at the moment,” he said, referring to the threat of Merrell/Wigwam Adventure, which stood in third place, five hours back. “We just heard that somebody had heat stroke earlier, so we don’t plan to go out hard now. We just want to keep second place safe.
“We are not going to win,” he added. “Nike won’t make a mistake. If there’s an accident or something like that, then we might win. But that’s not how I want to win the race.”
It came as quite a surprise considering how much GoLite had overcome to get to that point. One of the favorites going in, the international foursome dealt with a sick horse the first day of the race, then watched one of its rear bike tires fall 200 feet to the ground on an error by race organizers Wednesday.
The latter snafu provided the grounds for the 37-minute time credit.
All of Friday’s racing drama happened after a helicopter carrying three race videographers grazed a rock wall earlier in the day, narrowly missing a fourth videographer on the ground. Nobody was injured in the crash.
After the top two teams, no other foursome was within eight hours of the finish as of 11:15 p.m.
Devon O’Neil can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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.