|By Rob Howard|
The final day of the race began back at the footbridge in Wulong town, and after running across it, abseiling off it and rafting to it on previous days, it was now the start of the kayak stage. It was a clear sunny morning and a hot and humid day lay ahead, and being the final day it was sure to be a tough one. This was especially true for those racers who had been feeling ill and had one more day to try and survive to the finish, losing as little time as possible on their rivals.
It was Winterextrem5.com who lead the run to the kayaks and were first into the fast flowing stream and in a few minutes they were passing the towns final bridge and entering a narrow gorge. The first paddle took the leaders about 40 minutes and as they pulled ashore they could look up to the towering limestone cliffs 1000m about them and that is where they were going. Stage two was a run, and it was all uphill, with the steepest trail at the top! In all the villages there were crowds of cheering supporters encouraging them on, waving flags and helping man the aid stations. Taking on water was particularly important in the heat.
At the top the French team were still ahead, chased by Nike Beaver Creek who were hauling an ailing Mike Kloser along. "I've never felt so bad during a race," he said, "and would not have kept moving without some great team work to pull me along." Ahead of them Winterextrem5.com were looking over their shoulders for Nike or Toread Adventure Sport, but the Kiwi team had problems of their own and both Jacob Roberts and Marcel Hagener were pulling along a sick Richard Ussher.
The ride was split into two with a rest stop after 9km at the Pearl Valley hotel where the largest and noisiest group of flag waving children lined the entrance and exit. They were having a great time! Inside the gates there was shady courtyard to rest in and plenty of food and drink on offer before the ride continued down into the valley where the kayaking had taken place on day one. After riding across the dam the inevitable climb came, and it was a big one, zig-zagging relentlessly to a high ridge, before descending again on single track and continuing on sealed roads to the final stage of the day caving.
Teams were taking a little longer than expected on the course and a few were desperately struggling to complete the course. Air New Zealand/R&R Sport had one team member suffering from heat stroke and were glad to get him into the cool cave.
Team Explore were moving slowly too, racing at the back of the field and holding up the traffic! he roads could only open when they last team had passed and at one point a police car and the traffic behind it had to wait while Mikael Lindnord and Viktoria Wallin laid at the road side to rest!