Greener Adventure Team Reflect On Their Win
So, you’re an adventure racer. That’s a great start. But do you race? Do you RACE?
During Expedition Africa Rodrigues, I spoke to some AR newbies, asking them what they thought of the event now that they were in the thick of things. How was it measuring up?
“It’s easier than I expected.”
That answer surprised me; threw me, if I’m honest. I’ve never done a race and come away with that impression.
Another person mentioned to me that he found it difficult to hear people say they’d completed an expedition race when they’d skipped loads of the course. He felt it cheapened the accomplishment of those who had cleared the course.
Now I get it. People race for whatever reasons. Some to put it all on the line no matter how many CPs they get, some compete for the experience so CPs become secondary, literally on an adventure holiday. Some just to feel alive. And some for the podium…
Fresh off their win at Expedition Africa Rodrigues, the Greener Adventure Team Cykelkraft requested an interview. That might sound weird. No, they are savvy competitors, understanding the need to work all the angles to benefit their sponsors, and the team itself. Take note. Don’t wait for the media to approach you. ðŸ˜‰
I watched the team win at Expedition Africa Baviaans, back in 2017, under the name Skylotec. “Watched” is probably the wrong word. I chased them up hill and down dale as they dominated their way to victory, and it was impressive. Very calm and focused, at least on the outside. Apparently unflappable. Racers.
As individuals, they share a dry sense of humour, but otherwise are low profile. They don’t showboat, either as competitors or victors, which is cool. Maybe that’s just a Swedish thing.
So, how was this race, and the sweet victory?
Jonas: “The goal was to win.”
After the year of disappointments (China cancellation, ARWC withdrawal, Nordic DNF and India altitude sickness), they hadn’t raced together for another year. The motivation to turn it all around at Rodrigues was the priority.
They mentioned China as being particularly horrible. All teams had their race fees and airfare refunded, but that hardly made up for the disappointment. Jonas responded by going off on a 100-mile run from the HQ instead. Making lemonade.
The Race Concept:
By arriving 2 weeks early, they were more prepared than probably any other team, and ironically, afterwards felt they’d over-planned it a little. Going in, they didn’t have any doubts about their approach to the race, feeling very confident. Part of their preparation included biking all the hills prior to the race. They were worried the terrain would become boring, but no, “there was so much variety in such a small location.” And whenever they saw an altitude of 400m mentioned on the course, knew exactly where they would be heading, as there was only one place on the island of that height.
Marten thought the race would feel different because of the many short stages. But instead he found it to be like a normal AR though more interesting. There wasn’t any fighting the boredom that one normally experiences in expedition-length events, where the monotony of a long stage can grind one down.
Their fitness was on form. At the Nordic Islands AR last year, until they got halted by Cecelia’s hypothermia, they’d managed to keep up with Silva, so they knew they could keep the pace of an elite team. Silva had beaten Seagate in the past.
Marten liked the boat idea but they’d had problems with the sand and salt getting everywhere, inescapable, and that every TA was wet. That meant they started every stage with wet feet and it was hard on equipment.
GAT felt the sailing hadn’t been a big factor in their victory. Their sail was only effective downwind, so in anything other than a straight run, had resorted to using paddles. Like many other teams, they’d found the boats to be surprisingly easy to paddle, and just gotten on with the job. Moreover, they hadn’t practised with their sail, but it had worked well enough.
Marten wondered whether the best option might have been for all teams to have used the same sail? Something easy like their downwind type, which all the teams could handle. As an experiment, the boats were a great success judging from most teams, so it’s just a matter of how race directors adopt the idea in future events.
(Hanno Smit remarked on how unusual it was for 4 team members to be in such forced proximity. In previous races, kayaks could separate out, or on bikes and on foot, but the boats provided an unusually close environment for the team, and necessitated proper teamwork to make progress. Definitely a plus.)
Greener Adventure Team hadn’t had things all plain sailing. On the leg from T4 to T5, they’d grounded due to the outgoing tide. They removed all bags, which they left floating in the shallows, turned the boat on its side, then heaved, heaved, heaved, in order to make headway. It left them light-headed from the effort, but they managed to push it 500m to deeper water. They made the channel by seconds. Any longer and they would have had to wait for the tide to turn.
While they were doing it, Cecelia found it bizarre they were pushing the boat in such shallow water that there were birds standing on the reef alongside. No doubt making sarcastic remarks at the crazy humans.
There was more swimming than expected. They did all their swims in the dark, coincidentally. They experienced big waves, the currents, the dark. On to the island after T7, there was tough bundu-bashing straight after the swim, including steep climbs. Cecelia is a good swimmer (as a serious triathlete) but she was shaking at the end of that swim. The intensity was unexpected.
They spent 2.5hrs on Coco Island waiting for the tides, together with Blizzard. GAT sprinted around the island to nab the CPs, Simon towing Cecelia. They wanted to show the Russians who was boss – “You don’t belong here”.
The short legs meant a higher speed which meant greater pressure on the team. Cecelia had “wanted to puke. It was difficult to eat.” She’d needed food but couldn’t get it down. The priority was not to stop, not to slow down. She resorted to the tow rope. Fortunately, the team allowed her to get some sleep on the boat to T10 while the rest paddled. It was a smart decision for the final push.
Pro Tip: on the via ferrata trek/bike leg after T9, GAT were back in the lead, and stole 10 mins sleep right at a CP, so no-one could pass them unnoticed. Usually teams like to sleep away from a CP, so that following teams don’t get a clue as to the CP whereabouts, but this alternative was mighty cunning.
Blizzard then passed them towards T9, but GAT decided to apply pressure, and pushed hard to pass them into T9 by 1 minute. GAT then left on the boats 1 minute ahead, leaving the Russians chasing. Constantly trying to wear down the opposition.
It was almost a race of two parts. GAT felt it was a normal expedition race until the final two legs (bike and trek) where it metamorphosised into a sprint. Cecelia was motivated enough to push her boundaries. She hadn’t run that fast in the entire previous year. They had no water, no food – how long would it last? But they wanted the win so much.
On the final trek, GAT left T10 first, then the Russians followed within a minute. GAT decided to get rid of them, and moved fast from CP103. This was after the eating/staring match at the house of CP102. After CP104 they couldn’t see the Russians anymore.
That trek was in serious heat. Carrying very little water, GAT were in danger of overheating, but didn’t dare stop to replenish supplies. When I saw them on the beach at CP109, the strain on their faces was marked, Jonas’s in particular. It was intense, and also gratifying in a weird way, to see them putting so much heart and soul into their goal to win. To see them as human.
This brings us back to the question asked at the beginning, about whether you race or not. If you find a race ‘easy’ might be a matter of the competition. Did Seagate find their wins easy? I don’t think so. I think they were able to hide the effort required to dominate when it really counted.
Jonas put it like this: “In order to win, to succeed at the top end, you have to be prepared to redline your engine. You slacken off long enough to recover, then go back to the redlining.”
I saw that redlining up close. The strain was immense. And the rewards equally so.
Finally, here’s a snippet that reveals the mindset. At 10pm on the evening after their finish, Bruce Viaene noticed Jonas still had his compass on his wrist.
Bruce: “You can take it off now.”
Jonas: “It’s more important to know where North is.” ðŸ˜‰
Greener Adventure Team will now be focusing on the ARWC in Paraguay in 2020 but haven’t ruled out returning to South Africa for the 10th EA in Lesotho. For the rest of the year, the three men don’t have any further expedition races planned, concentrating more on family after their win. Jonas brought his two youngsters to Rodrigues, Marten has a 1.5-month old, while Simon’s child is only 4 months old. Cecelia will be competing in the Swedish Military Triathlon Championships.