Straight Off The Track
Teams woke this morning to a fine morning at Hell Bourg, with daylight coming around 5.30am. Some said they’d been a little cold on the stone floor of the sports hall overnight and they were keen to start the race and get going. (The mats they were given were quite short so the taller racers found it harder to stay warm.) All of the teams I spoke to would rather have started last night and were not sure why they didn’t, but it could have been so race volunteers could join in the opening ceremonies then head off to the their posts.
In the normal way of things those who got to the breakfast counter first got the most (including some of last night’s left over curry and race) and those at the back found slim pickings. The coffee urn emptied quickly too!
Speaking before the start Nathan Fa’avae of defending champions Avaya, said, “It is strange not having the maps but Chris will pick our route to the first checkpoint and we’ll head straight off and try to catch those ahead of us. It’s up to him really!” Asked about his return to a World Champs after retiring 2 years ago he said, “I’m very relaxed about it. I’ve kept myself active and wanted to come and race with the team and see Reunion so that’s the priority. If we don’t win it’s not a big deal. It certainly won’t make any difference to my life if we are beaten! It would be good for the sport I think and I’ll be the first to congratulate anyone who beats us and say well done.”
By 6am everyone had their YB tracker and teams were ready to go, racing across the dew covered field to get their first 3 maps, then climbing up into the hills above the stadium. First to leave were Columbia, as they won the prologue, and the remainder followed at 30 second intervals. Nick Gracie of Columbia said, “We did well in the prologue and thought it was worth pushing to get an early start, though I’d rather not have the pressure of being first and leading everyone.”
The first challenge for teams was to find 2 waterfall abseils in a series of canyons up among the cliffs on the edge of the Salazie crater, so they headed uphill on a trail which lead alongside the football pitch.
The race had been at pains to point out teams should stay on paths and not try to go cross-country, and then the first part of the course forced them to do just that! To get between the first and second checkpoints they followed a canyon and river bed which had no path and had to beat a way through the dense vegetation and bamboo thickets, scrambling among the boulders in the dry river bed. (I think many of the smaller rivers will be dry unless it is actually raining and the availability of water is something the teams need to plan for.)
The lead teams were in one big pack here and soon beat a visible path of downtrodden vegetation through the bush. They said there were no hold ups at the first ropes, which were a quick descent down a vegetation covered cliff. (Don’t expect to see any photos as the vegetation is dense!) However, with such a big lead pack there was something of a race on for the second ropes and its possible teams had a short wait there. (However many ropes there are its strictly one rope per team.)
Between the first two CP’s they passed by a small holding (I’let) with pens full of goats, chickens, rabbits, pigs and cows and they may encounter quite a few of these subsistence farms hacked into the steep hillsides and forests.
I saw Australian team Tri-Adventure Antelopes in here and they were adjusting their packs to lighten the load for Tom Chadbourne, who was feeling unwell. He was apologetic but Elizatbeth Dormon just said, “It’s much better to say and we can deal with it and get you right again.”
This off track section made for a slow start to the race, but as teams move into the calderas of Mafate and then Cilaos they will be on trails. This should make the navigation fairly straightforward, though there is long way between checkpoints and could be some route choice options. They will be more concerned about the relentless ascent and descent on very steep trails, the heat and staying hydrated as they come to terms with the volcanic landscape and this first 106km trek.
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