Through the Forests To TA1
Day two, and for all of the teams it was still about finishing the first leg of the race, the mighty 106km mountain trek. Most teams were making the ascent of Piton des Neiges today, the highest point on the island and coming after crossing the three cirques it was a brutal climb, and a thirsty one for teams who did not have enough water with them.
Yet even after all that, there were still more challenges to come on the trek and TA1 was still a long way off. The mountains to the East of the island have a very different climate and nature to those on the west. They are still steep and fractured but there are high plateau among the cliffs and canyons which they are covered in luxuriant and impenetrable forest.
Soon after descending Piton des Neiges the teams were making their way into the Forest of Belouve and it was like entering another world. The forest is so dense there is no hope of making a way through it away from the paths, but even the paths were not all easy. I found the Russian team Blizzard near the Gite de Belouve, trying to find their next trail and Natalia Zimina told me, “The forest has been difficult and dirty. There have been lots of fallen trees and hidden cliffs to climb over and under.”
Fortunately, after that point the main trail leading to the huge Trou de Fer canyon gave them a much easier time and they could continue along a marked trail to cross the Plaine des Lianes to get to the first Transition. It was still slow going with many steps and roots and by this state the teams were footsore and their pace had dropped considerably.
The leading teams did still manage to make TA1 ahead of the predicted 38 hour fastest time, but they were not fast enough to allow themselves time to reach the first pack rafting CP. Leaders Haglofs Silva arrived at 16.15 and the dark zone on the stage is enforced at 19.00, but they decided there wasn’t time to make it to CP7. (If they slept anywhere else on the way the time would not count against the mandatory 12 hours on their ‘sleep card’.)
So the leaders are camped out tonight at TA1, which is a track junction in the middle of some cane fields, still quite high above the water. I’m told they will be allowed to move down to the water before the dark zone is lifted at 05.15, so they are ready to set off once its light.
At the time of writing there are already 12 teams camped together in the cane field so it will something of a mass restart in the morning. All the teams there will want to set off on time as the predicted fast time for the stage is 13 hours, and they will not want to risk getting caught by the following night’s dark zone. They will be resting tonight (some for longer than others), then racing hard tomorrow to keep their pace up to get through TA2 before nightfall.