It’s prime time on Primal Quest |

It’s prime time on Primal Quest

Devon O'NeilSummit County correspondent
Summit Daily/Kristin Skvorc

MOAB, Utah – With the race finally nearing the canyons and trails surrounding Moab, something of a surprise leader has seized control of Primal Quest Utah. Team Merrell/Wigwam Adventure, consisting of a Southern California female firefighter and three Kiwi veterans, made a sensational push through a long flatwater paddling leg and a scorching out-and-back canyon section Tuesday, and now the foursome has a grip on the race as it passes the halfway point.Of course, it’s not a shocker to see Robyn Benincasa, Jeff Mitchell, Ian Edmond and Neil Jones – all among the most experienced racers in this field – out front. But considering their stamina and sleep bank (they got about two and a half hours Monday night, which ranked right up there with the other elite squads), even they weren’t expecting to have the lead that they do.”We don’t seem to have gone extra, extra hard, so I’m quite surprised that we’re actually leading this thing,” Jones said moments after the group passed Checkpoint 22 [out of 42 total] around 6:30 p.m. “We’re not really trying to hype it up too much because we don’t know whether [the other] guys had a sleep today.”As of CP22, the leaders had covered 257 miles of the 417 on the course. They rappelled some 400 feet down to the base of Hell Roaring Canyon a few minutes later, then began the trek back toward the aptly named Green River. Nike/PowerBlast passed that point a little more than an hour later.Soon after the leaders dropped down the ropes, however, bad news arrived over the race officials’ walkie talkies. SOLE had forgotten its ascending gear, meaning its four athletes would have to trek back to their last transition area or absorb an undetermined penalty. Either way, the group was likely to lose a large amount of work in the 110-degree canyon heat, virtually ending its contender status.According to Benincasa, even though she knows there are plenty of miles to go and plenty of teams to watch, she and her Kiwi teammates have their eyes out for one group in particular: three-time defending champion Nike.”They’re just hard-core competitors,” she said of the lurking foursome, which includes Vail’s Mike Kloser and Breckenridge resident Monique Merrill. “They know how to race, they’re smart, they’re never off the back, they’re never gone for long. They know how to close the gap, they know how to win races.”Danelle Ballengee’s Spyder squad, which led until the early morning hours on Tuesday (in three days, the race has had a different leader at dusk each day), suffered from some unsuccessful attempts at sleep and dropped to fourth place later in the day.Twice Spyder stopped to sleep for an hour and a half; both times they only got about five minutes of actual shuteye.”We just got eaten by bugs and froze to death,” Aussie Darren Clarke said at CP20 of the first attempt, which took place on the side of the river while it was still dark. “And then we tried to crash over here beside the tent, but same thing: another hour and a half, too much talkin’. We really haven’t had much sleep at all. We’re just gonna go, and when we get tired we’ll try to find some shade and crash out. We need sleep.”It didn’t help that out of all the racers who suffered from blisters Tuesday, Ballengee seemed to be in the worst shape. “The sand is coming through the mesh in our shoes, and through our socks, and just rubbing our feet raw,” she said.Teams GoLite/Timberland (third) and Nike/Beaver Creek (sixth) continue to lurk in striking distance of the leaders. Judging from Richard Ussher’s assessment, Nike/Beaver Creek could be much higher in the next 24 hours.”We’ve just been treating it almost as if it were a training thing,” he said of the team’s pace, before stopping to brush his teeth at CP20. “Hopefully that means we’ll have a few more reserves for the end.”The final 160 miles of the course are expected to be covered by Thursday morning, when the top teams will finish at Red Cliffs Lodge, 14 miles east of Moab.Tuesday Top 10 (as of 10:02 p.m.)1. Merrell/Wigwam Adventure (USA)2. Nike/PowerBlast (USA)3. GoLite/Timberland (USA)4. Spyder (USA)5. SOLE (USA)6. Nike/Beaver Creek (USA)7. Bjurfors Adventure Racing (SWE)8. (AUS)9. Supplierpipeline (CAN)10. Buff/Coolmax (SPN)

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