Nike team seizes lead in Primal Quest |

Nike team seizes lead in Primal Quest

Devon O'Neil
Summit County correspondent
Summit Daily/Kristin Skvorc

MOAB, Utah ” Just another reason this team has made a career out of winning the biggest adventure races in the world.

Shrugging off a demoralizing course change, Nike/PowerBlast, which led after the first day of Primal Quest and then purposefully ceded that lead to stockpile sleep for the stretch run, has put itself in perfect position to win the biggest expedition race in history.

The three-time defending champions passed Merrell/Wigwam Adventure late Wednesday night on their mountain bikes, and still held that lead as of 7 p.m. Thursday during a mountain trekking stage that passed through the heart of the La Sal range.

There was roughly one day left in what is shaping up to be a six-day race across the Utah desert when course officials alerted the top teams they’d have to complete an orienteering section they did not know about previously. It adds about eight miles to each team’s route ” if the teams can avoid getting lost, which is not even close to a sure thing.

The winning team is expected to finish the now-425-mile race early to midmorning today.

Although media access to the lead foursomes was nonexistent almost all day Thursday, both Nike and Merrell were advancing through the La Sals and could be tracked via GPS units they’re required to carry. Nike’s route appeared much more efficiently navigated, while Merrell’s looked like a zigzag and suggested that the navigation has not gone as smoothly.

Three Nike team members, Monique Merrill (Breckenridge), Mike Kloser (Vail) and Ian Adamson (Boulder), live in Colorado and are more familiar with the mountain terrain surrounding Moab than Merrell’s group. Robyn Benincasa, a Southern California resident, is the only Merrell racer who lives in the U.S.; the other three are Kiwis.

Two days ago, Nike’s Ian Adamson showed how much of a threat he considered Merrell to his team’s run of three straight Primal Quest wins: “They’ll implode,” he said. “They always do.”

Still lurking in striking distance, should something happen to Nike and Merrell, are GoLite/Timberland and Spyder. GoLite, which has fought through bad luck ever since the race began, appeared to be about two or three hours behind Nike, according to the GPS coordinates, and even was closing in on Merrell for second place.

Spyder was steady in fourth place, in line for what would be an $18,500 prize. The winner receives $100,000 between its four members, the second-place squad gets $50,000 and third place brings in $25,000 of the $250,000 total purse ” the largest in the sport.

Sitting in sixth was the surprise of the race thus far, Supplierpipeline, a Canadian group that has made quite a name for itself this week. The Canucks were only an hour behind SOLE, which has been in contention but seems to be fading now.

Once the racers have completed their La Sal trekking section, the race comes down to a 42-mile mountain bike section and then the final kicker, a 14-mile desert trek that features a magnificent ropes section. Within that ropes section teams are required to complete a massive Tyrolean traverse between two high red rock pinnacles, known as the Priest and the Nuns.

The bike leg covers terrain just southeast of Moab, heading northeast. The teams will have to navigate terrain within five miles of Delicate Arch, then they embark on the desert trek.

They will finish the race in an inflatable duckie on the Colorado River, stopping after two miles at the Red Cliffs Lodge, 14 miles east of Moab.

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