Nike team wins desert thriller
MOAB, Utah – Nike won again. That’s the simple story Primal Quest Utah ended with.If only it was that easy to describe. The Colorado-based squad (which won its fourth PQ title Saturday as Nike/PowerBlast) narrowly outlasted a sensational late-race push by the renowned international foursome GoLite/Timberland. Nike crossed the finish line at Red Cliffs Lodge, an expansive winery 14 miles east of Moab on the Colorado River, at 5:44 a.m. Saturday morning, less than an hour shy of six days since the race began.Monique Merrill (Breckenridge), Mike Kloser (Vail), Ian Adamson (Boulder) and Michael Tobin (Boise, Idaho) covered the nearly 500-mile course with 22 minutes to spare. Had the 2004 Primal Quest race not ended in a sentimentally organized tie between Nike and the Kiwi squad Seagate, this would’ve been the closest finish in PQ history.The reason it was close had a little to do with a 37-minute time credit awarded to GoLite by race organizers Friday night (a course snafu provided the grounds), but much more to do with a pair of the best teams in the world refusing to yield a grain of sand to the other.Nike’s lead fluctuated between two hours and 20 minutes over the final 21 hours of the race. Each time the three-time defending champions applied full throttle, GoLite – equally as weary, but without the killer instinct that has made Nike famous – answered.
The eight racers took a three-hour break from about 11:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. while a lightning storm made the already heartstopping Tyrolean traverse 400 feet off the ground unpassable. Then, once the race began again, they scurried over desert and redrock terrain and kayaked to the finish line, Nike needing to arrive at least 37 minutes ahead of GoLite to secure the victory.The champions crossed the line and were showered with champagne, then waited with their eyes on the river behind them to see whether GoLite would spoil the celebration (and steal their $100,000 first prize). In the end, the three Kiwis (Aaron Prince, Sara Wallen and Chris Forne) and one German (Marcel Hagener) arrived at 6:43, just a bit too late. Course director Don Mann officially declared Nike the winner and about 100 onlookers applauded their achievement: They conquered the brutal Utah desert faster than anyone else could.Kloser, a three-time Eco-Challenge champion and now four-time Primal Quest winner, said it was the toughest expedition course he had ever faced.”It was 128 degrees at one of the ropes sections a couple days ago,” Kloser said. “It was probably 120 or 130 when we hit it yesterday. Our shoes felt like they were melting under our feet. My team – our team – was basically gone to the s—- within five minutes of leaving [Transition Area 11, midday Friday]. Cactus in their feet, cutting the shoes open so the feet could deal with the swelling. The heat, trying to hydrate, eat – it was atrocious.”Vomiting, diarrhea, it was like kindling on the fire once we hit that desert trek.”
“Sometimes I think it was adventure torture, not adventure racing,” Tobin said.Nike’s Primal Quest victory was significant for two main reasons. First, it proved yet again that the team’s experience, toughness and will to win still trumps its age. The three men on the team are in their 40s (Kloser, the captain, is 46), and Merrill is in her mid-30s. GoLite, meanwhile, is led by 26-year-old captain Prince, the brightest of many young guns in the sport these days.The second reason Nike’s win was significant: It gave Merrill her first win in a major adventure race. Until Saturday she had held a reputation as one of the top female racers in the sport, but she’d always come up just short on the biggest stages.Later, she grinned while debating whether it was worth it.”I tell you what – $25,000 … I don’t know. That was a lot of suffering,” the healthfood store owner said. “I think I would rather get a job. I kept thinking that the whole week, like, oh my god, it may be better if I was a writer or something.”Whereas many expected Nike’s biking prowess (the team is one of the best in the field) to make a difference this race, instead it proved to be the old adventure racing standard: get lots of sleep early on, and hope it pays off.
“I think that was the determining factor to why we’re sitting here now,” said Kloser, a Mountain Bike Hall of Famer whose team got 13 hours of shuteye over six days.After all their battling, even Prince said he wouldn’t have felt right about winning the race on a time credit.”We would’ve taken the money, but it would’ve felt like we shouldn’t have won it,” said the Kiwi, whose team took home $50,000.Merrill, speaking from the opposite side, concurred.”I think we all knew who was the fastest team out there,” she said.
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