This year’s GODZone Adventure, the second AR World Series race of the year, was special in many ways. With 61 international teams it was the biggest expedition race for many years, there was a new team name on the World Series winners list, and former All-Black Rugby captain Richie McCaw took part, adding some celebrity and considerable media attention to the competition.
The 5th edition of the race took place in Nelson region of South Island, New Zealand, on a course which took in several National Parks, mountain ranges of different characters, sea paddling and white water rivers, and mountain biking routes through forest and remote countryside.
New Zealand is the strongest adventure racing nation of all and this was reflected in the entry with over half the field flying the Kiwi flag, and the expectation that it would be hard for any visiting team to get into the top 10. This was despite the fact the World Champions and world number one ranked team, Seagate, had decided to split up for this race following the retirement of captain Nathan Fa’avae.
Seagate have won all previous editions of GODZone Adventure, and the team wearing the number one bib this time were an all-female Seagate led by team regular Sophie Hart. Her team mates Chris Forne and Stuart Lynch had joined different New Zealand teams and following the start on the beach at Kaiteriteri it quickly became clear the title holders splitting up had just created several more stronger teams!
The early stages of the 7 day race included sea paddling, coasteering and a trek over the rugged Red Hills, made even harder by misty and wet weather. Team Yealands Family Wines established an early lead helped by the unerring navigation of Chris Forne and their nearest challengers were Team SwordFox with Stuart Lynch.
These two teams pulled away from the rest as the 500km course continued inland with a paddle on Lake Rotorua and a trek to reach the Matakitaki River where teams paddled some classic kiwi rapids. The leading two teams were the only ones to pass the river before a night time ‘dark zone’ was imposed, holding the chasing teams back as it was unsafe to paddle at night. (Even the experienced paddlers in the lead teams took swims in the rapids.)
After the river paddle the route swung back out to towards the coast with a trek across the limestone cliffs and blocks of the mighty Mount Owen. This was one of the key stages of the race, but the night time navigation of a place most wouldn’t dare visit even in daylight was no obstacle to Chris Forne and he lead his team through.
They stopped to sleep in a hut and Swordfox closed, but in the final two stages Yealands Family Wines pulled clear and by the time they completed the last stage, a spectacular sea paddle around the Tasman coast back to Kaiteriteri they were clear winners. The team of Forne, Dan Moore, Dan Busch and Sia Svendsen finished in a time of 3 days 12 hours 44 minutes with Swordfox almost 4 hours behind them.
Speaking on the finish line Lynch praised the winners’ faultless performance. “I think they were just that bit stronger than us throughout and our best chance was if they made a mistake … but they didn’t.”
The Kiwi dominance in the top 10 was only broken by Team Adventure Medical Kits of the USA (ranked #3 in the world) who had a strong finish to the race, moving up into 4th place, and the all-female Seagate team put in a strong performance to beat most of the mixed teams and finish in 11th.
The team attracting most the attention however was the Cure Kids charity team including Richie McCaw. Having an international sporting superstar at the race ensured a big media presence, nationwide news and TV coverage and large crowds around the course.
McCaw was taking a leap into the unknown to attempt an expedition adventure race which he had no previous experience of and which required endurance of a very different kind to anything he was used to from his rugby career. He admitted to that he was ‘opening himself up to failure’, but with the help of a strong team lead by experienced racer Sarah Fairmaid, good preparation and determination to raise money for the charity the team triumphed.
They finished in an impressive 20th place in 5 days 56 minutes and McCaw said, “That was tough. Five days is a long time and I think we only had 10 hours sleep. It’s as much a mental as a physical challenge but I wanted to do something different and see if I could handle it.” However, perhaps his most telling comment during the race was to say his fellow international rugby players ‘have got it easy!” Even in his exhaustion on the finish line he didn’t rule out competing in another race however.
You can see extensive race coverage at www.godzoneadventure.com, included reports, photos and videos from around the course.
To find out more about the AR World Series see http://www.arworldseries.com
The next race in the series is Tierra Viva in Chile in April. Full list of Qualifier races can be found athttp://www.arworldseries.com/calendar.htm