By Rob Howard, Sleep Monsters
When teams got on the busses to the start line at Jackson Hole just after 05.30 this morning they were all issued with their race maps and at last had full details of the race ahead of them.
The navigators won’t have the chance to sleep much on the 5 hour bus journey and nor will anyone else as there will be much paper juggling to be done as each team will have 38 maps to study! (They are all already waterproofed and course marked if you were wondering.)
All of the teams gear and bike boxes were handed in last night (and these were packed based only on the course outline) and when they got on the bus this morning the race went into ‘lockdown’. That means digital lockdown, so no phones allowed on the bus ride, or access to any online resources on arrival to research the route.
In total the route covers 757km (466 miles), in 12 stages, and this is broken down as trekking /packrafting – 100km, cycling – 507km and trekking – 142km. There is also a short ropes/cave/canyon section during the race, and there are NO dark zones. It’s a non-stop race to the finish line and we’ve known for some time it’s a linear route, east to west from Jackson Hole to Casper.
This layout makes it difficult to introduce many short course options but there is one to cut out the ropes/canyon stage. It’s not a big cut though and as such it is a route which will make it tough for the more inexperienced teams to get to the finish line. They have a big challenge ahead of them and will need to keep up their pace to avoid the race cut-offs. At the briefing Mark Harris said, “If you do pull out don’t expect us to get you back to Casper – we’re not a taxi service and usually put any spare people to work!”
The two stand-out features of the course are that all of the paddling is in packrafts and the long, long bike ride on stage 9 – all 264km of it. (And that follows a 58km ride on stage 7 which is separated from the long ride only by the 7km ropes stage.)
Pack rafting has featured in the last two World Championships, but not to the degree it will here in Wyoming, nor can I remember an ARWC with NO kayaking or canoeing. That’s not good news for the strong paddlers.
In this race pack rafting is going to play a very significant part in the outcome and some teams have been researching and securing what they think are the fastest pack-rafts, though durability and comfort come into it as well. The first water stage is purely packrafting (31km on the Snake River), then there are two further combined trek/packraft sections (stages 10 & 11).
These are not graded as ‘difficult’ by the race, but teams will have sore and wet feet, and heavy packs to carry loaded with rafts and paddle gear, so they won’t be easy especially as they come right at the end of the race.
The stages the race considers the most difficult are the two treks in the middle of the route (stages 4 & 6), and also the bike ride on stage 7. The two treks total 127km and include just over 5000m of ascent, and combined with the bike ride could be the crux of the race … as trekking stages so often are.
The predicted fastest time for this route is just over 65 hours, which is a remarkably fast time, but one which does not include transition times, sleep or allow for difficult weather conditions. The tactics for the lead teams in terms of how quickly they risk racing in the early stages, and where and when they sleep, will be challenging too. Is it a 3 or 4 day race?
The full route details, including descriptions of the stages are on the live ARWS website which is now available at http://live.arworldseries.com/arwc17
By Rob Howard – www.sleepmonsters.com