The cold, snowy temperatures of the past few days have greeted the international and local China-based teams, who are all brimming with excitement as pre-race organization takes hold.
This region of China is steeped in a history of famous nomadic horse people dating back beyond Genghis Khan. Altay boasts a landscape as diverse as any I have been to. The people here are mostly living a nomadic life, following the seasons with their sheep, cattle and goats grazing the highlands in summer and moving to the lowlands in winter – all with their dwellings in tow. These structures known as yurts are a wood or steel frame covered in canvas, sometimes with insulation and a fire for warmth. It is a lifestyle for the whole family that is traditionally transported with horses and camels. Recent technology has meant trucks help with this process, while solar panels and cell phones are also relatively recent additions.
Behind the scene, months of hard work on course design and logistics are also coming to a head, with only the finishing touches left to be carried out before race day tomorrow.
This course will require all of the disciplines that we expect of a world-class adventure race, with the athletes hiking, kayaking, and mountain biking around a course that is, to them, unknown.
Xtrail has added some orienteering, which has given has received mixed reactions from the assembly of competitors, as does a short river rafting section. The course remains unknown to the teams until later today, but one thing is guaranteed – breathtaking scenery.
Locally, life goes on as thousands of stock are moved into the hills, providing surreal cultural experiences. These are very special moments for the teams. They will no doubt want to stop and share experiences with the amazing people the encounter, but the race will push them on, only allowing brief relief thanks to unavoidable road blocks.
As the race unfolds and the challenges of the course separates teams, it will give some the advantage they hoped for but it will also be a disappointment to others as they deal with injury, gear malfunction and team choices that may later cost them dearly. It is all part of adventure racing, and in fact a feature of the sport that many relish. The known and unknown challenges and how you deal with them, individually and as a team are a huge part of the race. A team’s success or failure comes from a good recipe, that if followed will result in success.
While success is measured differently by every team, ultimately a win is the goal for the elite few. However, a podium is a fantastic result for all competitors. There are plenty of incredible, international teams here this year and there will be many battles. All said, it would be easy for a betting man to put his money on Avaya, who won here last year under the banner of Seagate and went on to convincingly win the world championships. They are the top-ranked team and have been unbeaten in recent history. Nathan Fa’avae has come out of retirement to join his team; Chris Forne, Stu Lynch and Joanna Williams – they are the most experienced and successful team on the planet.
Avaya’s main rivals Haglofs Silva are not here this year, but that doesn’t leave them without challenge. The Estonia ACE Salomon team have been on the podium here for the past two years, while Naturex and Intersport from France always bring a high level of competition. To round out a good pointy end: Greener Adventure, who were forced from the race while in contention for a podium finish at the World Championships; USWE, a South African/Swedish hybrid team; The Wilder People from New Zealand; and LP Support, who are new as a team, but formidable athletes.
With the briefing out of the way, the energy has increased and the packing of race boxes begins, while behind the scenes the media are hard at work trying to get a plan in place to bring you, the viewer, more direct feed photos and race updates as it is happens right here in China. It is expected that the updates will be more regular and informative than in the past and viewers from around the globe will be able to tune in to 24 hr coverage. We hope by keeping you updated through the ARWS website and social media that you can get a real feel for the adventure, the teams, the personalities, the culture and the amazing landscape.
This course is very exciting. Stay tuned – our team is out in the field capturing the essence of this location and the journey of the teams.