Eco-Challenge (Part 4): The race to the finish line
At this point in the race, the teams that are still remaining are merely surviving, not racing. And again I ask the question that I ask myself every year while watching Eco-Challenge.....why? To me, participating in this as a nonprofessional adventure racer seems near insanity.
The leaders of the pack are bunching up together at CP 8, and it's anyone's race. But first, let's check in with some of the teams that are not in the lead.
The Playboy Playmates reach the fixed ropes course, but the weather has forced the closing of that portion. They are permitted to instead, climb a nearly hill and continue, and the decide to continue on that route. At the edge of a stream they notice that Danelle Folta's condition begins to deteriorate rapidly. She has developed advanced hypothermia, and in the middle of the night, becomes unconscious. The team radios for emergency help and fear that she might not make it. Danelle is airlifted to a field hospital and is in critical condition as the doctors work to save her life with her husband looking on. Danelle ends up being okay (and somehow still looking beautiful), but the team is disqualified.
Team Lupus is surprisingly still in the race despite the complete downfall of team unity. When they arrive at the second mountain bike station, Maurice is having a terrible time with the virus that has also affected many others. Maurice refuses to drop out of the race himself, but finally the medics convince the team that that is the only alternative and they drop out of the race. The leader, Scott Wilk is angered and blames it on his teammates for not being prepared for the race. Scott won't be winning the Mr. Congeniality award of Eco in this race, that's for sure. In fact, it's his leadership style which threw the team in disharmony from day 1 and doomed them from the beginning.
Team Mad River won't win Eco-Challenge, but they are determined to finish it. As they reach the fixed ropes course, they learn that they have only 6 hours to reach the next CP or be disqualified because of the time cutoff. The fastest team took almost 24 hours to complete that same section, so Team Mad River accepts (grudgingly) that they are not going to be able to finish the race and make the call on the radio that they are dropping out.
Like Mad River, Team Kodak has no chance of winning the race, but is still pushing onward. They have made it to the halfway point, barely ahead of the last 2 time cutoffs. Realizing that their chance of making it to the next cutoff are extremely slim, they withdraw from the race but very happy and proud to have attempted it.
Team Brazil is still fighting to stay in the race. But nature has taken it's toll on Nora Audra. She is in bad shape, and the infection of her finger that she cut on Day 1 is getting worse by the minute. At the CP, she is checked out by the medic and is in the early stages of hypothermia. The decision must be made by the team, who realize that Nora's health is more important than the race. They know they are a team to be reckoned with in the future.
Team Go is still in last place, and determined not only to finish, but to not finish last. However, Sarah Bruce, has developed a serious fungal infection in her foot and every step is excruciating. She doesn't complain and they press on, knowing that they are now racing against time and losing the battle. Realizing that they are in no shape to beat the clock, they decide to drop out.
Now, to the leaders....
The South Africans are this year's Team DarkHorse. We don't see a great deal of footage from them, but they are consistent and persistent and are right on the heels of the leaders the entire journey. Regardless of their final placement, they have proven to be a team to be reckoned with in future challenges.
A lot of bad luck, and a little team dissension has hampered Team Earthlink's chances at competing closely with Team GoLite this year. Having surprisingly positioned themselves within striking distance of the leaders, they are exhausted after the long river swim and now have to deal with hypothermia which has taken a toll on Isaac. After all the obstacles, will they even be able to finish the race?
Hours ahead of Team GoLite, Team Buff is a surprising and quiet leader. They complete the first ocean paddle leg still in first place. Unfortunately, the race has taken a serious toll on team member David's health. One of his feet is now infected, and it is impossible for him to walk. The team has no choice but to withdraw for medical reasons and sadly call in to withdraw.
A victim of many mistakes, Team GoLite, the 2-time defending champions had fallen into 7th place. Ian makes a risky navigation decision to bushwhack through the dense and nearly impassable jungle rather than endure a 3-mile swim in icy-cold water. The risk pays off as the team finally makes their way through the jungle to a dirt road cutting 4 hours off their time. Team GoLite is now in the leader pack and heads into the stretch of grasslands called The Hunting Grounds. A miscalculation by Ian leads his team to the wrong ridge and by the time they make it to the next CP, they discover they are now 5 hours behind Team Buff. Ian calls for a 2-hour break for the team and then attempts one last gamble to close the gap between his team and rival Kiwis. The gamble might have paid off, but Ian swims off on his own as they try to swim around a cliff and the team gets separating costing them another 2 hours. Is there any hope of recovery at this point?
The Kiwis had started a full day behind the leaders because of the illness of Kristina. But she has now recovered from her mystery virus after getting some rest, and now the team is moving full-speed ahead. The Kiwis are quick and efficient, and close the gap fast. With their revitalized team and quick movement, they finish the mountain bike leg in 3rd place. They finally catch up to Team GoLite in the ocean paddle transition and are now (with Team Buff out of the competition) on track to compete with Team GoLite for a victory in Fiji. Will Ian's mistakes allow the Kiwis to steal the crown?
A PUSH TO THE FINISH LINE
Team Earthlink is battered, and has been hit by bad luck throughout. Even tough Robyn has fallen to tears by the pain. But committed to finishing, the team pushes on and finishes in 5th place.
The South Africans race a fantastic race and finish in 4th place.
The Aussies, who are always competitive, cross the line in 3rd.
The stage is set for a GoLite vs. Kiwis battle again.
But in the end, the gamble by Ian and the mistake of getting separated from his team members costs them their three-peat. The Kiwis finish the ocean paddle and cross the line first, setting up another showdown for the next Eco-Challenge.
Out of the 81 teams that started in this, the toughest Eco-Challenge race ever, only 10 were able to complete the race.
Here are the final standings:
1. The "Kiwis" (Team Seagate) - 6 days, 22 hours, 51 minutes
2. Team GoLite - 7 days, 4 hours, 56 minutes
3. The "Aussies" (Team Air Pacific) - 7 days, 7 hours, 50 minutes
4. The South Africans (Team Mazda) - 8 days, 0 hours, 22 minutes
5. Team Earthlink - 8 days, 6 hours, 16 minutes
6. Team Nokia - 8 days, 7 hours, 2 minutes
7. Team Spectrum Access - 9 days, 11 hours, 49 minutes
8. Team Subaru Canada - 9 days, 14 hours, 23 minutes
9. Team Subaru USA - 9 days, 18 hours, 46 minutes
10. Team North FaceKona - 10 days, 0 hours, 1 minute
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