The last thing I thought I would be doing this year was racing in China, but due to a lucky set of circumstances and a rushed few weeks of planning I was on my way to join team Oso Negro. As a rookie team we were heading to China with only a vague idea of what we were in for. Adding to the excitement was the fact that most of the team had never met before!
Travelling from all over the globe Oso Negro was finally united in Wulong. After quick introductions it was soon apparent that we had a great mix of personalities and strong potential as a team, however racing would be the true test.
The first day of Wulong consisted of an opening ceremony, followed by a short prologue (expected to take just under an hour for the top teams). Excitement levels were high, as the hype of the event was outrageous! The opening ceremony was a big event with speeches and scores of people involved. Once the formalities were complete it was time to get into the racing. The prologue started with a short run, followed by a chair carry, a biathlon, and then mountain bike with a final run to the finish. Our team raced well and were over the line in 7th place. After such a short and intense start (we finished in less than 45min) we were rearing to get into the racing proper, to see how we would really stack up against the other teams.
Day 2 started in Wulong town. We had a short run down to a river where the kayaks were waiting. Once in the boats it was a steady paddle down river, with sets of fun rapids along the way. Steering was a bit of a mission in the rudderless boats and we lost some time on the front teams. Out of the boats we were ready to run hard. A tough climb took us into the next transition, where we were given 2 bikes for the team. This was the biathlon leg of the day. We did really well on this section, sharing the bikes and maintaining a high level of intensity. After the biathlon was a 15min compulsory rest. We smashed back some food and prepared ourselves for the final bike and abseil which would take us to the finish line. The mountain bike was fast flowing and took us through some nice country side scenery. Near the end of the ride things got a bit more technical and the going slowed. Just when we were worried the leg would never end, we popped out into the next transition area. We quickly donned our harnesses and charged up a short hill to the abseil. This was a very memorable moment of the race, as it was definitely the highest abseil I have ever done. We dropped down into a fantastic karst valley. The abseil was a bit of a learning experience for me, as I’m used to these sections of races being “stop clock” for safety reasons, however in Wulong it was race on! We learnt this the hard way by losing a spot while on the ropes. No drama though as we had raced very well and avoided the bike mechanical issues that had slowed some of the other teams. We finished 5th for the day, less than a minute behind 4th.
Day 3 began with a long paddle section on a lake. The scenery was great, but again Luke and I found ourselves having a bit of trouble with steering. This was frustrating, as we felt our speed was not reflective of our paddle fitness. Ailsa and Sam seemed to have it sussed and were powering along. By the end of the paddle I was very keen to get out of the bloody boat and into the run. We charged up hill and quite quickly passed a team ahead. Getting onto an exposed traverse track we settled into a steady pace determined to make up the time we had lost on the paddle. Dropping down deep into a valley was followed by another meaty climb into the transition, also doubling as the 15min rest area for the day. Refueling as best we could the 15min flew by and we were soon into the ensuing mountain bike leg. This was a pretty solid stage with plenty of climbing. The team worked hard and Sam towed like a truck! We were moving well. The next stage was an abseil off a bridge into the water followed by a short swim and then raft to the finish. The raft leg was painfully slow, but with a bit of perseverance and position changing (to fight the cramp) we crossed the line in 7th place. Another solid day!
Day 4, the final day! The race started high in the hills with an orienteering section. Fog made navigation slightly more challenging, but no real dramas slowed the team and we were soon onto the next stage, a short downhill run. We made good time through this section, passing a team in front. Next up was an out and back paddle that had to be completed 2 times. Luke and I were determined to redeem our paddle from the previous day and thankfully we got through this one with far more style. It was great to be able to see all of the top teams charging back towards us, due to the out and back nature of the stage. Next up was the short rest, followed by a mountain bike. Again Sam “the tow truck Manson” showed his strength, appreciated immensely by the team. This mountain bike was pretty muddy in sections, but the majority of it was on fun fast flowing sealed tracks. A mega hill before transition made sure the mountain bike legs were truly snapped off. By transition we could sense the finish was close, just a short caving section to go. We pushed hard in the run along the river leading to the entrance of the cave. At the cave entrance we were delighted to see a bloated dead pig wrapped around a tree in the river. Yummy! The caving was good fun, with lots of sections where we had to swim and other parts where we had to climb down ropes. Reaching daylight we charged down the last section of river and into the finishing chute. Crossing the line as a team was a great feeling. From barely knowing each other at the start of the race we had formed a strong bond and had a huge amount of fun racing together. We placed 6th on the last day and secured that position in the overall rankings. We were also the first rookie team.
A big thank you to my team mates, Sam Manson, Ailsa Rollingson and Luke Osborne.
Thanks also to R&R Sport for the continued support.
Until next time China…