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Nuevo Leone Outdoor Challenge

Race: Nuevo Leon Outdoor Challenge
Date: Dec 6, 2006
Sport: Adventure Racing
Description: 3 Stages over 4 days
Location: Nuevo Leon, Mexico
Team Supplierpipeline (Denise McHale, Greg McHale, Bob Miller)

Pre-race was a little stressful for our team.  My team-mates, who were en-route from Whitehorse, Yukon were delayed, as the northwestern seaboard was being smacked with an early winter storm.  On Monday before the race (the race started on Wednesday morning) I spoke with them and learned the earliest they could make it to Monterrey, Mexico would be Tuesday evening.  This would give us just enough time assuming all their luggage arrived????  Sure enough, they showed up with all their gear at around 7:45pm Tuesday night.  By 11:45pm we’d sorted our gear bags, built their bikes and set our alarms for 6:00am, which would wake us in time for an early morning bus ride to the start.  We could only hope their jet lag wouldn’t impact their performance. 

Stage 1 – 12 hours – 75km
-25km Mountain Bike
-23km Canyon Trek with a Tyrolean
-27km Mountain Bike with a Tyrolean

Stage 1 began with a 25 km mountain bike.  The first 12km’s were on a series 4X4 tracks up a narrow river bed.  Teams Nike-Beaver Creek, and Buff Uvex Woodward appeared to be setting the pace off the front.  About half way through the ride, we ascended out of one valley, and dropped into another, where we were treated to a 13km downhill to the first TA.  We arrived with Nike-Powerblast who we’d recently caught as they’d experienced a mechanical.   After downing a bottle of Boost, we set off on a 23km trek.  Right off the bat we had to decide whether to ascend onto the ridge-tops, or follow a winding river valley.  Our plan had been to follow the river valley, but upon exiting the TA, all the teams ahead of us were ascending onto the ridges.  At first I resisted following them, but after a quick check of the maps, it appeared the valley might be closed-in by steep cliffs, so I made the call to back track and follow the other teams up onto the ridge.  Once on top you could see the valley floor below, and it was obvious we’d made a mistake.  The valley floor was flat and reasonably wide.  We decided to descend a steep face back into the valley.  Luckily, we never became completely cliffed-out, however we had the misfortune of watching numerous teams pass us along the valley floor.  Back in the valley we picked up the pace and tried to make up for lost time.  We past a few team’s, and ended up running with Team Skreemin Fury for quite a while.  At the next checkpoint, we found we were in third place, only a minute or so behind Skreemin Fury, and about 15 minutes behind Buff Coolmax.  This CP was also the site of a Tyrolean traverse, and by the time we got on the ropes, 4 other teams had shown up.  Once across the Tyrolean we chose to high-tail it cross-country to the next CP.  We had about 8km to go before the next TA, and my inner thighs started to cramp as we made our way up another riverbed.  Finally into the TA, we were informed there was no water, so we quickly transitioned and set off in search of a convenience store to stock up on liquids.  Back on our bikes, we headed off in search of CP7, which was the site of another Tyrolean.  Soon we could see Team Finland (who’d passed us in the last TA) heading back towards us.  After a quick chat they informed us the CP was in the wrong place, and that we should follow them.  Luckily, they had just chatted with Buff Coolmax, who already found the CP, and had given them directions.  We arrived at the Tyrolean shortly after and proceeded to haul ourselves across alongside Team Finland.  While we were waiting, Skreemin Fury showed up, and on our way out Nike Powerblast and Lunghags were on their way in.  We had roughly 24km of mountain biking to go.  We left the Tyrolean and surprisingly dropped Team Finland.  It was a surprise since we were going pretty slow, as I’d started experiencing some brutal cramps in my calves, halmstrings and thighs.  We later found out that a member of Team Finland was also experiencing some nasty cramps.  After shovelling a bunch of food, and drink down my throat, the cramps seemed to subside, but it wasn’t until a slugged back 5 gels from a team-mates flask that my cramps went away for good.  The next stretch involved 5 to 7km’s of single track, which was marked with yellow flagging tape.  Unfortunately, this section was the cause of some controversy by the end of the day, as many teams had trouble following the poorly marked trail, and ended up bike-whacking for hours.  Luckily for us, we were able to stay on the proper trail, and made it through reasonably unscathed.  With only 10km to the finish we were passed by Nike-Powerblast.  However, it wasn’t long before we’d see them again, as Michael was experiencing a mechanical with one of his rims.  This allowed us to cross the finish line in second place, roughly 15 minutes behind Buff Coolmax.  Shortly after, Team Finland crossed the line followed by Nike Powerblast.  After some time adjustments (teams were given credits for time spent waiting to get on ropes), we ended up in third place for the stage.

Stage 1 Top Five Teams: Buff Coolmax (7:59), Team Finland (8:11), Supplierpipeline (8:14), Nike-Powerblast (8:15), Lundhags (9:17)

Stage 2 – 24 hours – 175km
-20km Mountain Bike
-30km Mountain Trek
-5km Canyoneer with 11 rappels
-120km Mountain Bike

Our plan for Stage two was to conserve energy on the first ride, start to pick up the pace on the trek, and then go as hard as our bodies would allow on the final 120km bike ride.  We figured the entire race was going to be won, or lost on this 120km bike ride, since it was long, would take place at night, and the navigation appeared quite difficult.  The day started pretty calm as we headed out of the small village of Galeana.   It seemed no one wanted to set the pace too high, so most teams spun-out in a large peleton.  All except for Skreemin Fury, who could be seen in the distance riding off the front of the pack.  After about 15km’s the gradient increased and we left the pavement for a gravel road that climbed out of the valley.  5k of climbing later brought us to the first TA.  The trek began with a 3k descent down a drainage into a large valley.  While travelling with Skreemin Fury, we quickly located a trail, which ascended out of the drainage, but then descended into the next valley.  By the time we reached the valley we were running in the lead with Nike Powerblast and Skreemin Fury.  At the next town our team stopped to search for water.  I hadn’t taken much on the trek, since I’d hoped to fill up in the streams indicated on the map.  Unfortunately, all the streams and rivers we’d seen so far were bone dry, so locating water became our top priority.  Nike and Skreemin Fury followed suit, and before long, we located a shop, and proceeded to purchase every last bottle of juice in site.  Restocked we continued up the valley to the next CP.  During this stretch the sun bore down full-blast, and you could feel it sapping your energy.  We arrived at the next CP with Nike and Buff Coolmax.  From here we had 13km’s of mountain running before we would reach a steep canyoneering section.  We travelled most of this route with Buff Coolmax.  Not much was said, as we all suffered from the heat.  Just a few words here and there between the navigators to make sure we were going in the proper direction.  By late afternoon we reached the top of the canyon and found out we had held onto 1st and 2nd place.  With no other teams in site, we proceeded onto the first of 11 rappels that would see us through the canyon.  This was easily the highlight of the course, as we descended rappel after rappel through cascading waterfalls and into huge pools of crystal clear water.  On one rappel, Denise got hung-up in a tree, and this caused us to fall behind.   When we hit the next TA Buff was still there, but to our surprise Team Finland arrived shortly after.  The next 20 km’s of riding would take us down a stunning valley that was walled by massive spires and jagged peaks.  We spent much of this section with Team Finland until we arrived at a turn off the paved highway, and onto a 4X4 trail that followed a river valley.  At this point we found out the bulb in Greg’s bike lights had burned out, so he was left riding with an LED.  The 4X4 trail weaved back and forth across the river at least 25 times.  The river was probably 20 metres wide in most spots and just over knee deep, so it wasn’t too bad, just really time consuming.  At this point, we started wondering if any teams would decide to take the alternate route to this valley.  Basically, the 4X4-trail was only 13km’s long and it was pretty much flat.  The other potential route followed the highway we’d turned off, but it involved 35km’s of riding with roughly 1000m of elevation gain.  We figured the valley would be much quicker, but after spending a few kilometres in there, we started thinking the road might have been the better choice.  We were too far in to turn back, so we kept slogging, hoping most teams would chose the valley route as well.  Roughly 2 hours later we exited the valley and found ourselves back on paved roads.  At the next CP we’d learn that only Buff Spain and Team Finland were ahead of us.  However, about 3k later, to our complete surprise we crossed paths with Nike Powerblast, Team Lundhags and Buff Uvex Woodward, who’d all chosen the road route.  They were now maybe 10-15 minutes behind.  In chatting with them after the race it appeared they’d made up roughly 45 minutes.  We pushed on at a more intense pace and before long we were riding with our old friends on Team Finland.  We continued riding together for the next 37km’s or so.  This was a section of especially difficult navigation with a critical turn every 2, or 3 kilometres.  We actually tried to drop them a couple times, but they’d eventually catch-up as we stopped to search for a trail, or backtrack looking for the proper route.  It also appeared we’d been gaining on Buff Coolmax, since their tire tracks were becoming fresher and fresher after exiting any puddles, or river crossings.  There was about 25km’s left in the stage and you could feel the intensity rising.  Then I felt my back tire go flat, SHIT!, our team’s first flat of the race.  We stopped to fix it, and Team Finland pedalled past.  A few kilometres later and Denise experienced another flat.  We lost more time.  A few kilometres later and my rear tire went flat again.  You could feel the race slipping away.  We finished the stage roughly 15 minutes behind both Team Finland and Buff Coolmax.  We later found out Team Finland caught Buff about 10 minutes after we experienced our first flat and they decided to ride into the finish together.  We never saw Team’s Nike Powerblast, Lundhags, or Buff Uvex Woodward again.  We found out after the stage that Michael Tobin experienced a nasty crash and wound up unconscious for a good 10-15 minutes, which obviously slowed their pace.

Stage 2 Top Five Teams (After time adjustments): Buff Coolmax (16:59), Team Finland (17:09), Supplierpipeline (17:15), Nike-Powerblast (19:14), Lundhags (19:18)

Overall Rankings After Stage 2: Buff Coolmax (24:59), Team Finland (25:21), Supplierpipeline (25:29), Nike-Powerblast (27:30), Lundhags (28:36)

Stage 3 – 6 hours – 84km
-61km Mountain Bike
-10km Kayak
-13km Mountain Bike

After a rest day, we were toeing the start line for the last day of racing.  The final stage appeared pretty straightforward, with not too much difficult navigation and some reasonably flat mountain biking.  Since we were only 8 minutes behind Team Finland, our plan was to ride as hard as we could and leave it all on the course.  We figured anything could happen.  Well, unfortunately it did, and it happened to us.  About 3k into the stage Denise crashed pretty hard off her bike.  We’d been riding in a large pack, and people started swerving as an errant police officer tried to direct the pack in the wrong direction.  Before she saw what hit her, she was on the ground with road-rash on her face and legs.  She picked herself up and pushed on, but we’d lost touch with the lead pack and spent the rest of the ride trying to catch up.  By the time we reached the paddle we were 5 minutes down on the leaders.  We paddled hard, but it was obvious we weren’t gaining time.  It looked like we’d have to settle for third place.  We found out after the race that Team Finland actually paddled past everyone on the water and were poised to win the stage, but Team Nike chased them down on the final 13km ride and passed them with only 50m to the finish line.

Post Race:
As advertised, Ernesto (the race organizer) threw a huge party and the debauchery continued late into the night. Like he says, the toughest stage is the last, the party!

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