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Land Rover G4 Challenge Event South America

Stage 4 – Day 28 - South African Victory

South African superstar adventure athlete, Martin Dreyer, today won the 2006 Land Rover G4 Challenge. Beating off 17 of the world’s toughest adventure racers in the 4x4-based global Challenge, Dreyer took home a brand new Range Rover after a nail-biting climax to the 28 day marathon that spanned across four countries on two continents.

The culmination of the month-long Challenge using Land Rovers, kayaks, mountain bikes, abseiling, jumaring and orienteering was a punishing 25 minute Challenge Final staged in a river bed on the Bolivia/Argentina border.

Only the top four scorers - calculated after four hellishly hard stages in Thailand, Laos, Brazil and Bolivia – made it into the Challenge Final. Of those narrowly missing the cut were two of the three women in the Challenge; Alina McMaster of Australia and Eleonora Audra of Brazil.

“If you had told me a month ago I would have been fifth in the Land Rover G4 Challenge then I would not have believed you,” said Nora as the siren to signal the start of the Challenge Final blew. “I am proud to have done this for me and Brazil and for the girls. Now let’s see who will win the big prize.”

The four finalists, in order of points scored, were Martin Dreyer (749), Kris Janssens of Belgium (709), Dmitry Timokhin of Russia (694) and Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Calais (643).

With a second a point issued as a penalty, the gap between Dreyer’s start time and Calais' start time was 1 minute 46 seconds – potentially 10% of the total time expected for the multi-discipline test.

“It’ll be hard to make that up, but I’ll try,” said J-B.

Martin Dreyer - Land Rover G4 2006 - Winner Crowds of media, support drivers and the remaining 14 competitors lined the canyon side and river bank to cheer the finalists on. Dreyer was first off, plunging down a zip wire to the far side of the river.

As he hit the far bank, Kris fired off in hot pursuit, followed fifteen seconds behind by Dmitry. The second task was a maze – a memorisation of a colour-coded chart corresponding to a grid of national flags. At the bottom of the correct flags was a number and letter combination. Get the code right and on the finalist could go to the next task.

Martin pinballed through the maze and onto task three as strong as an ox. There was no sign of the painful leg injury that had troubled him over the past few weeks.

Kris too managed the maze OK but both Dmitry and J-B forgot they had to add up the number element in the quiz and lost almost a minute apiece. The final was now effectively a two-man race.

Martin’s speciality is kayaking. He has won Africa’s hardest kayak/run even many times and is a national legend. So as the pair came down river it was no surprise he had made up 3 seconds over Kris.

Then the tables turned. Kris hunted down Martin like prey. Slowly catching him over a 200 metre run back across the fast-flowing river, Kris clawed the seconds back. The same again on a sapping mountain bike sprint up the sandy river bank. The gap now; 38 seconds. And by the time the two had driven Land Rover Discovery 3's down the river the gap was barely half a minute.

A jumar and abseil task from a hot air balloon had to be cancelled because of a strong breeze so the last chance for Kris to catch up was with brain not brawn. The pair had to solve a mental riddle of putting the first name of each competitor in alphabetical order.

“It was at this point I thought I had lost it,” said Martin, whose stress levels appeared to reach Andean heights. “I could remember about 13 and then could not think of the last few.”

The Belgian too was using his little grey cells to beat the African ironman. But Martin’s memory finally came good and he shot off back to the river to wade breathlessly towards his prize – a shiny new Range Rover parked midstream. Slapping the bonnet like an old friend earned him the keys and the Land Rover G4 Challenge title.

“This is one of the happiest moments of my life. I cannot believe I have won,” he cheered, as the fellow competitors hugged and pawed him. “Normally the events I do are a few days. This has been a month of build up.

Martin claims his Range Rover“The final was tough. But the toughest part was the mental tasks. I so thought I had lost it. Then the next thing I knew I was slapping the bonnet. I never thought I would win the Land Rover G4 Challenge. I pictured myself crossing the winning line as a way to psyche myself up but to really think I would win before today would have been arrogant. Kris was a tough opponent, right to the end. I am not sure what happened to Dimi and J-B but they did good too.”

Kris crossed the finish line as Martin was being besieged by media. He was philosophical in defeat – at the end of a week when he appeared to be getting stronger and stronger.

“I think everyone had such a good chance of winning this. I pushed myself hard but the time to Marti was just too big. I am disappointed not to win but it will not colour my 4 weeks. They have been life changing.”

“We are delighted with the way the Challenge has gone,” said Challenge Event Director Niki Davies, “and we couldn’t have asked for a better finish. I know there are 17 disappointed competitors here today, but in the end we all end up taking home fantastic memories and amazing friendships. The 2006 Challenge has been a fantastic journey in every sense of the word.”

Land Rover G4 Selections
Land Rover G4 Discovery

 

Martin Flying the Flag

 

Martin has been giving it horns for South Africa at the Land Rover G4 Challenge. After 18 days he is well positioned at the top of the leader board. His win of stage 1 gave him the yellow jersey as well as the pressure of defending it. After stage 2 and going into stage 3 he was still sitting a comfortable second. 

A fierce competitor, he is battling a leg injury but is still pulling off wins to stay on the leaderboard at the end of stage 2;  'My leg is better than yesterday, but I don’t think the running did it any good. Fortunately we only have a few competitions left today and the Stage Final, and then I will have some time to rest it. I just hope that the activity I’m doing isn’t causing it any more damage’

From Martins Blog on the G4 website 

Stage 4 - Day 24 Punishing altitude May 16 2006

The Stage 4 start competition went OK for Pablo and I yesterday. Yes the girls beat us, but more importantly I placed ahead of my closest competition in the overall Challenge.

Today was brutally physical, and by our own choice as well. Our strategy was to take on the remote competitions that required the most effort, hoping that less teams would do them – therefore more guaranteed points. One that stands out in my mind is the 70 minute mountain bike straight to the top of a cliff - at 4400m!

Pablo is a pleasure to work with, he gives 120%. However my body can feel today’s effort. I must be careful not to overdo it, as my leg is still giving me loads of trouble – so much so I am back on the painkillers.

Racing at altitude is extraordinarily challenging. I only have 45% of my usual power. Your legs work the same for the first 30 seconds, then suddenly you don’t have enough air to feed the muscles and you gasp for air like a fish out of water.

Hope all is well back home in SA, lots of love to you all.

Cheers, Mart

Stage 3 - Day 18 Working as a team May 10 2006

The dust has definitely settled from the glitz and glamour of Rio. We have now truly arrived in the mountains, temperatures have plummeted to nearly freezing. Today was our second of three remote competition days - Nora and I have worked well together, and her Spanish has been invaluable. For example, she managed to go into the village we are camping near tonight to find us eggs to cook for dinner this evening. A great change from the daily ‘boil in a bag’ camp food.

I must say that I am excited at the prospect of racing over 4000m, but also very aware of the new challenges it will impose. My leg injury continues to haunt me, all it needs is rest, but that I cannot give. Two highlights for me the past two days - yesterday’s horse riding was spectacular, Nora played the lead-role there, making it look effortless. Then the lake paddle/navigation this afternoon was on a small lake tucked away high in the mountains.

Life in Bolivia is so simple, subsistence farming is the means of survival. Really enjoying immersing ourselves in this wonderful country.

Stage 3 finished - 7 days to a winner in the Land Rover G4 Challenge 2006

Today marked the end of Week 3 of the 2006 Land Rover G4 Challenge. And what a week it has been. Swapping the lush jungles and sticky heat of Laos for the thin mountain air and barren landscapes of Bolivia, teams journeyed from a mere 400 metres above sea level at Santa Cruz airport to nearly 3,000 metres by the end of the Stage. But it wasn't just the altitude that was constantly increasing.

'The pressure to perform builds with each stage,' said South Africa's Martin Dreyer. 'You get into camp in the evenings, and you hear how the other teams performed. You become so focussed on keeping up that sometimes you lose sight of the awesome things around you.' And awesome it has truly been. The Stage started in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where Team Partner Selection took place on the sparkling white sands of Copacabana Beach. If ever there was a Selection that could make or break the Challenge for any of the front-runners this was it.

With thunder clouds threatening over Sugarloaf Mountain in the background, the process began. Eleonora Audra of Brazil was first to choose, and to cheers of support from her home crowd, she selected South Africa's Martin Dreyer - one of the strongest competitors on this year's Challenge. 'I knew that Martin and I would make a good team,' she said, 'and we had discussed this possibility on the way over here from Bangkok.'

The partnership immediately proved to be everything they had hoped for, as they marched to a narrow victory amidst cheers of 'Brazil, Brazil' in the Stage Start competition. Right on their heels was Team Australia/Greece - which included Eleonora's former team partner, Alina McMaster.

During the next week, it became clear that some of the front runners had won big in selections, while others were destined to lose a lot of ground in Stage 3. One of the winners was Russia's Dmitry Timokhin - holder of the Yellow Jersey from Stage 2. He was selected by Turkey's Tolga Senefe, who matched the diminutive Russian every step of the way - and even pushed him to perform better at times.

The flip side of the coin, however, surely belonged to Gabriel Maldonado of Spain, who was selected by Victor Huang of Taiwan. Language problems and a gap in terms of skill and fitness split the two early on, although they continued to work hard at earning points and

building a strong partnership. A tumble from a horse early in the week, however, saw Victor injuring his leg and putting even more strain on his performance.

For the front-runners, this week was always going to be the one that separated the pack. 'Scoring well in the first two Stages would have given them a good base to work from,' said Event Director Niki Davies, 'but Stage 3 is the one that will either set them up for a big final push to the finish, or take them out of the running altogether.'

This proved to be especially true for France's Jean-Baptiste Calais - one of the early leaders in the Challenge. 'I was selected by Claribett Vega from Costa Rica,' he explained, 'she is very strong and her English is perfect, so we communicated well. She's helped me to maintain my position near the top of the leader board, and I hope I can make it into the final four at the end of next week.'

The 'final four' refers to the Challenge Final, where only the four top-scoring competitors will be allowed to compete. Their points will be converted into time, with the leader setting off first, followed some time later by the second, third and fourth-placed competitors. The winner of this final competition will win the 2006 Land Rover G4 Challenge, and a brand new Range Rover as prize. But making it into the Final may prove a bridge too far for some of the early hopefuls.

'I know I don't realistically stand a chance anymore,' said Turkey's Tolga Senefe, 'but that doesn't mean I have given up on the Challenge. I will push hard to help my team partner in the final Stage, but above all I will enjoy myself.'

And it was at the Santa Rosa Bridge in the Bolivian mountains that the final competition in Stage 3 played out. Surrounded by mountains that towered over them like natural cathedrals, the competitors had to complete a bridge swing and then a jumar back up to the bridge, before mountain biking, running and kayaking their way to the finish line.

'The bridge swing was crazy,' said Jean-Baptiste Calais. 'I usually like ropework, but jumping backwards into the unknown was just wild. I did it because it was part of the competition, but I'd never do that out of choice!' Jean-Baptiste completed the demanding competition in second place, despite detesting the initial jump.

Third place went to England's Brian Reynolds, who pushed very hard for this result. 'Yes, I am very pleased with it,' he said in between gasping breaths at the end of the race. 'I was very tired yesterday, but somehow managed to dig deep for this. I really hope I make it into the top ten this week.'

The man of the hour, however, was Dmitry Tomkhin from Russia: 'Anything to do with climbing or ropes suits me. So the bridge swing and jumar gave me the lead I needed.' The compact Russian held off the following pack, narrowly beating Jean-Baptiste Calais to the finish.

The spectacular competition below the Santa Rosa Bridge brings to an end the toughest and most physically demanding Stage thus far in the Challenge. All that remains is for the results to be announced in Sucre tonight.

'The results are all-important, as they will play a major role in the final Team Partner Selection for next week,' said Jean-Baptiste Calais. 'And once I know who my next partner is, I will know if I stand a chance to get into the final four or not.'

Not everybody feels the same way. 'It doesn't matter to me,' reckoned Russia's Dmitry Timokhin. 'I will push as hard as I can regardless of who ends up as my partner.' It may just be this attitude that has pushed Dmitry to the top of the bunch - and may see him all the way into the Final.

 

 

South Africa/Brazil win opening of day of Stage 3 Land Rover G4 Challenge

It was a dream start to Stage 3 of the Land Rover G4 Challenge for the home team. Even though Brazil’s Eleonora Audra hails from Sao Paulo rather than Rio de Janeiro, her victory in the Stage Start together with Martin Dreyer from South Africa, had the local crowd on Copacabana Beach on their feet.

With cheers of ‘Brazil, Brazil’ ringing throughout the purpose-built arena, the 27-year old Graphic Designer sprinted to the finish, narrowly beating her former team mate, Alina McMaster from Australia. ‘We just looked across at each other during the race and wished each other good luck,’ said Eleonora. ‘But it wasn’t easy to compete against my former team mate like that. We are still great friends.’

The all-girl team of Brazil and Australia had been together during the first half of the Challenge, but even though Eleonora had the first choice during the morning’s Team Partner Selection, and could’ve chosen Alina again, she opted instead for Martin Dreyer – one of the most powerful and respected competitors on the Challenge. ‘Both Alina and I realised that we had to split up if either of us wanted a shot at making it into the top four at the end of the Challenge,’ said Nora of her choice.

Alina – the only female in the top ten – was selected by Michael Tsaoutos from Greece. ‘I only chose her to make my wife jealous,’ he quipped. ‘Seriously though, she is much faster than me, so I will have to push myself to keep up.’

For Martin Dreyer, it was a dream come true: ‘Nora and I had spoken about the possibility of teaming up three days ago, so it didn’t come as a surprise. Even so I’m glad not to be paired with someone from the back of the bunch – I really need to score some points this Stage, and I believe Nora and I will make a fantastic team.’

Team Partner Selection was just the beginning of an all-action day on the beach for the Challenge. Under threatening skies the competitors lined up for the crucial selection, where Eleonora had the first pick. Next up was Turkey’s Tolga Senefe, who opted for the current holder of the Yellow Jersey – Russia’s Dmitry Timokhin. Their partnership also proved immediately successful, as they comfortably won their heat in the Stage Start competition.

‘It was an amazing race,’ said Dmitry. ‘I was only chosen by Tolga a few minutes before the start, but he is a very strong competitor – and a great swimmer. Our partnership worked immediately.’

Britain’s Brian Reynolds got next pick, and as a birthday present to himself decided to team up with Belgium’s Kris Janssens - who had shot up the leader board after his highly successful partnership with Dmitry Timokhin in Stage 2. They came last in their heat today, however, after Brian had a tough time with the strong current and big surf on Copacabana Beach: ‘Unfortunately the competition was structured in such a way that the swimming could make it or break it. I got badly mauled by the waves, and ended up not even knowing which way was up.’

He finally managed to make his way out to the marker buoy and safely back to the beach, but by then both Team Russia/Turkey – who won the heat - and France/Costa Rica had already finished the race.

Despite narrowly losing to Russia/Turkey, France’s Jean-Baptiste Calais was pleased with his team’s performance. ‘I was really happy when Claribett Vega (from Costa Rica) selected me this morning,’ he said, ‘because she is very intelligent and strong. We may not have won our heat, but we did beat Team England/Belgium, who are a really tough pair.’

Claribett was surprised to find Jean-Baptiste still free for selection this morning, as she was fourth to choose: ‘I have no idea where I will end up in the rankings at the end of Stage 3, but teaming up with Jean-Baptiste can only improve my position. But I also feel some pressure to perform, because I don’t want him to lose ground because of me.’

Germany’s Robert Schweiger chose Pablo Burattini from Argentina, while Marco Martinuzzi from Italy teamed up with Thijs Maartense from the Netherlands. Once again the final decision was made by Victor Huang from Taiwan, who chose Gabriel Maldonado from Spain for himself – leaving Ireland’s Gary Robertson and Japan’s Takashi Sugiyama to form the remaining team.

‘I really hope that choosing Gabriel will help me to improve my ranking,’ said Victor of his decision. ‘Getting off the bottom of the table is my priority, but I also selected him because we got to know each other very well during International Selections in England earlier this year.’

With four more days of competition in Stage 3, the teams are cautious to read anything into today’s results. ‘It was great to win here today,’ said Martin Dreyer, who was treated like a long-lost friend by his partner’s family who came to watch today, ‘but there are still nearly two weeks to go, and a lot can happen.’ The South African is still nursing an injury to his thigh, sustained during Stage 1, but claims that it is getting better each day.

The undoubted star of the day, however, was Nora Audra. ‘Wow! I am the happiest woman in the world,’ she said after winning the Stage Start competition with Martin, ‘Winning here in Brazil, with the crowd cheering me on was amazing. I will never forget it.’

Stage 2 summary - SA still in second spot for G4 Challenge

 

Competitors left the Laos capital last Sunday with lightning ripping across the Vientiane skyline like a flashbulb and two forecasts hanging over their heads: biblical rain and evil conditions from the tail end of a tropical cyclone, and scoreboard domination from the newly selected partnership of Russia and Belgium.

By evening the rain had vanished but Dmitry Timokhin and Kris Janssens had firmly stamped their authority on the Challenge, with a double victory in the Strategy Pit and stage opener. The activity, collecting heavy equipment including a Range Rover Sport tyre from various points along the Mekong River's sprawling sand flats, underlined their formidable strength and fitness.

While most teams avoided two exhausting runs by transporting the tyre by kayak, the power couple put in the extra yards, rolling it back along the beach before tackling the other tasks. 'We played to our strengths,' said Dmitry. 'We had lots of energy, dry shoes and dry clothes so we could run fast. When you get a chance like that you give 100 per cent.'

There were surprising combinations behind them with Ireland and Holland securing a superb second and Taiwan's Victor Huang, the lowest ranked competitor, bonding with the UK's Brian Reynolds to ease into sixth place. 'Victor is very strong,' said Brian. 'I need to use his strength more.'

Just an hour later Russia and Belgium had won again, with the fastest design of a winch and pulley system to lift a tree trunk. The display of brain rather than brawn gave them the chance to leave camp first each morning - opening up the possibility of more activities and more points. 'It was important for psychological and morale reasons,' said Kris.

He wasn't joking. Next day the sun blazed and the teams gorged on accessible, easily located competitions - most completed five activities - that threw the spotlight on performance rather than the strategy of getting around. While Russia and Belgium recorded the fastest time in mountain biking, kayaking and orienteering, Monday was notable for some superb teamwork, with South Africa's Martin Dreyer supporting and encouraging Japan's Takashi Sugiyama, and France's Jean-Baptiste Calais driving Argentina's Pablo Burattini to new competitive heights.

But there was also a rising injury list: UK and Ireland both reported stomach bugs, Brazil's Eleonora Audra cut her shin and most painfully, Martin Dreyer flew over his handlebars, landing on his GPS and creating a haematoma - muscular blood clot - on his inside thigh.

The gritty professional kayaker fought through the pain barrier over the next few days. As the swelling increased and was held in place by tightly bound yellow duct tape, the injury to one of the event's strongest competitors became an obsessive talking point. However, Professor Nik Patel, one of The Challenge's medical experts, quashed any fears of his withdrawal. 'There's no tear,' he stressed. 'It's not serious. He'll have a deserved rest at the end of the week and be fighting fit.'

But for the moment he soldiered on as the teams tucked into a banquet of superb driving and ever more spectacular competition. There was caving in vast cathedrals of rock riddled with limestone sculptures, kayaking behind a river damn through water punctuated with dark, eerie dead tree trunks and steep rutted 4x4 driving that tested skills and opened up awesome panoramas of verdant mountains. 'It was really enjoyable driving,' said Germany's Robert Schweiger. 'It was harder higher up but the views are just incredible.'

But one team was point gorging more than most. Russia and Belgium were the only team to complete six activities - although it contained a zero score in the kayaking after a navigational error. 'It was still a good day,' said Kris. 'It underlines the importance of a good ranking in the Strategy Pit Competition.'

Behind them two teams were emerging as the strongest challengers: South Africa and Japan, along with France and Argentina. But their best occasional victories were packaged with inevitable mistakes including Martin and Tak misjudging their timings before the 4x4 driving - an error that prevented them completing six competitions.

Wednesday morning bought a temporary break in the sunshine with a 15-minute power shower that saw competitors bury their rivalry to dig convoy vehicles out of the camp's sodden exit road. They then resumed competition but struggled to come to terms with 'Paddy Dash', a 4x4 circuit that was immediately re-christened 'Paddy Splash'. Three teams completed it before the paddy fields became a muddy lottery with the Greek and German team stuck for around an hour and having to winch the support vehicle that had driven out to winch them.

But as the sun returned, competitors got on with fighting for points in the most dramatic scenery they had encountered in Southeast Asia. Kris and Dmitry continued to steamroll individual activities but the final team competition of the stage - a gruelling mountain bike eliminator around a field of water buffalo - ended with the Challenge's two strongest individuals in a head-to-head race. And, as with last Friday's Stage one final, there was a photo finish between Martin and Jean-Baptiste, with the South African just squeezing home.

And he did it again 14 hours later. Thursday morning's individual Stage two final was held directly beneath sheer 300 metre rock faces, with competitors rope traversing the Pak Ou River, followed by kayaking, mountain biking and a draining run across the soft sandy beach. Although he could feel Jean-Baptiste's breath on his neck going into the final sprint, Martin eventually crossed the line ten seconds ahead.

'Martin is one of the world's best adventure racers,' said Tak, his deeply impressed team mate. 'Partnering him is like partnering David Beckham in football. I'll remember it for the rest of my life.'

With Kris and Dmitry in the frame, some outstanding, competition awaits in South America, along with epic landscapes and testing driving. Teams will be re-selected; battle lines redrawn and Bolivia's altitude could be an increasingly important factor. Bring it on!

Stage 1 and South Africa has the Yellow jersey 

 

South Africa's Martin Dreyer will proudly sport the leader's mud-splattered Yellow Jersey next week, after triumphing in the Challenge's fiercely contested first stage.

The result, announced to a packed audience in Vientiane, was the climax to a day that began with flickers of sheet lightning and bass notes of thunder - a suitably theatrical backdrop to a gripping head to head Stage Final followed by the dramatic revelation of the week's winners.

Martin, who finished a single point ahead of Russia's Dmitry Timokhin and 13 points ahead of France's Jean-Baptiste Calais, said he was surprised at his victory as he and team mate, Holland's Thijs Maartense, had made several mistakes over the week. 'Obviously everyone else did too, you just don't realise. What matters is how you deal with it. You have to put it behind you. I'm learning every day.'

By contrast, Thijs had predicted his partner's success. 'He's experienced in adventure racing and kayaking, and he's very determined. We've been up studying maps late every night when everyone else is asleep. Being with him has definitely helped my own position go up from eleventh to fifth over the week.'

But second place Dmitry was clearly pleased to be on the South African's shoulder, rather than in his sights. 'I'm really happy to be second,' he said. 'No Yellow Jersey, no pressure. I think I'm going to get better. Swimming and kayaking aren't my strengths and there will be less of those in the later stages.'

His cautious view of the Yellow Jersey was echoed by Competition Director, Simon Day. 'Martin was a worthy winner because over the last four days he showed good resolve, determination and obvious good team and social skills. He's well positioned to take on Stage two.

'But a new partner means a whole lot of learning has to go on. And, of course, he's now being chased. There will be blocking tactics and all sorts of subterfuge going on. An early lead may or may not be a good thing. Time will tell.'

Otherwise there was huge disappointment for the Challenge's first Yellow Jersey, Marco Martinuzzi of Italy, who finished 17th after a difficult week with Taiwan's Victor Huang. More successful partnerships saw Greece and Russia emerge as the leading team, followed by South Africa and Holland, then France and Spain.

The announcement of these results was the day's second dose of high drama however. Earlier, as morning rain mutated into searing heat, the Stage Final delivered a hair's breadth finish amidst the jaw dropping scenery of a tributary of the Mekong River. With ribbons of cloud suspended alongside lush mountains, the 18 competitors went head to head in a burst of adrenaline.

The competition kicked off with a 30-metre abseil into a gathering of kayaks, with some missing the target and dangling precariously, while others tangled in each other's ropes. Victor Huang and Costa Rica's Claribett Vega formed a particularly complex knot. After kayaking to specified points, Jean-Baptiste was narrowly ahead of his South African rival.

The lead changed during the swim, and swung back to the Frenchman during the run. But although he went into the mountain biking with a lead around 45 seconds, he was pegged back and beaten by a spectacular final surge to the next activity by Martin, who couldn't be overtaken on the final four-wheel drive leg of the competition.

An absolute showstopper of a finish, it proved the Strategy Pit has more importance than just deciding which order teams will depart from camp. The South African's Range Rover Sport was in a better position - the decisive factor in the final result - due to his higher Strategy Pit ranking. 'Its importance goes well beyond your departure time,' said Martin. 'If it's bad weather and muddy ground, the third car out may get stuck, hold all the others up and only the first two compete in the day's activities. The trouble with the Strategy Pit is that it is a cerebral exercise and school wasn't really my thing.

'There were no tactics for me in the race today - I just went as hard as possible. I had a problem checking in at the kayak points, but it only made a few seconds difference. Jean Baptiste's very competitive and was cunning on the run. I tried to do it as the crow flies and was slowed down, but he chose the path of least resistance instead.

'At the finish we both said it would be really good to make it into the final top four. We don't want to take each other out prematurely. I'll be very happy if he wins and I'm second next time. Nice and steady is what's required.'

Jean-Baptiste admitted the close finish had left him steaming - until he had the Strategy Pit position of the vehicles explained to him. 'I was screaming in the car. I was so angry; I went into the water to calm down. I'm crazy when I'm racing. We are very close. It would be very interesting if we were on the same team.'

The Stage Final competition also saw a superb comeback from Dmitry who rose from 17th after the kayak leg to finish third. 'I made early mistakes, but caught up in the swimming, maybe 15 seconds on the run and 15 more on the mountain biking. I'm very experienced at navigation, I have been doing it since I was eight.'

And Australia's Alina McMaster also came in strongly in fourth position. 'I do a lot of adventure racing but thought I may be coming eighth. I made a bad start and couldn't get into the kayak but after that I just picked people off.'

It was also a better day for the UK's Brian Reynolds, who has struggled so far in partnership with Germany's Robert Schweiger. Despite losing places in the mountain biking, he came home sixth. 'I feel I proved a point,' he said. 'It shows I'm physically up to it. I had previously assessed myself in the middle of the 18 and it shows I'm actually above that. It was a good psychological springboard for things to get better.

'Our team communication hasn't been good this week. We didn't gel. It's a surprise - it all made sense in the clinical environment of a hotel in Bangkok, but it was different when the reality of camp life and competition set in.'

But that's all in the past. Tomorrow sees the second Team Partner Selection when competitors from the lower ranks of the table pick team mates from the top half for the next stage. All the present leaders admit they're nervous about who'll they'll end up with.

If present form continues, we can expect more successful bonding and spectacular fall-outs over coming days. And there's the intriguing possibility that eleventh placed Eleonara Audra of Brazil may again choose seventh-placed Alina McMaster to be her team mate. 'We had a great time together and she's one of the strongest pickers,' said Alina. 'I've no idea whether she'll go for me, or for someone stronger. Do you go for someone you know or take a risk? Who can tell?' 

 

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