win opening of day of Stage 3 Land Rover G4 Challenge
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.
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.’
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.
– 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.’
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.’
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.
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.’
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
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.
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.’
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.’
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.
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.’
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?'