x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Thule do it the hard way in adventure challenge

New Zealand team in daytime trek and fatigue taking its toll in the desert as strenuous event reaching the home stretch in the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge.

Yasmin Wadhai, the Abu Dhabi-born Iraqi on the ECO-Racers team, manages a smile yesterday. Courtsey Bob McCaffrey
Yasmin Wadhai, the Abu Dhabi-born Iraqi on the ECO-Racers team, manages a smile yesterday. Courtsey Bob McCaffrey

Tactics came into play on the fourth day of the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge - the gruelling, six-day multi-discipline endurance race - as the remaining 48 teams from 18 countries came up against the sprawling Rub al Khali desert yesterday.

Faced with a daunting 116km trek across the world's largest uninterrupted body of sand, the squads had to make a choice - run in the blistering daytime heat and open up a gap or wait for the cooler night temperatures and lose ground.

For triple champions, Thule Adventure, led by Richard and Elina Ussher, the decision to battle through in the 25°C day temperatures was worth it to ensure trailing teams could not "slipstream"in their hardened tracks and make up precious time - a key decision given the Empty Quarter boasts rolling dunes as high as a 45 storey-building.

"While it may have been cooler to run at night, it presented a lot challenges in orienteering and finding the way across the desert. This would just slow you down," Richard Ussher, the New Zealander, said. "And, in the daytime, it is very hot, but there are advantages attached to trailblazing, such as not letting others follow in your footsteps."

The other members of Thule Adventure are Nathan Fa'avae and Marcel Hagener, and they lead from the French Thule Adventure Team Europe.

Only two other teams followed suit after checkpoint three - China 1 and Adidas Terrex from the UK - hoping their bravery would leave them in a position for an assault on Switzerland's Wenger team and Sweden's Netcompetence, in third and fourth.

Thule Adventure Team Europe opted for a rest in the day and are looking to shore up second spot with a heavy night-time push.

The teams also have to decide their tactics on checkpoints, some of which are not mandatory. They have the choice of saving energy but facing stiff penalties by only going through required points, or going through them all, but possibly suffering fatigue for the final two-day sea kayak back to Abu Dhabi city.

Marc Pschebizin, of the Swiss team Wenger, said they pushed themselves to the limit this time at the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA)-organised event.

"This was the hardest race ever," said Pschebizin, Wenger's team member from Germany. "In the last six hours, we only had five litres of water left.

"The only tactic left was simply to survive. And to make the hike a bit more motivating, we tried to run with Thule Adventure Team Europe."

After the lead group, spearheaded by the dominating three teams, two more teams in the top 10 also finished the stage, towing along two French teams - the Nouvelle Caledonie and the Vibram Lafuma 2 team. The Guats Adventure Team from Canada and the Adidas Terex Team also concluded their fourth day of racing.

In the overall standings prior to the two-day desert orienteering section, the French squad of Vibram Lafuma 1 jumped from 10th to fifth overall as a result of a fifth-best time of in the 94km mountain biking section.

The stars of the previous day, Salomon Santeveri Outdoor Team from Spain and the Adidas Terex Team, both dropped two places from fifth and sixth to seventh and eighth.

As the race enters the homestretch, the next two days will see teams paddle a 129km sea-kayaking section along the emirate's stunning coastline to end back in Abu Dhabi.