Day four is the penultimate event here at the Mark Webber Challenge, and it’s a day for both triumph and heartbreak. One of the longest days both geographically and from a time perspective, day four of the challenge sees the racers start off in amidst the Hartz mountains and work their way down to the small town of Judbury on foot, bike and kayak.
The day starts with a 12km scramble up a mountain to one compulsa and three optional check points. Obviously waking up on the right side of the bed, Rick and Ryan push up the front of the pack and, at one point in the run, Rick sees the much storied adventure racer Guy Andrews slowing a little, and takes the opportunity to overtake and lead the pack.
“If Rick sees that red mist then all of a sudden, we’re off,” says Sandes. After taking the lead, Rick and Ryan quickly realise they’re not on the route marked on the map and turn around, much to the despair of the large pack of racers following.
Later Andrews commented that he couldn’t be more surprised by the form the V8 driver has shown.
“Rick was flying up the mountain. He said he hadn’t done a lot of training coming into this event, there’s a lot of specific skills you need, and I watched him scamper off today and he was putting pressure on Ryan, the endurance runner, so no wonder he does well in his V8 Supercars,” says Andrews. “Get hold of him and train him a bit and he could be a real competitor. I can’t speak highly enough of him with no experience he’s done really well.”
Reaching the transition area, racers here could choose if they would try pick up some or all of the time bonuses scattered around the Hartz peaks. Shoulder to shoulder with some of the fastest teams, Rick and Ryan chose to pick up all the check points on offer, which were at two beautiful mountain top lakes and a high pass near the top of the mountain range.
Coming out of the transition area onto the mountain bike, Rick and Ryan are one of the top three teams, and on the long, rapid descent Rick started to come into his own, picking a descent line that was both fast and treacherous, over a lot of loose gravel. Ever the competitor, Rick starts duelling on the racing line with the professional Renault-Garmin French team- a team that considers the biking legs their specialty. After a little shoulder to shoulder contact, some bi-lingual swearing and another 35km of mountain biking, Rick and Ryan get to the Tahune Forrest Airwalk in third place overall, with all possible time bonuses picked up.
A SET OF AIRWALKERS
The Tahune Airwalk is a 600-metre elevated bridge above the Tahune Forest Reserve, one of the lushest and most impressive rain forests here in Tassie. Racers have to run the bridge, then hook on to a harness and traverse the scaffold under the bridge, before finishing with a 40 metre abseil down to forest floor.
There’s a big time benefit here for the first teams to arrive, with a backlog inevitable as only one team can abseil at a time. Rick and Ryan arrive to the bridge in third and throw themselves into the climb and abseil.
“If I was there just socially and someone asked me if I wanted to abseil down, I would have told them where to go,” says Kelly. “There’s no way you would have got me down there, but it’s funny, when you’re racing I’ll do it without thinking about it. I’ll just do it.”
“I was thinking about it,” says Sandes. “Looking down I really had to force myself over.”
Rick and Ryan keep up a great pace back to transition point and, with most of the race behind them, the boys start to think about knocking off some of the top teams on this stage. Then it all starts to go wrong. After competing most of the last mountain bike stage Rick fails to find one of the mandatory check points and the boys have to repeat half an hour of hard, uphill riding. Rick has invited Ryan for a hot lap in his Jack Daniels Racing Commodore V8 Supercar after the race ends, and Ryan initially took up the offer but is now having second thoughts, concerned the Rick my be able to get lost, even on a closed course.
WITHOUT A PADDLE
Reaching the 15km kayak leg that runs down to the day four finish line, Rick and Ryan have lost a few places but, with a good paddle, could still improve on their position. The first few kilometres of the paddle are pretty easy for Team Red Bull, but at the first white water section they start to lose control and are soon dumped in the drink.
There are a few panicked second where both of the lads are stuck underwater, but do eventually manage to emerge oxygen-side.
A few kilometres later Team Red Bull see a small waterfall, and before they even meet it, the white water throws them again in the drink and this time underwater, they manage to lose one of their paddles. For the last few kilometres, the team is forced to alternates the paddling and starts to lose serious time.
“Today was actually really fun,” says Rick. We were excited today because we know what our bodies were capable of really going hard and we were right up there, until we fucked it all up. What can you do? We couldn’t really just get out heads down at the end so we got an opportunity to have a chat and took in some of the scenery.”
There’s just one more day of competition here at the Mark Webber Challenge, and it will see the teams hitting nine peaks around the city of Hobart. We’ll be updating then, so make sure you come back. If you want to follow the racers live, check out the official website HERE