Rough going for male half of Team CB
Leave it to the ladies to carry the Team Salomon/Crested Butte name to the podium at this year’s Saab Salomon Mountain X race in the Haute Savoie region of the French Alps, July 21-26.
The local adventure racing team split into two separate men’s and women’s teams. Jon Brown and Bryan Wickenhauser pulled in Travis Macy from another adventure racing team to make the trip to France. Jari Kirkland looked locally to fill her women’s team but after six tries she was left with a couple of rookies to the adventure-racing scene, Lisa Lieb from Durango and Australian Deannna Blegg.
While the men’s contingent of Team Salomon/Crested Butte looked to improve upon their eighth-place finish last year at the same event, Kirkland was there to defend the women’s title she brought home last summer.
Kirkland’s team, Team Salomon/Crested Butties, ended up leading the Gunnison Valley charge on the Alps as they finished the six-day stage adventure race in second place.
The men struggled with their insides for the first two days and suffered through to a ninth-place finish at the end of the six-day event.
While the women’s team was completely unfamiliar with each other, Kirkland’s strategy was simple. Her only concern was: Could her teammates relate?
“My thought was go hard,” says Kirkland.
After an opening day 10-kilometer run, Team Salomon/Crested Butties was in second place behind a British team stacked with international trail running champions and adventure racing veterans.
But day two would prove the first test for teams as they awoke at 4 a.m. to begin a mountaineering section complete with glacial travel and traverses along knife-edge ridges.
With Kirkland leading, Team Salomon/Crested Butties took over the lead, finishing the main stage race in first place.
Unfortunately for Kirkland and company, every day included a trail running stage and the British mana ged to pull back in front riding the primary strength of their outfit.
The third day teams were on their bikes for 80 kilometers of riding broken into two stages.
Kirkland came into the stage on a mission looking to rally her teammates and retake the lead.
“I was feeling like 100 friggin’ dollars,” says Kirkland. “I’m competitive so when the gun goes off, the head goes down.”
The team opened the race with Blegg on a tow from Kirkland and Lieb alongside. They fell back of the British team early but before morale could sink too low, their efforts were rewarded midway through the stage.
“Halfway through the day we caught them and that brought in really good energy,” explains Kirkland. “We really raced well.”
Once again though, the gap during the main stage could not hold off the British invasion on the subsequent trail run that evening and Team Salomon/Crested Butties slipped back into second place.
Day four involved climbing rocks both top-roped and via ferrata. Via ferrata involves following iron rung ladders set into rock faces; at this point, Team Salomon/Crested Butties looked to make a definitive move.
“We had done this exercise two days prior to the race to get to know each other some and that was key,” says Kirkland. “We decided if we were going to win this thing, this is where it’s going to happen.”
While the via ferrata portion went as planned the team met a mishap during the rock climbing portion as Kirkland fell during her pitch and the team lost points.
“I was really worried about it and really bummed,” says Kirkland.
Fortunately, it turned out one of the British women fell also, leaving Team Salomon/Crested Butties back in the lead. That is, until the 15-kilometer trail run that evening.
Despite Kirkland having her best run of the week, coming in third place, one of her teammates did not fare too well, leaving the team back in second place once again.
“That night was really hard for us,” explains Kirkland.
On day five, Kirkland suffered a bout of carnage during a technical river canoeing section that nearly knocked her and the team from the race.
Teams were required to run a section of river in three-person inflatable canoes, with class II to class IV rapids rife with rocks.
With Kirkland in front yelling directions, Blegg in the middle and Lieb in the stern steering, the team negotiated the first section without a problem.
It was during the second section when the race took a frightening turn—or drop, as it were.
“I looked ahead and saw a bunch of people with cameras and I knew it was going to be bad,” says Kirkland.
As they floated over the top of what turned out to be a class IV waterfall, they dropped straight into a rock, with Kirkland taking the full brunt of the impact.
“I hit both of my knees on the rock and saw stars,” says Kirkland.
Minutes later, Team Salomon/Crested Butties were in the thick of another rapid and flipped, tossing Kirkland on her back onto another rock hard enough to cause numbness throughout her lower extremities.
The British team suffered at the flow of the river as well, minus the severe physical beating, leaving Team Salomon/Crested Butties in the lead for the fifth day in a row after the major stage.
Yet, with Kirkland beat up from the day on the river, the team’s efforts were seriously compromised during the trail running relay race that night, leaving them back in second place once again, with one 43-kilometer trekking stage left in the race.
“I could barely walk and they got more points on us that night,” says Kirkland. “If we were going to win, we had to beat them by three hours in a seven-hour race and that wasn’t going to happen.”
Kirkland likened the final day to running from town, up Mt. Emmons, along Scarps Ridge to the top of Ruby, Owen and Purple Peak, before descending down past Oh Be Joyful back to town.
In the end Team Salomon/Crested Butties rallied through the final day to come in just 10 minutes behind the British squad and take second place and a share of the prize money.
“It was a really good experience for me to be in that position during a race because I’m the one that gets towed all the time by the boys in the other races,” says Kirkland. “The girls got some experience, too and we worked incredibly well as a team. They rose to the occasion and we won a couple thousand dollars, enough to pay my rent.”
The men had a slightly different experience in France, starting with a case of giardia that Macy picked up during a Primal Quest race he competed in three weeks prior to the Mountain X race.
Problems for the men set in hard during the mountain bike stage. First, Macy was throwing up the night before the stage.
“He was certainly not himself,” says Wickenhauser. “Jon was looking solid the whole time.”
Therefore, Brown, who was unfettered the entire race, was asked to tow Macy in the mountain bike stage with Wickenhauser riding along.
During the stage, Wickenhauser fell victim to some gastro-intestinal malaise as well and with two team members shattered, they limped to a 23rd-place finish in the stage.