The final preliminary event in Aix-les-Bains July 14-17 saw a French team take top honors. Though often present on the podium, first place on this circuit X-adventure The Raid World Cup is a rarity for them, but ERTIPS (FRA) finally frustrated fate this weekend by winning the last qualifying stage for The Raid World Championship 2006 in September.
The final stage, held between Arc 1950 and Aix-les-Bains, was ultimately the right one for one of the more respected teams on the world circuit. Competing since 2000 on the X-adventure circuit and a podium regular on some of the most prestigious long-distance races around the planet, ERTIPS (FRA) have often allowed final victory to slip from their grasp. But Veronique Chastel, Florian German, Samuel Hubert and Franck Salgues shed their bad luck this July 14th weekend. They were involuntarily aided in their task when several strong teams lost an athlete very early on in the race, seriously impeding their chances of blocking this youthful, yellow clad team. One thinks in particular of LES ARCS-QUECHUA, bereft of Florence Marguet, who picked up an arm injury on the first section, and AIGLE SYBELLES ESF or SPORT 2000 LAFUMA.
Over the 226km course that took the 36 teams from Les Arcs 1950 resort to Aix-les-Bains via a sequence of trail-running, mountain biking, canoeing and rope-works, through the Tarentaise valley and across the Beaufortain and Bauges Ranges, Ertips proved skilled and tenacious enough to hold off WILSA SPORT/HELLY HANSEN (FRA) deprived of victory on the first day by an orienteering error that cost them more than 30 minutes. Imposing throughout the 7,100 meters of elevation gain over a course that led in particular through the Cormet d'Arches, the Louze and Arbelay Passes, ERTIPS really took control of the race during the long, 50km MTB section at the end of the first day.
SAAB SALOMON were unfortunately unable to field their strongest team, losing one of their top athletes at the last minute due to injury, and the British were forced to call upon the inexperienced Rob Hope, who, despite being an adventure-racing neophyte, put in a stellar performance on this stage. Right behind them in 5th place, the Spaniards of SALOMON ESPANA, in finishing 5th on this stage, see themselves rewarded for their efforts, beneath the blazing sun (35 degree C), with a last minute qualification for the next Raid World Championship.
With the final preliminary event finished, Here is an overview of the contenders who remain to compete for the World championship in Quebec in September.
Throughout the three qualifying stages, a host of top flight adventure racing teams from around the world attempted to overcome some of the planet's most challenging outdoor attractions, including the white-sand crucible of the Western Australian beaches, the turbulent cataracts of Idaho's rivers and the gruelling gradients of the French Alps. The winning teams, 34 in all, distributed across geographical zones, came through this demanding exercise with enough points to earn a place on the starting line of this year's The Raid World Championship, to be held in Quebec in September.
It wasn't until the very last, hard-fought stage that the pecking order for Zone I (Scandinavian teams) was finally decided. With little inclination to undertake the laborious long hauls to Australia and the United States, all the teams in this zone waited patiently before playing their hands. BUFF SWEDEN (SWE), by finishing 10th overall in France, finished at the head of the group, in front of TIETOENATOR ADVENTURE (SWE), MULTITUDE SALOMON (NOR) and LUNDHAGS ADVENTURE (SWE).
In contrast, the Western European Zone, that includes a number of favourites for the title of World Champions, was a heated confrontation from the very start of the season. Aware of the stakes and realizing that the any absence or sloppy performance could well be fatal, these "dreams teams" competed throughout the season. Their persistent appearances in the upper rankings was easily enough to earn them a trip to the world championships in Quebec. Thus ERTIPS (FRA), SAAB SALOMON (GBR), LES ARCS-QUECHUA (FRA), CLUSAZ TSL RAID (FRA), WILSA SPORT/HELLY HANSEN (FRA), AIGLE SYBELLES ESF (FRA) and SPORT 2000/LAFUMA (FRA) will all be taking the start. A couple of surprise inclusions in this group are PLANET TONIQUE.COM (FRA), RAID AVENTURE 46 (FRA) and COMPAGNIE DES ALPES RAIDLINKS (FRA), all last minute invitees thanks entirely to their impressive performances during the final stage held between Arc 1950 and Aix-les-Bains.
Ensured of a place even before the final stage, the Poles of SPELEO SALOMON, the Lithuanians of REVO and the Germans of ADIDAS NATVENTURE will represent the Eastern European Zone.
Tougher and more uncertain was the tussle between Southern European teams. The globetrotting COSTA DAURADA-LA PINEDA PLATJA (ESP) only had to finish the last stage to reign supreme in this group, thanks to their previous appearance in the United States. On the other hand, the remaining 4 spots were keenly contested during the final stage in France, with the experienced squads of SALOMON ESPANA and UKA X TEAM LLEIDA (ESP) easily earning a spot each. FORUM UE VIC (ESP) and the Slovenians of ADVENTURE TEAM IF, with fine showings, earned the right to compete for the first time in The Raid World Championship.
In the North American Zone, respective victories in Australia and in the United States were enough to qualify SPYDER (USA) and NIKE (USA). SALOMON CRESTED BUTTE (USA), SAGUENAY-LAC SAINT JEAN (CAN), SALOMON CHLOROPHYLLE (CAN) were all obliged to travel abroad to secure qualification in this zone where participating solely in the American stage was no guarantee of selection.
GOLITE TIMBERLAND (NZL) also appear to have understood this imperative, putting in two brilliant performances that allowed them to head up the Asia-Oceania Zone. The remarkable rookie clans of MILLIE (AUS), MAINPEAK POWERADE (AUS), PADDY PALLIN-CARBOSHOTZ (AUS), MALAGA CYCLES (AUS) and TEAM FOR CANCER (AUS) will accompany this trio ranked among the favourites for final victory.