A Competitive GeoQuest

GeoQuest is set to be one of the most competitive adventure races in Australia since world champions Seagate crossed the ditch to take out the title five years ago.

Since the inception of the A1 series in 2017 there have been 11 Adventure1 races with 5 different winning teams: Thunderbolt (4 wins), Thought Sports (3 wins), Wild Earth Tiger Adventure (2 wins), Rogue Adventure (1 win) and Alpine Avengers (1 win).  All five of these teams will be on the start line at GeoQuest this year, giving teams a chance to truly know where they stand in the pecking order. In addition to these teams, there are a number of other top flight units capable of pushing it at the front of the race including Tiger Play Outside, Adventure Junkies, BMX Bandits and the highly competitive Tiger Adventure New Zealand team.

Diving down into the team list, there are a total of 13 racers with previous wins at GeoQuest, including the most successful male and female competitors in the race’s history in Damon Goerke (6 wins) and Kathryn Preston (3 wins). So while it’s clear that we are staring down the barrel of one of the most closely fought adventure races in Australia, this is a predictions blog afterall, so how do I think this will all play out?

Damon leading the charge at Geo.

For my money, while all the aforementioned teams are capable of a place on the podium, there are three outfits that will be vying for its top step. My favourite going into the race are Thought Sports. Winners of the national title in 2018 including victories in thee of the four races they entered, Thought Sports have yet to race an A1 race in 2019. This is mostly a result of their focus on representing Australia with their free ticket to GODZone in March where they finished fourth place. To put it in context, this result I believe is the second best placing of an all international team at GODZone in its eight year history.  As mentioned, Damon and Kathryn are among the most successful GeoQuest athletes, with Damon sporting the amazing record of having raced every GeoQuest in its 17 year history since the race started in 2002. Team captain Rob is the most successful Australian adventure racer on the international scene. The team might not start as fast at the front of the pack but have a knack of being the first across the finish line. It will be interesting to see if Thought Sports can secure a win at GeoQuest, whether they can build on this towards another national title. With a commitment to race Eco Challenge in September, and Rob on course setting duties for the last race in the series (Wildside), they will be stretched towards the back end of the season. However, the team has shown they can win without Rob and I know the lure of a free GODZone entry in New Zealand’s north island in 2020 will be on back of their minds.

Jarad and Sloshy on their way to winning Alpine Quest.

Next in the list of the real contenders are the Alpine Avengers. While a relatively new combination of competitors, the Avengers sport a depth of talent and experience including former Australian multisport champion and two time Geo winner Jarad Kohlar. The team sports a paddling pedigree that can probably only be matched by Guy Andrews’ Tiger Play Outside team.  Racing with the Alpine Avengers is co-navigtor Dave Schloss.  Sloshy has the incredible statistic of having never lost an A1 race including wins on three different teams – the Avengers, Thought Sports and Thunderbolt – and in all three Adventure1 seasons so far. After their win at Alpine Quest, a subsequent win at GeoQuest would put them in a very strong position for the national title in 2019.

Team Wild Earth Tiger nice and clean prior to their 2018 X-Marathon win.

My third pick for the outright win at GeoQuest are the recent Raid 100 winners Wild Earth Tiger Adventure.  Led by AR veteran Gary Sutherland, the team had a strong start to the 2018 A1 series with a win at X-marathon, which was eventually derailed by a broken collar bone at GeoQuest and then a case of appendicitis at Hells Bells.  Gary did go on to win Wildside with team Rogue in 2018 and has opened the account in 2019 with a commanding victory at the toughest Adventure1 race this year, the recent Raid 100. Although racing with a different line up to that of the Raid 100, Gary is rejoined with familiar team mates for GeoQuest and I know that this team has plenty of fight in them to try and grab the lead early and hold it all the way to the line. As with the Avengers, a backup win at GeoQuest puts the Wild Earth team in a strong position for the 2019 national title.

The full Thunderbolt line up victorious at GeoQuest.

Aside from these three teams, an Adventure1 predictions blog would not be complete without mention of the ever present team Thunderbolt. After a clean sweep of wins and the national title in 2017, Thunderbolt are still searching for that next elusive victory. The team took a solid second place at Alpine Quest before heading to India to contend a world series expedition race earlier this year. They will have their full strength line up whose members include a total of 10 past victories at GeoQuest. Like Thought Sports, Thunderbolt have also secured an elusive Eco Challenge ticket which they are training hard towards and I expect them to bring their A game to GeoQuest this year, with an outright victory well within their arsenal.

Guy Andres racing GeoQuest exactly a decade ago.

What makes this year’s edition of GeoQuest fascinating is not just the head’s up match between all the past elite Adventure1 teams, but also the entry of a number of other really strong outfits. Leading this charge is the Tiger Play Outside team captained by past GeoQuest winner Guy Andrews. Guy is another one of the old guard of Australian adventure racers whose experience will pay big dividends for an otherwise relatively younger team. They will be one of the strongest ocean paddling teams in the race (with kayaking typically a major feature of pat GeoQuests) and have recruited team Rogue’s secret weapon Ali McLachlan for this year’s race.

Luke Haines will bring strength and experience to the Adventure Junkie’s team.

In any other race, the Adventure Junkie’s lead by Sergey Kurov would deserve mention right up front of the predictions blog. I believe this is the first time we’ve seen Sergey race in the premier category of an A1 race and it will be interesting to see where they find themselves in the mix. With former Australian multisport champion Luke Haines on the team, the Adventure Junkies are capable or running with the best. Capping off the all-star line up is a top notch team of New Zealand adventure racers including expert navigator Tim Farrant and Raid 100 winner Kym Skerman. It will always be a big ask for an international team to do well in an Australian dominated race (unless you’re Seagate of course), however much of this disadvantage will now be neutralized with the change in format to an unsupported race where kayaks are provided. The Tiger NZ team has the requisite navigational talent and speed to put a cat among the pigeons and race at the front.

Yamba: race HQ for the 2019 edition of GeoQuest.

GeoQuest is Australia’s longest running adventure race, now in its 18th edition. The race HQ of Yamba will be the furthest north the race has ever been which should represent relatively neutral racing terrain. When originally planning the Raid 100, I gave heavy consideration to Yamba as a race HQ, so I’m excited for the opportunity to compete there. The stretch of coastline south of Yamba is the longest segment of undeveloped coast in NSW. GeoQuest has always held a proper feel of adventure for me more akin to an expedition race and shouldn’t be underestimated: no doubt there will be plenty of hills despite being run off the coast line.

Team Rogue on their way to second place at the Raid 100.

On a personal note, I’ll be rejoining the Rogue team with Ali “on loan” to the Tiger Play Outside team – big shoes to fill.  After having a break last year, this will be my 11th GeoQuest. The Rogue team had a consistent and well executed strategic race to take second place at the Raid 100 and are looking in fine form. It will be great to see where we fall in this field. Since Wild&Co have taken over management of GeoQuest, the race has moved to a non-supported format with kayaks provided and bikes moved in bike boxes, bringing it in line with the other A1 races. In a way I’ll miss the original format of the race. I get that it makes the race much more accessible for teams looking to travel longer distances to race and has made the race much more logistically easy. However, there was something that really added to the adventure having a support crew and being able to paddle competitive double skis in the open ocean that I’ll miss.  With Darkside falling off the calendar (the only other adventure race where you were required to have your own boats), my double ski spends more time collecting dust these days than getting wet.

Ultimately, I’m expecting some very tight and close racing at GeoQuest. With so many competitive teams lining up, the temptation will be to push too hard too early and we could see one or two spectacular blow ups.  Racing could go right down to the line with small mistakes punished in a manner much more akin to a sprint race. Places in the top 5 and even top 10 will be hard earned. The results will go a long way in determining our next national champion, however I suspect we won’t know the answer to this until at least Hells Bells and probably Wildside. As always, there will be a live site with satellite tracking. If you aren’t racing, then I’d suggest this one will be well worth keeping an eye on.

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