So the latest round of the AR World Series rankings have been released, and there has been a shake up in the top order. For a great overview, read Rob Howard’s piece from Sleep Monsters here. The big news is that current world champions, Team Seagate, take their rightful place as world number one. Seagate have remained undefeated in expedition racing over the last 18 months and with a consistent team line up are clearly a step above every other team in the world at the moment.
Team Haglofs Silva move into second place off the back of their win at Expedition Africa. Despite Silva being one of the most consistently performing teams over the last decade, they are still considered to be a relatively “young” team with a prolific expedition race record, and I’d expect to see them at the top of the ranking system for a long time to come. Team Thule slip to third on the leader board after their DNF at Godzone in March this year, however their first and second placings at the last two world championships still see them with a large points total.
The world series rankings are based on a point system, with a team’s best four results from the last two years counting towards their score. Currently, approximately 140 teams qualify for a ranking – the full list of results can be downloaded here. However, the inherent obstacles and costs involved in racing an international expedition race, the often inconsistent team member line ups on many teams, the fact that only the top 10 teams from any given race are award points and the variable nature of the calendar of races has a number of important implications for teams aspiring to a top 20 world series ranking.
An Aussie Perspective
It’s great to see Australian Team Macpac climb to 12th on the series ladder after their 4th and 3rd places at Godzone over the last two years. Indeed, expect to see this team possibly crack the top 10 once XPD has been run in September and is counted in the scoring cycle. Macpac (formerly Team Blackheart), have been the most consistently performing expedition racing team from Australia, with a number of XPD wins along with representation at various international races, including world championships, over the past few years.
Indeed, it is hard to imagine any other team from Australia climbing in to the top 20 on the world series ladder in the foreseeable future. Part of the reason for this is that Australia’s own expedition race in the world series, XPD, is run only every 18 months, not annually like a number of other races in the series, meaning less opportunity for teams to pick up series points on their home ground. On top of this, the last XPD was a world championship, and despite 2.5 times the points being up for grabs, only 3 Australian teams – Macpac, City Bike Depot Adventure Junkies and Team Mountain Designs – managed a top 20 place to score points (with CBD/Adventure Junkies and Team MDs subsequently ranked 29th and 73rd in the world).
Added to this, there is no other Aussie team that has a line up that races consistently at international expedition races. With Godzone now an annual race and easily accessible from the east coast of Australia, there is certainly more opportunity to pick up points towards a series ranking. However, the kiwi competition on their home soil is tough, making a top 10 difficult. Despite five Australian teams travelling to Godzone this year, the next best placed team after Macpac in 3rd was Team Rogue in 15th place. There are certainly currently teams from Australia with the strength and experience to do well on the international stage – Adventure Junkie, City Bike Depot, Peak Adventure, Moxie Gear, Mountain Designs – however without consistent team rosters and with a general inclination towards stage racing in China where the prize pool is bigger, I suspect it will be a long time before we see another Australian team in the top 20, despite more Aussies entering the charts lower down post-2013 XPD.
What about the Brits?
The story for Britain is very similar to their Australian counterparts, with one team, Adidas Terrex, dominating the local scene for a number of years now. The Adidas Terrex expedition race, the British member of the world series, only rocks around every two years. However, Team Adidas Terrex (not to be confused with the race of the same name) is widely travelled in their racing. In fact, their sixth place in the ranking system is possibly currently undervalued given that their win on home soil is not counted towards the points system as they exceed the maximum number of people allowed on their team roster for a result to count towards series points. Additionally, their five consecutive wins at the Patagonian Expedition Race – “The Last Wild Race” – also do not factor in as it is not a member of the world series. Expect to see this team towards the top of the ladder for a long time to come.
The Story of the Swedes
Probably one of the more extraordinary statistics to come from the world series leader board is the presence of four Swedish teams in the top 20. This is despite the absence of a race on home soil since the Explore Sweden Monster expedition race has not run for a number of years now.
A significant portion of the points obtained by the Swedes resulted from the fact that all four teams were in the top 6 at the world champs in Tasmania in 2011. Similarly, France is also well represented in the top 20 with three teams, a by-product of a good showing at the 2012 world champs on their home soil. Indeed, having a world series race on home soil is a strong indicator of a team’s potential to crack the world series rankings, with all the other teams in the top 20 other than the Swedes able to compete at least once every two years at home. Consider the fate of East Wind from Japan: a strong team capable of second place at one of the world’s toughest races in Patagonia and a long racing history dating back to Eco Challenge, currently in last place on the leader board, in part due to the inaccessibility of available races in Asia.
An argument could be made that the USA is relatively under-represented with only two teams in the top 20. The states have a strong history in AR dating back to Primal Quest / Eco Challenge and Team Nike’s dominance in the early 2000s. On top of this, they have a significant domestic racing scene with two different national series and a race greater than 24hrs in length almost every other weekend. Furthermore, they have two races in the AR World Series on home ground (the Gold Rush Mother Lode and Untamed New England), not to mention an easily accessible race in Costa Rica along with Raid the North Extreme in Canada. Indeed current national champions team Wedali (We Eat Dirt And Like It) once claimed to average a 24hr AR every month, but this has not translated to a top AR World Series ranking as they currently sit in 119th place.
Despite the above bevy of race and series points opportunities, the European teams do seem to have the upper hand over the North Americans at the moment, with perhaps the exception of Team Tecnu. Tecnu are one of the most prolific teams in the series when it comes to international racing, easily meeting the maximum quota of four races to count towards the leader board score. They have also had a relatively large team roster, however this seems to be resolving itself into a core group of athletes. If this is indeed the case, and if their performance at Expedition Africa recently is anything to go by, expect to see this team sniffing around the top of the leader board for the foreseeable future.
A Successful Formula
So what does it take to have a good AR World Series ranking? Well, the first obvious option is to win races. It’s no coincidence that 10 of the top 13 teams have won a world series race previously, including all of the top 6. The second option is to race often, which is much easier said than done given the costs, time and logistics involved in expedition racing. Only five teams have reached their maximum of four scoring races in the last two years, and all of these teams are in the top 10.
But what about an average team that doesn’t win races, but is capable of a solid finish: how can they improve their world series ranking? A successful formula would appear to be to race every edition of the world series race in your own country (and better yet, hope that it’s an annual race) and then target one other international race every two years. Furthermore, it would also be handy to target a race where the entry numbers are lower (eg Gold Rush Mother Lode, Untamed New England, Tierra Viva, Adidas Terrex) to improve your chances of a top 10 place, or a world champs race (where 2.5 times the points are awarded right down to 20th place) as opposed to a race where the local competition is much tougher on home soil (eg Raid In France, Godzone, Raid Bimbache). Just by way of example, team Red Ants from South Africa sit at 23rd place on the leader board after only a 2nd and a 7th place at the last two Expedition Africa races. Even just a 5th place at one other race in the last two years would be enough to bump them up well into the top 20.
The next scoring cycle will occur in September after a number of races in Brazil, Australia, Spain and the USA which is sure to shake up the ranking system once again and see a suite of new teams earn points towards the leader board. Seagate are guaranteed to maintain their number one position through the next scoring cycle but will still have to be at the top of their game come December with so many points on offer at the next World Champs in Costa Rica.
As for new teams entering the top 20, it is possible to imagine the appearance of a number of Kiwi teams higher up the leader board in the future as well. With an annual race on home soil and the strength to potentially do well overseas, it would be interesting to see what a team like Harraway Oats could do if they maintained a consistent line up and started doing one or two international races on top of Godzone. Indeed, the theme of keeping a consistent roster is an important one when building a competitive team capable of ranking well.
One thing for sure is that the implementation of the World Series ranking system is a big carrot on a stick for the top AR teams in the world to race more often, and further abroad, and is a probable major contributing factor in the resurgence of highly competitive races at the front end of each expedition.