Follow The Leader (Or: What Happened At The Lost Mills?!)
The 2014 Lost Mills was one of the biggest races of the year. Perhaps the single most-elite race ever held outside the States. It was Week #6 of the NSP Euro Tour and definitely the headline act.
The 2014 Lost Mills was also stop #3 of the exciting new Champions Tour, just in case this race wasn’t significant enough already.
A dozen or more of the best guys in the world were in Germany to battle it out at Europe’s premiere SUP race. It was supposed to be a duel between the big guns such as Danny Ching, Connor Baxter, Eric Terrien, Georges Cronsteadt, Casper Steinfath, Chase Kosterlitz and half a dozen other international stars.
And that’s how it started, but that’s not how it finished. Because somewhere in the middle of the race, something went totally wrong…
Flat water racing isn’t exactly known for being unpredictable and dramatic, but that’s exactly what happened in Germany last weekend. It took a couple of days for the full story to emerge, but here’s a summary of how one of the biggest races of the year went totally off the script.
SHORT VERSION: The guys at the front of the main pack messed up and turned around the wrong buoy. By the time they realised their mistake, they had already allowed Eric Terrien to slip through and gain an unbeatable lead.
The race had a good, clean start out on the water, with all the big names sprinting out to the front for the first kilometre. Most people were swarming around Danny Ching, who was expected to set the pace and who everybody wanted to sit behind in the draft train. And that’s pretty much what happened.
After a messy first kilometre, things settled down into the predictable draft trains with Danny Ching and Jake Jensen doing the heavy lifting.
By the halfway mark of the race, out on the second of two lakes that make up the Lost Mills course, the lead group was still very big. At least 14 and perhaps as many as 18 guys were in the front train. Danny Ching had been leading and close behind was Connor Baxter, Georges Cronsteadt and all the usual suspects. As they approached one of the large buoys that marks the course, Jake Jensen made a move to the front.
And that’s where it all went wrong.
Most of the buoys on the Lost Mills course simply guide the way. You don’t turn around them, you just paddle straight past them to the next marker.
But instead of paddling straight past this particular buoy and following the correct course, the lead pack accidentally did a 180-degree U-turn, sending almost all of the top contenders off course for a few minutes. By the time the group realised their mistake and turned back the right way, 30-40 paddlers had already passed them. The only top guy that didn’t go the wrong way was Eric Terrien, who is such a fast paddler that if you give him a big lead he’s never gonna look back.
Shortly after rounding the infamous buoy, Casper Steinfath had a bad feeling in his gut that something was wrong. After 200 metres looked over his shoulder and, to his horror, he could see dozens of guys paddling by on the correct course.
Casper and a couple of the others shouted out to the rest of the group. The lead 14 or so guys stopped paddling and looked around in disbelief. When it sunk in a few moments later, there was a lot of sighing and a few curses. For a second the top guys considered calling it quits. But then their competitive spirit kicked back in and there was a mad sprint to get back on course and make up for lost time.
By this time so many guys had passed that the leaders were now fighting their way through the slower paddlers in the middle of the field, which only fueled the confusion and disarray among the pack.
So how did this mistake happen?
Seems like there was nothing wrong with the course layout, the buoys, the course map or the race briefing. It was all quite clear. The buoys were placed three days before the race and didn’t move at all. So nobody is blaming the race organisers. Having said that, the Lost Mills buoys are quite a long way apart and there’s a lot of boat traffic in the big lake, so it can be a little confusing. Organisers have already agreed to employ a “lead boat” for the front pack to follow, ensuring this mistake won’t happen again.
But either way, this was simply just one small but very significant mistake from the guy at the front of the lead pack (sounds like Jake Jensen was leading the train when this happened), with everybody behind him playing a very bad game of follow the leader.
The lesson here? Study the course map before the race. And don’t blindly follow the leader.
Eric Terrien was sitting back in around 14th spot when the mistake happened. He was the defending champ but was struggling to find the clean water he needed to make the most of his narrow board. That thing goes like a rocket in the flats but Eric doesn’t enjoy being stuck in the middle of a big, messy draft train, which is what had happened the first half of the race. So when Eric got his clean water he was never gonna look back.
Quite a few of the guys were upset that Eric didn’t make more of a sportsmanlike attempt to help them get back on course. Their argument is that Eric had every chance to shout out and let everybody know they were going the wrong way, but that he made no such effort.
In his defense, Eric said he was simply stunned when he saw everyone go the wrong way and wondered if it was actually him who’d make a mistake. He said it all happened very fast and by the time he was sure he was going the right direction, the others had already paddled too far away.
The truth is likely somewhere in the middle: Eric probably could have made more of a sporting attempt to help the other guys, but ultimately they made their own mistake.
Ironically, many of the paddlers who went the wrong way had raced the exact same course twelve months ago and even the year before that. And even more ironically, the guy with the worst eye-sight, Eric Terrien, was the only one who could see which way to go.
I spoke to Eric after the race and he said he’d actually studied the course very intensely in the days and hours before the race. It’s not that the Lost Mills is a hard course to follow (I mean c’mon, it’s a flat water race around a couple of lakes) he just wanted to be 100% certain. And clearly that field work paid off.
But even though he knew the course, Eric started second-guessing himself when the others took the wrong turn, describing the whole thing as being very surreal:
“When I saw everybody turning the wrong buoy it was kind of surrealistic… It was a very strange situation. I was at the back of the pack, struggling a little bit to find my place and looking for clean water.
Then all of a sudden I look up and see all the leaders doing a U-Turn at the wrong buoy. It was a crazy situation. I was sure that it was the wrong buoy, however when 12-15 of the world’s best paddlers take a turn it’s hard not to follow them…
I passed straight by the buoy and as I looked around more and more people were turning. Everything went really fast at this point as I was going in the opposite direction to almost everyone else. My mind was thinking: “Why didn’t you follow them? If they all turned, it’s probably because this was the right buoy to turn…
However I could see the next buoy further down the lake (I was wearing my glasses!) and I had spent so much time the previous days looking for landmarks to line up with the buoys. Last year I was paddling solo in front and the weather was bad, which made it hard for me to follow, so I really studied the course this year.”
You give this guy an inch and he’s gonna take a mile. And that’s exactly what happened. The leaders paddled about 200 metres in the wrong direction so they probably lost a good three minutes to Eric, which they were never going to make up.
Though big credit has to go to Danny Ching and Connor Baxter, who put in absolutely amazing performances to fight back from 40th all the way into a battle for the runner-up position.
Just stop and think about that for a second. Imagine Danny Ching and Connor Baxter sitting in 40th position in a SUP race. It’s unimaginable. It’s also unimaginable for anyone to make up 38 positions in the final few kilometres of a race. That’s never been done before. However this year’s Lost Mills was a race like no other…
Likewise guys such as Chase Kosterlitz, Georges Cronsteadt and Beau O’Brian, who dragged themselves back through most of the pack. I mean just look at the results: Casper Steinfath in 23rd, Titouan Puyo in 26th. You never see guys of that caliber so far down the order. This really was a bizarre race, but also a very fascinating one.
On a side note: The veteran Frenchman Greg Closier was the first guy to follow Eric and was rewarded with a 5th place finish among a very, very strong field. Greg hit the infamous buoy not far behind Eric but wasn’t close enough to get on his tail, so he paddled around the second lake on his own before being caught and passed by Connor and Danny on the second run leg (as the paddlers returned from the second lake back to the first).
After that, Greg jumped in the next group – featuring Georges, Chase and Beau – when they caught him in the final few kilometres. At the very end Beau sprinted clear but Georges and Chase clashed in a desperate sprint to the line, falling off and swimming to the finish. This allowed Greg to slip through into 5th place. As he said himself:
“I was hoping for a Top 15 finish, maybe Top 10 as I had found a spot in the first draft train and was feeling good. Though I know how hard a Top 10 finish would have been against that level of competition if there hadn’t been a mistake. But there was… These things happen sometimes I guess.”
Apparently Danny, Georges, Chase and Beau were able to work together, Tour de France style, to navigate their way back through the middle packs. Casper Steinfath, who unfortunately got lost in the pack, had this to say about the guys who fought their way back:
“Some paddlers managed to navigate the chaos following our mistake. Small groups formed seeking to work together to catch back up to Eric and the guys in front. Especially the group consisting of Danny, Connor, Beau and George Cronsteadt made up big ground working together. I later heard the crazy stories of how teamwork between these individuals (and many more) was the key to the comeback. Danny, Connor and Beau worked their way up to finish 2nd, 3rd and 4th respectively! I was not able to be a part of this comeback, but listening to the stories of sweat, pain and tears was one of the most inspiring tales I have ever heard!”
So there you go. The 2014 Lost Mills was a crazy race and definitely not what we expected, but hats off to Eric Terrien for putting in a gutsy paddle.
I feel bad for Jake, who was looking strong at the front of the field, as well as Danny Ching, who showed in Friday’s time trials that he’s in exceptional form right now. But hey, that’s racing. It wouldn’t be exciting if it always followed the script.
Either way, this is definitely a race that’ll be remembered for a long time. The Lost Mills was already known as Europe’s premiere SUP race. Now it’s even more famous.
And while all the drama was happening in the guys race, let’s not forget about the women’s race, where Lina Augaitis put in an amazing effort to defeat Angie Jackson, Sonni Hönscheid and Manca Notar. Lina has gone a long way to stamping herself as one of the best flat water paddlers in the world over the past twelve months.
Oh and for the record, here’s who was in the front pack that went off course (missing a couple of names…).
– Jake Jensen
– Danny Ching
– Connor Baxter
– Beau O’Brian
– Casper Steinfath
– Leonard Nika
– Georges Cronsteadt
– Zane Schweitzer
– Paul Jackson
– Chase Kosterlitz
– Trevor Tunnington
– Dylan Frick
– Titouan Puyo
That’s quite a who’s who of the SUP racing world.
But nobody should take anything away from Eric for his win. It was a bizarre race and the Frenchman probably wouldn’t have won if the others didn’t mess up, however Eric did put in more effort than anyone to study the course before the race and that clearly paid off. He had some luck on his side, but nobody can question he’s one of the fastest paddlers in the world, especially in a race like this.
Either way, I’m sure the other guys are very fired up following this crazy race. No doubt everybody will be VERY hungry to come back to Germany next year and avenge their loss.
The Lost Mills. June 6th, 2015. Mark it in your calendar. We’ve already marked it in ours.
And for an even better insight, here are the Facebook posts from the guys after the race…
Great recap of the race by Casper over on Stand Up Magazin.
“Should we simply give up, or race our brains out? Most people chose the second option as we did a 180-degree turn and began a high-speed chase as never seen before in the sport of Stand Up Paddling. Desperation and chaos filled the air. It was no longer any ordinary race. …
… It is not very often I get to view a race from the back of the pack. Although it is not at all where I wanted to be it was a very humbling and exciting experience in its own way. Working my way up the long outstretched line of people was exhausting but fun. I was behind many people that I never see in front of me. It was awesome to see the smiles and flare in people’s eyes as they tried to hold us off when we passed them. I am very happy that I got to see a race from this perspective, as it showed me a another cool side of SUP racing.”
Click here to read the whole thing (make sure you click the “English” button right beneath the headline, unless you’re fluent in German…)
2014 Lost Mills Results
1st: Eric Terrien (1:39:32)
2nd: Danny Ching (1:41:26)
3rd: Connor Baxter (1:41:41)
4th: Beau O’Brian (1:42:07)
5th: Greg Closier (1:42:25)
6th: Stefan Stiefenhöfer (1:42:33)
7th: Chase Kosterlitz (1:42:44)
8th: Leonard Nika (1:42:46)
9th: Paul Jackson (1:42:48)
10th: Maritjn van Deth (1:42:54)
11th: Branislav Sramek
12th: Paolo Marconi
13th: Dylan Frick
14th: Zane Schweitzer
15th: Martino Rogai
16th: Itzik Horesh
17th: Jake Jensen
18th: Trevor Tunnington
19th: Ricardo Haverschmidt
20th: Ike Frans
21st: Giordana Capparella
22nd: Davide Ionico
23rd: Casper Steinfath
24th: Peter Weidert
25th: Fabrizio Gasbarro
26th: Titouan Puyo
27th: Bart de Zwart
28th: Vinnicius Martins
29th: Vincent Verhoeven
30th: Patrick Thumm
31st: Bernd Sommer
32nd: Belar Diaz
33rd: Alexander Stertzik
34th: Christoph Salmhofer
35th: Federico Benettolo
36th: Friedrich Kochl
37th: Dirk Bickert
38th: Peter Tritten
39th: Kai-Nicolas Steimer
40th: Wolfgang Leeb
41st: Moritz Mauch
42nd: Martin Salmhofer
43rd: Leonardo Toso
44th: Michael Brauch
45th: Carsten Kurmis
46th: Guido Meier
47th: Gianmatteo Cau
48th: Colori Schilling
49th: Christian Keller
50th: Frank Gondek
51st: Richard Gratzei
52nd: Endre Virag
53rd: Thomas Gundendorfer
54th: Klaus Dedial
55th: Ahmet Senoglu
56th: Frithjof Sach
57th: Armin Zeitler
58th: David Brozik
59th: Andy Dressler
60th: Thomas Laurenz
61st: Ralf Schultz
62nd: Thomas Suttner
63rd: Klaus Schulten
64th: Dirk Borbe
65th: Rachmen Djajakusuma
1st: Lina Augaitis (1:48:12)
2nd: Angie Jackson (1:49:12)
3rd: Sonni Hönscheid (1:51:30)
4th: Manca Notar (1:55:50)
5th: Laura Quetglas (1:57:02)
6th: Silvia Mecucci
7th: Carol Scheuneman
8th: Erna Stangl
9th: Susanne Lier
10th: Marion Rappl
11th: noelani Sach
12th: Sonja Duschek
13th: Dagmar Taylor
14th: Anja Schilling
15th: Kerstin Ouellet