Northern Ireland man Neill Weir wins prestigious 4 Deserts Ultra!
This week, Neill Weir (Willowfield Harriers) took part in the 4 Deserts ‘Racing the Planet’ Ultra in Argentina. Now in its 10th year, the 6 stage self-supported event takes competitors across a variety of Patagonian landscape, including a volcanic mountain range, ancient forests, high Plateaus and rugged Desert terrain, covering a total of 155 miles and 1500 metres of ascent.
On Sunday 12th November 2017, nearly 300 athletes representing 50 countries set off to take on Stage 1. Neill set out his stall early, covering the hilly 25.7 mile route to Gaucho’s Ranch taking victory in 4:11:39, 11 seconds ahead of Frenchman Romain Maria and 3rd place finisher Iulian Rotariu (Romania). Stage 2 took place the following day (Monday 13th November 2017), this time covering almost 20 miles from Gaucho’s Ranch to the Perito Morena Train Station. Although shorter in distance, athletes had hot and a times windy conditions to deal with. Neill continued his impressive start to the event, again taking 1st place in 2:58:54, two seconds ahead of Iulian Rotariu of Romania and nearly 15 minutes in front of Stage 1 second place finisher Romain Maria. Stage 3 (Tuesday 14th November 2017) saw American Ralph Crowley emerge as a contender, over the 25 mile course, Ralph led the field home in 3:14:10, followed by overall event leader Neill, who completed the stage in 3:15:46
In Stage 4 (Wednesday 15th November 2017), Neill continued to dominate the overall race by taking a third victory. The dominant Willowfield Harriers athlete covered the amended (30km) route in 2:24:50, over eight minutes ahead of Romain Maria (2:32:57) and Ralph Crowley (2:34:02), with Romanian Iulian Rotariu further back (2:38:28).
On Thursday 16th November 2017 brought Stage 5, which is known as ‘The Long March’ due to the normal daily distance of around 25 miles doubling to 50 miles. This route also had to be amended to an out and back route (73km), due to flooding caused by excessive snow melting. As the race commenced, Neill had a cumulative time of 12:51:09, almost a 22 minutes lead on his closest competition, the aforementioned Ralph Crowley (USA). During this cold and rainy stage the Belfast man, who despite the effort of the previous day’s win, remained strong and again took the deserved victory, having let Romain take an early lead. Neill covered the 73km in 7:34:10, slightly over 7 minutes ahead of Romain Maria (France). Ralph Crowley (USA), who started Stage 5 in 2nd place overall, took 3rd place.
Stage 6 was the shortest leg of the Racing the Planet event, covering the final 7k of nearly 330km overall distance, that said on tired legs and so soon after the ‘Long March’ it wasn’t going to be an easy run. Truthfully, given his dominance and consistency throughout the event it was hard to see anyone make a dent in Neill’s overall lead, let alone overtake him in the overall standings. In this final stage, Neill took second place with Englishman Peter Fairhurst, whom he had ran the stage with, securing the top spot over the shorter distance.
Over the 6 Stages, Neill took the overall victory, with American Ralph Crowley taking second place and Frenchman Romain Maria in third. Well done Neill!
Interestingly, the UK’s Sarah Sawyer also took victory, dominating the ladies race from the early stages.