Published: March 2009
Top 10 Outdoor-Sports Rivalries
Text by Andrea Minarcek

As March Madness kicks off this week, talk around ye old office water-cooler will likely revolve around NCAA basketball. But that doesn’t mean college hoops fans should have all the fun. So we decided to give you ADVENTURE crowd your own bracket-like list to debate: a run-down of the best modern rivalries in outdoor sports. And when we say rivalries, we don’t mean to imply that these athletes snipe and bicker like Rock of Love contestants. We mean, simply, that they’re vying for their sport’s top spot—and pushing each to be better in the process. Here, then, are our picks for today's Top 10 Outdoor-Sports Rivalries in climbing, cycling, ski racing, and more:

Think we missed a rivalry that should’ve made our list? Let us know the Comments section, below.

10. Sailing

Any rivalry pitting the French against the English is sure to be a good one. And the competition between sailing’s Francis Joyon and Ellen MacArthur doesn’t disappoint. Last year, after the Frenchman annihilated the English MacArthur’s around-the-world solo record by a full two weeks, he told her: “I had a hard time beating your record. I hope that you won't be in a hurry to beat mine.” Sorry, buddy. We’d bet she’s already working on it. Here’s a blow-by-blow of Joyon’s arrival last January—and oui, it’s in français, but it’s easy to follow the action:

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9. High-Altitude Parachute Jumping

Speaking of French versus English rivalries… Ever heard of Michael Fournier and Steve Truglia? If you haven’t yet, you’re likely to soon. Over the past few years, the two high-altitude parachute jumpers have been neck-and-neck in a heated race to make a world-record busting jump from 120,000 feet (more than 23 miles) up—literally from the edge of space. Just to give you an idea of how crazy that is: A typical skydive lasts about one minute before the canopy is deployed; jumping from 120,000 feet up means Fournier and Truglia would freefall for more than seven minutes. From that high, the sky will be pitch black, and they’ll easily be able to make out the curvature of the Earth. Englishman Truglia’s “Space Jump” program is said to be on track for a jump any day now, while Fournier’s French team is aiming for a May ’09 jump. Stay tuned.

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8. Skateboarding

So who’s primed to take the reigns from Tony Hawk as the country’s next top skateboarder? Well, after the Battle at the Berrics competition last week, we’d say it might be a toss-up between Mike Mo Capaldi and Benny Fairfax. The two went head-to-head in the final round of the battle—a trick-for-trick tournament of skating that plays out something like a game of HORSE in basketball. Check out a video of the championship match here.

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7. Sport Climbing

Quick: Who’s the best sport climber in the world? Well, duh—Chris Sharma, right? For well over a decade, the 27-year-old Sharma has been the sport’s main man. But now a young upstart has some saying his reign could be nearing an end. So who’s scrambling for the title as the world’s best? Chris Sharma and Adam Ondra, who at only 16-years-old is already sending just about every hard line in the world. But is the young Czech good enough to be as good—or better—than you know who? Time will tell. In the meantime, you can judge for yourself here, in this footage of Ondra climbing one of the world’s hardest, “La Rambla,” in Siurana, Spain.

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6. Ultrarunning

For the past few years, ultrarunning’s biggest prize purse—the $10,00 first place reward at The North Face Endurance Challenge’s 50-mile race—has been split between Matt Carpetner and Uli Steidl. Steidl, 36, took the 10 G’s back in 2007—but last year, the 44-year-old Carpenter beat him out by more than five minutes. So who reigns supreme at the 50-mile distance? Well, as Steidl says of his rival, that might depend on where the race takes place: “Whenever we race,” Steidl says, “I know it’s going to be a good competition—unless it’s at high altitude, and then I don’t stand a chance.” Check out this New York Times video of Carpenter’s training.

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5. Ski Racing

With Bode Miller’s decision to opt out of the rest of the ski racing season earlier this month—and now possibly eyeing retirement—we thought it was high-time for us to adopt a new face of American skiing. So here now, very officially, we pass the mantle on to Lindsey Vonn. Just last week, the 24-year-old became the first American woman to ever win two overall World Cup crowns (watch a video). The one thing Vonn hasn’t won is Olympic gold—she was a favorite for the downhill at the Torino Games in ’06 but got injured and finished eighth. So who stands in her way of total domination at the Vancouver Games next winter? We think the ones to watch will be Linsday Vonn and Maria Reisch, Vonn’s closest friend—and rival. The two spent Christmas this year together with Reisch’s family in Germany and often share the podium together, as well. Vancouver should be interesting.

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4. Surfing

Andy Irons and Kelly Slater have been carrying the torch as surfing’s big rivalry since 2003, when the 31-year-old Slater was making a comeback, threatening the 25-year-old Iron’s post as the reigning world champ. And even after Iron’s slump last season, we still say surfing’s big rivalry is… Andy Irons and Kelly Slater. Yep, the boys still got it. Their much-hyped dislike for each other is one for the record books. Add to that the fact that a happy ending may be on the horizon: Just yesterday (March 15, 2009) Iron Brothers Productions released a new documentary called A Fly in the Champagne, capturing a two-week big-wave trip to Indonesia that Irons and Slater took—together! Willingly! Doubtful they actually kiss and make up, but this, we’ll need to see for ourselves. Here’s a preview.

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3. and 2. LanceLanceLanceLance!

At least 99.8 percent of Tour coverage this July is going to revolve around seven-time champ Armstrong’s return. (That’s an in-house ADVENTURE estimate, mind you.) And rightly so: No one’s done more to popularize the sport in the states. Still, after a three-and-a-half-year break from professional competition, is he still the rider to beat? We think so. Our eyes will be trained on: Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador, and Levi Leipheimer. Okay, so we fudged and made this one a three-way tie. But after the 26-year-old Contador’s 2007 Tour de France win and Leipheimer’s first-place finish at last month’s Tour of California—where Armstrong finished 7th—it’s too close to call. The trio will be riding as teammates on the Astana ticket, but all three will be bidding for the yellow jersey. And if that promise of inter-team competition’s not enough to psyche you up for the Tour (www.letour.fr), this Armstrong lovefest likely will:
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1. Snowboarding

At the Burton U.S. Open this week (opensnowboarding.com), everyone knows Shaun White’s the dude to beat. But lately there’s been a crop of up-and-comers threatening his perennial place on the superpipe podium’s top spot. The ones to watch? We say it’s Shaun White and Kevin Pearce, another Burton shredder who beat White out at the 2008 X-Games superpipe. Check out this clip of White’s U.S. Open performance last year: