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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Racers Find Boney M, Secret Base in Siberia

Itar-TassThe winning team, Moscow's Morskiye Volki (Sea Wolves), approaching the finish line on the Pacific Ocean last week.
VLADIVOSTOK -- After winning the world's longest rally over two tough weeks and across 15,000 kilometers of Siberian wilderness, cracking open the champagne was not at the top of Ilya Savelyev's agenda.

The winning captain's biggest wish when he crossed the finish line on the Pacific coast was, first, to take a hot shower, and then to call home to Moscow to tell his loved ones he was alive and well.

Sixty-eight off-road vehicles, making up 34 teams, each with a crew of five men and one woman, set off from near the city of Murmansk on the Barents Sea on Feb. 23 hoping to reach the shores of the Pacific Ocean near Vladivostok.

The $10 million race, called the Expedition Trophy 2005, was the brainchild of Alexander Kravtsov, a self-made millionaire and extreme-sports enthusiast.

"We wanted to create something that was never done before," Kravtsov said. "To cover 15,000 kilometers through Russia in winter, through ice, snow and slush, often with no roads at all -- it was worthy of the Guinness Book of Records."

The prize for last Tuesday's winner was 10 kilograms of gold, worth nearly $150,000, and the race itself was only a part of the adventure.

Kravtsov set up a special train to follow the rally. Like a huge house on wheels, it was home to the race organizers, support crew and the media for two weeks.

"The idea was to promote our company, thus we initially painted the whole train in orange -- the colors of the expedition," he said.

It turned out to be a bad idea. With the Orange Revolution sweeping Viktor Yushchenko into power in Ukraine a couple of months earlier, Russia's power brokers did not like the political overtones of an orange train riding through their countryside.

"We don't want to be involved in politics," said Kravtsov, explaining his decision to repaint the train white.

Crews had to endure the rugged terrain of Siberian forests and frozen tundra, navigate the icy Lake Baikal and the Amur River and survive many other obstacles along the way.

Often man-made barriers were much more difficult to overcome than those created by nature.

One team was nearly eliminated just 100 kilometers into the race after it was sold doctored gasoline on the interstate road between Murmansk and St. Petersburg.

After losing nearly six hours trying to clean up their fuel system, they were able to continue.

Another team, called Severny Dozor (North Watch) and made up of Russians and Americans in two Chevrolet trucks, got lost in thick forests near Saratov, ending up at a secret nuclear missile base.

"Just imagine, a team driving American-made cars with Delaware license plates, full of sophisticated navigation devices and satellite phones, goes inside a secret compound of the Russian army," a race organizer said. "They could have been taken prisoner or, even worse, killed on the spot. Thank God, we managed to negotiate their release."

Their joy, however, did not last long. Dozor was eventually eliminated, having missed the cutoff time in the Urals.

While drivers had to fight to stay awake, VIP guests on the train were entertained by musicians and celebrities.

Kravtsov even had time to arrange his own wedding on Lake Baikal, inviting almost 500 guests. Boney M, the main attraction, performed its 1970s disco hits to a wild reception from local gatecrashers.

Of the initial 34 teams, representing many Russian cities as well as crews from Latvia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and several Western countries, only seven were still in contention for the top prize by the 900-kilometer final stage from Khabarovsk to Vladivostok last week.

There was still more drama at the end.

The team from Moscow, which had led for most of the way, took a wrong turn just 20 kilometers from the finish and was beaten by their city rivals, Morskiye Volki (Sea Wolves).

"Of course we're disappointed. Being in the lead for almost 15,000 kilometers and to lose by less than three minutes hurts," losing captain Mikhail Boldyrev said.

All the teams said they were getting ready for next year, with organizers planning a bigger field and twice the prize money.