After a relatively tame first day in Christchurch for the 2017 Pioneer stage race yesterday, today was when the real business got underway for the hardy competitor’s of this truly epic race. A pleasant 8am roll out from the polite town of Geraldine began relatively conservatively with a moderate pace across the first 15km of predominantly unsealed road. The real selections among the racer’s began when the road headed UP, which it did for a VERY long time.
A few gnarly, short, steep climbs out of the river bed sorted out those who could keep traction on the loose surface. A lead group quickly formed containing the Spanish ‘Imparables’ team, the kiwi wearers of the yellow jersey the ‘manuka honey’ squad and the ‘Alps2Ocean’ team were all represented whilst our very own Subaru/marathonMTB.com duo and the Cyclist Australia team formed a smaller chase group that later swelled to 7 or 8 riders.
The real struggles commenced at the long, serious climb up the Meikleburn saddle, predominated by old farm roads and goat tracks. This climb took most riders well over an hour to conquer. The reality of the difficulty of this race had well and truly set in by this point as riders battled on the steep gradients and loose terrain of a seemingly never ending climb.
The long and treacherous descent followed with some stunning scenery for those who were able to take a glance upward for a moment. The last 25km involved a long road section before a stretch of double trail by the Opuha River. Some riders found the heat and difficulty a touch too much at this stage and opted for a swim in the river rather than pushing on to the finish line in a hurry.
Full results here
The stage was taken out by the Spanish ‘Imparables’ team led by former DH world cup winning rider Tommy Missa, followed closely by the Manuka Honey team from New Zealand. Team ‘New World’ rode super strong today to take out the mixed pairs category. Female pairs team ‘Hirepool’ took the stage in the female category.
Today’s stage featured some stunning scenery and rewarded the true tough athlete’s. This race is proving itself as a stage race achievable for semi serious riders but can be made VERY DIFFICULT for those wanting to race it full gas. The competition is proving to be close this year and the rider’s at the pointy end of the classification are willing to dig very deep. The large prize pool is always a factor in helping serious racing cyclists dig that bit deeper.
The stage today was TOUGH and it seems to be just a taster of what lies ahead for the rest of the week. I can imagine seeing some very satisfied faces for those who reach the finish line in Queenstown on Saturday. This will be a race to never forget for those who complete it. A true spectacle!
For our own Subaru-marathonMTB.com team, we succumbed again to mechanical issues this time on the start line with an obscure bent front axle from the ride to the start line. The ever professional mechanical staff from The Pioneer had us back on the startline with a moving front wheel again with 3 seconds to spare, amazing. Another impromptu flat tyre led to some more chasing, eventually finishing the stage 4th in elite men pairs. A painful but satisfying stage.
Everyone is now settled into the into the very welcoming race village in Fairlie, ready for another climbing day tomorrow to Lake Tekapo. A few weary faces at dinner, my own included. Tomorrow is another day!