After a scorching day 2 with many riders experiencing sunburn and heat exhaustion, in typical New Zealand style the weather for day 3 took a severe turn for the worse. With wind chill temperatures of well below zero and gale force winds expected on the planned route the organisers took the very smart decision to alter the route to avoid the weather in the higher mountain passes. An alternative but still very challenging course was obviously a core part of The Pioneer’s race strategy as the execution of the new route went off perfectly from a rider’s perspective.
After a short few kilometres of sealed road the race took to dirt road and then farm tracks. Riding conditions progressively getting harsher for the rider’s as the stage went on. The first real climb of the day was on a very steep, grassy and rocky climb on a track seemingly only previously used by farm machinery and/or sheep. The selection’s were again made here with the hardy rider’s again earning a spot in the lead group. The gutsy duo of Mike and Alex from Team Cyclist Magazine had taken their chance with an early breakaway on the road section and assailed a lead of a few minutes over the leading group that lasted until approximately the 50km mark.
With all classifications now having their own battles for stage and GC positions now on, the serious racers are making judgements of which wheels to follow when the chips are down. The course then continued through rough farm tracks and over another mountain pass where the wind was so strong rider’s were being blown off their machines forcing many to push their bikes against the brutal cross wind. Another rocky descent lead to more rocks over a 10km river bed section to the finish at the picturesque Lake Tekapo.
The adjusted course gave riders a 72km journey today. Toward the latter parts of the course, stunning vista’s of the snow capped peaks of and around Aoraki/Mt. Cook were visible. Stage 1 victors Watson & Son Manuka Honey were again victorious on today’s stage. The Spanish Imparables who were victorious yesterday unfortunately succumbed to a flat tyre and cut sidewall costing them many minutes on today’s stage. Nina McVikar and Reta Trotman (Hirepool) again were victorious today and lead the female pairs GC. The mixed category is proving to have some close racing each day with the in form Kiwi team of Marc Williams and Kate Fluker leading today but the also fast team of Sonya Looney and Gordon Wadsworth not far in arrears.
With 4 more days of racing to go, rider’s of the 7 day Pioneer are starting to feel the pinch of the harsh realities of the difficulty of this stage race. Movements around camp are made with far less enthusiasm after 3 days of hard racing then was evident on day 1. Those riding the ‘4 day traverse’ option get the relief of knowing tomorrow is their last day in the elements before relaxation time begins. As the race heads South however, the scenery is becoming more and more stunning and the imagination/ creativity required to establish this route is truly remarkable.
For us on the Subaru-marathonMTB.com team a mixed bag today. Avoided any mechanical mishaps for an entire stage today, which was a relief. Pairs racing does have it’s benefits as both Mike and myself suffered at different spots of the race today, meaning the fresh one could help the struggling rider and vice versa. We rolled in again in 4th place in the elite pairs category, recovery now becoming very important for all riders with some hard days ahead. The organisers of The Pioneer have kindly provided Hot Pizza ovens and Churro’s stores at the Race Village’s to help with this process. Also the ice cold lakes and river’s are appealing for most riders.
Another big, spectacular mountain pass beckons competitors for tomorrow’s mission to Lake Ohau!