While The Pioneer started on Sunday with a Prologue around the Port Hills trails, today could be considered the true start of the marathon stage race. Regardless, the winner’s in Open Men’s stayed the same, as Anton Cooper and Dan McConnell rode an aggressive race and put more time into their rivals on stage one.
Grey skies greeted riders as they unzipped their tent flies to the cacophony of slamming portaloo doors, a modern musical masterpiece perfected at mountain bike events.
Racing start at 8am, and the first kilometres passed quickly on the country roads, but bunches formed pretty quickly, as splits were occuring readily. While the front of the race is super sharp, it’s not deep. There are huge numbers of master’s racers here, and mixed teams. There is also a great event vibe and plenty of laughs in the bunch.
As we passed farms, the clouds burnt off and we climbed up and around the river, through a series of pinch climbs and sharp descents. Given the nature of the terrain, teams were popping one by one – well their tyres were. A mixed team next to us punctured on an innocuous section, and next up I saw Cory Wallace and Spencer Paxson pulled over, it looked like Paxson had torn a rear tyre. With a deep carbon rim, valves were too short and what should have been a quick repair meant a huge time loss.
We moved into another farming valley, with some long straight drags on gravel roads as the Southern Alps. The two big climbs of the day loomed, and they were on grassy farm tracks. Which is nice, but pretty slow. The sun was warm, the air was still, and it was all quite beautiful. The terrain was fantastic for fast wheel-to-wheel racing.
Riders were suffering, the gradient, heat, and slow terrain really had teams splitting up. My team mate Huw was hurting on an his hired Giant Trance. After a brief descent, we climbed again, and were tormented as the route descended along a fence before crossing through it in a U-turn to then climb up the other side!
The last few climbs dragged on before the second feed zone, which was used en masse by most of the race, for shade, suncream, water and energy drink. The final 25km had little to say about it, but there level of excitement for all seeing the camp at Fairlie would have been high.
The front of the races
Dan McConnell and Anton Cooper extended their lead, and the Kona B Team of Barry Wicks and Kris Sneddon came in 2nd while EpicCymru.com of Matt Page and Sam Gardner came 3rd, which should move them into 4th overall. Team Danton didn’t have an easy ride though.
“We are really happy with how that went, it is a pretty big day, one of the longest in the race so to get through that and get a bit more time was a bit of a bonus. We had a mechanical as well, I flatted at about 30k and lost a couple of minutes but we were able to claw it back and not have to go too crazy or too hard. Setting a good tempo was important today and not going too quick and get too carried away on the climbs.”
In Open Women’s Erin Greene and Kath Kelly rode a strong race to defend their lead and win the stage again.
“That was bloody hot, there was not enough water in the rivers out there to cool me down. The views though were amazing, just an amazing day.” Said Greene.
In Master’s Men, the racing was close but it was Garry James and Mike Israel of Team GM Specialized who crossed in 5th overall and winning the stage for Masters. Masters of Mud Plugging Mayhem took out the Super Masters, and 10th overall.
Kate Fluker and Mark Williams of Team New World smashed the stage again, finishing 6th overall and putting more time into second place.
It sounds like everyone found today harder than expected. The 106km had 2500m of climbing, but the heat later in the day caught a few people out. And with today looking like one of the easier days of the week – there are a few people wondering what they’ve got themselves into.
And us? We rolled in in about 6h37min, and 67th place. It was a long day in the sun, and one that means we will be packing the suncream in the bag for tomorrow.