The Pioneer camp was busy this morning, the influx of 3 Day Traverse racers has increased the size of the camp, and for everyone who survived yesterday’s monster stage, today’s 67km with a ‘mere’ 2000m of climbing to Snow Farm seemed like it would be a walk in the park. And best of all, the cooked breakfast was the best this week!
But the general feel was really positive. The biggest day was done, riders had been challenged by the immense day, and all but 30 of them had made it.
We rolled out of our hilly campsite and onto a small road that moved from gravel to tarmac and back again – a few times. The momentum of the downhill start put some speed in the lead bunch, and after turning onto a larger road Barry Wicks put it right into the gutter, causing a few splits further back, but nothing drastic.
We moved onto a gravel cycleway, and the two entries into it did make a split, and I unfortunately didn’t see that my riding buddy was ahead, not behind. So later on, while also realising I hadn’t switched my Spot Tracker on, I figured I’d better stop and see if he was in a group behind. He wasn’t… so he must have been ahead! He was waiting further up the trail, and I felt more than a bit sheepish…
The cycle trail was fun, but further around the lake we hit the Deans Bank singletrack. Now while the race has been fun, it’s been pretty low on singletrack. So the twisty singletrack through some pines and then onwards onto the plains was a blast. It was really fun to ride through and momentarily forget the massive climb that loomed afterwards.
Anton Cooper lead Dan McConnell through this section, and reports are that they pushed the pace pretty hard. The farm roads to the bottom of the climb were fast, and Team Danton didn’t hang about before getting into the long climb to Snow Farm.
The climb started steeply, and there was a certain feel that it was all too soon after yesterday. But the views across Wanaka and into the big mountains got better as you got higher, even though it was a case of one false summit after another.
The final kilometres were akin to riding in the high country, with alpine grasses and rolling service trails to race along. Up, along and down, then up again.
Arriving in Snow Farm was peculiar. It’s a cross-country ski area, which obviously lacks the look and appeal of a big alpine ski resort. Instead it’s fences, benched dirt roads, and a lodge that is housing some of the services. But it’s also a flat camp site, and I’m certain we can’t have to climb far before starting to descend tomorrow for the final stage to Queenstown.
Minter and Ian defended their lead in Master’s men 40+, the closest category in the race. They’ve added another 3 minutes of safety to their lead – a great relief after losing time yesterday.
There are a few things that are making The Pioneer stand out for me at the moment. One is the difficulty – I’ve done a few races like these and this one caught me out. I think it’s partly the Kiwi attitude of not being soft. It’s great to see that while some races in Australia are being softened up, The Pioneer has launched itself as a demanding marathon stage race that should capture the attention and imagination of racers from around the world.
But perhaps one of the best things is how good the event crew and volunteers are. Every day, they are friendly and helpful. They’re enthusiastic in the feed zones, helpful at the info desks, and downright jovial when setting up and taking down tents. They’re certainly helping with the ‘Find Welcome’ goal that The Pioneer organisers have set out to achieve.