Cold. It was cold.
We got up at 5:10am, which if you’ve just arrived from Australia feels a lot like 2:10am, and bolted some breakfast before heading for the first shuttle up to Coronet Peak, the ski station that towers above Queenstown and just happened to be under a whole lot of snow just a few days ago.
What to wear at The Pioneer?
Once there we were faced with a long wait – shuttle buses only took eight riders so the crew started early to make sure everyone made it. And yeah, temps were low. Not too much of a problem when you can sit inside in a down jacket, but most of the conversation among competitors centred on whether or not to wear leg warmers for the 20km, 1260m time trial prologue through lots of wet mud in temps below 5 degrees.
The course had been described as ‘greasy’, and altered to avoid the bits that were still under a lot of snow, colder, steeper, and muddier than the rest of the trails, centred around the epic ‘Rude rock’ flow trail and Skippers Canyon. This morning gaps between riders were also increased from 20 seconds to 30 seconds – of course, it’s difficult to overtake on a long descent, and organisers wanted to convince everyone to relax and take it easy as the course took six hundred nervous riders straight into a muddy (ish) downhill.
I think I paid too much attention to this message and found it really hard to summon up any adrenaline at all on race morning. Maybe it was the slight jetlag, or the long wait between arriving and actually racing. Mike and I did a 30 second warmup, during which I decided to strip off my leg and arm warmers, but keep my trail shorts and long-sleeved jacket and lightweight vest on for the race. It worked out pretty much perfectly, and Mike says he overheated a bit in full longs and a rain jacket.
Tacky, with occasional quagmires
We rolled to the start and accelerated away after the countdown into a few steep pinches before the descent. We were surprised to pass a team early on, but disappointed to get caught behind a rider who wouldn’t cede the track for a very long time, and ended up bunched up with three other teams, including a friendly rival mixed team, who passed us a bit later on.
We took the descent easy. I followed Mike, surprised that the trails had held up so well, and that ‘greasy’ was really ‘sticky’ most of the time. I was also pretty happy for my new bike setup, including a 34 Stepcast Fox fork with 120mm travel.
There were a few really muddy sections, where we slid or tripoded through deep trenches of mire, but overall, things were fast and flowy, and a lot of fun. In general riders were super cheerful and supportive, and yeah, we were wet and cold, but we had fun. Soon we were on the middle climb, a pleasant gradient but a tacky surface (and long), before dipping back into a cool singletrack descent. Overall, Mike and I went trail-ride pace on the descents, taking it easy, but tried to push it on the climbs – and it made pretty much no difference, as far as our result in the mixed race was concerned.
We grovelled through a slow section of new, uphill singletrack, the dead, heavy surface taking its toll on me at least, before emerging, at last, on the final road climb. The higher we climbed, the mistier it became, so that around every hairpin bend I could imagine the ski station, and the finish line, must be right in front of us. As it turned out we had a fair way to go, and climbed for an age before, in total whiteout, we finally picked our way through the final pinches and bends, through heavy, muddy track, and across the finish line in about 1:37. We hadn’t performed as well as we should’ve, but hey, our legs were cold and we just weren’t feeling the race feelings yet – Mike thinks this is because of the effectively solo TT format, but I blame the weather. I’m pretty much solar powered.
We ended up fifth in our category, with Kiwi team Jojoe taking the win today. Amy Hollamby and Kate McIlroy took out the women’s event, and Tim Rush and Michael Vink the men’s. Full results are available online.
Tomorrow we race over 69km and 2245m of climbing. We have one more night in luxurious, dry, mud-free hotel accommodation, and tomorrow transfer to Alexandria for the camping adventure. Stay tuned!