Sure, we all raced a prologue yesterday. We did 20km, got a bit muddy and had some fun. And while it gave us our start position, and settled some nerves, it was but a drop in the ocean for what lay ahead. All that would start this morning.
My pet hate at any stage race is bag drop morning. To me it’s a logistical hiccup that only the Swiss have solved. Picture this, you’re at your pre-race accom, in your new kit, with your bike all set for the stage, and then you have a 25kg bag, bursting at the seams that needs to go anywhere from 500m to maybe 5km. Do you ride? Do you take it and walk back to get your bike? Do you call a cab? Will the hotel do it?
I have done almost all of them, evening asking a fruit delivery truck once. This time I phoned a friend – thanks Will!
Our day at The Pioneer
To be honest – we had little joy in the race today. We started badly on the flat run out of town, in part due to my spec on Imogen’s bike with a 30t chainring. She was spinning out but really we both lacked the true high gear of being race fit. So we got a bit stuck with some teams, made some silly mistakes and found ourselves a long way back. Thankfully we improved just before the Moonlight Track, as we caught a lot of people.
The Moonlight track was said to be a good backcountry ‘feel’ trail that was close to Queenstown. Today it mostly felt wet in places, but jokes aside it was great. Sure, there was some hike-a-bike, but there was also epic views down the valley, and great bench cut singletrack. I loved it. Imogen was climbing well and letting the bike run on the descents. We caught up to a small group with Team Shimano of Briony Mattocks and Brodie Chapman.
We saw three mixed teams ahead on a steep climb – and then we had empty legs.
We pumped terrain, worked the bikes in the singletrack, and in general suffered everywhere else. The race went around Moke Lake and it was super pretty, and then we would enter the 7 Mile trails. This was all a blast, but we’d shut it down and it just draaaaged for us. But when is singletrack bad? Never.
The circuit was super impressive, although if we skipped the bike park descent and didn’t have to do the last climb on the road – that would be fine. That last grovel was just that – a grovel.
The Europeans showed they will be a genuine threat, especially on the more technical singletrack riding, with Sebastien Carabin (Belgium) and Ismael Ventura Sanchez (Spain) riding for team Vojomag/Spain Mountain Bike taking the stage by 1:46 from prologue winners Tim Rush and Michael Vink (ONYA Bike).
“For a long time we were riding with the leading group, but when we got to the first single track we made good time, we are fast in this type of terrain so we made good time there,” said Ventura Sanchez. But then on the open section the others who I think are road riders nearly catch us, but then again on the single track we made time again. I am hoping that the next stages are full of singletrack riding!”
Rush was full of admiration for the skill of the Europeans and their ability to ride away from them on those technical sections.
“It was very impressive to watch them, they got away around Moonlight Trail and just kept that gap, we were catching up on some four-wheel drive hills and rolling stuff, but as soon as they got out of sight on the single track, they were gone. Hats off to them, they rode really well. Me and Vinky will go away, recover and see how tomorrow plays out.
“That was a great stage though, so much more enjoyable for me than the roadies, always something happening, look at the view around the Moonlight Trail was amazing, we are lucky to have that scenery.”
We finished about 6th in Mixed, and the lead changed back to Mark Williams and Kate Fluker. The only other lead change was in Grand Masters where Shaun and Tim took the lead. Full results are online.
We’ve cleaned up now on what is usually the busiest day of any stage race – a transfer day. Take your bag to the start, race, bag to a bus, sit on bus, find your tent, have a shower, find bike, wash bike, eat again… and so on. It’s busy! We’re here in beautiful Alexandra now for two nights – which is music to my ears. Our legs won’t be any better tomorrow but we have a few things to draw on for motivation. Let’s see what Stage 2 brings.
Photos: Tim Bardsley-Smith and Jemma Wells