For the 2019 edition of The Pioneer, Sam Fox has teamed up with Sebastian Jayne to race as the MarathonMTB.com Team. Sam will be reporting each day. He’s also the youngest rider in the race at just 19 years of age.
Today we had another shortened stage like yesterday, to the relief of many riders. After arriving in the freezing rain the day before, it continued through the afternoon and into the night, making drying clothes and cleaning equipment slightly challenging. Sadly the peak of stage 4’s climb was still snowing with sub zero temperatures, and the safety panel made the decision to remove the climb from the course, bringing the total distance back to 60km and only 1900m of climbing.
Today it took four coffees to motivate me into my still damp under shirt and entirely soggy jacket…After a brief warmup and attempting to digest my three breakfasts, we started the race.
Stage 4 began in much warmer temperatures, with the occasional ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds, positively balmy in comparison with the previous day. With Vink and Rush setting the pace from the beginning the field quickly split apart along the undulating road to the base of the climb. By the time we were a few hundred metres into the climb the front bunch had been whittled down to five teams, and within a few minutes Vink and Rush had broken away.
Seb had a fire in his belly from the beginning that left me worried I might be the nail, and Seb the hammer. Over the top of the first climb in fourth place, with almost every team split apart, thankfully with Seb’s descending skills we quickly rejoined on the fire trail descent. By the bottom of the descent the top five teams were back together, this was a perfect time to receive the news of another course change, instead of doing one large lap we would complete a second lap of the same course.
Back onto the road we went, with Vink back in his element he put the pressure on everyone, and as soon as we hit the climb they broke away. Brendan and Jon chased hard, putting a gap into the rest of us, Seb and I decided to play a tactical game. Seb went up the road and I attempted to control the pace on the front of the bunch, once the gap was large enough I attacked across to Seb and we tried to stay away.
Unfortunately for us the Winger Hamilton team decided this was a sign the gloves were off, and promptly attacked over the top of us, managing to ride right back to the Giant Australia team in second. Now we had the task of keeping the Maap Shimano team at bay, we held them off over the top of the climb, but again they returned halfway down, before breaking away from us on a short climb mid-descent. We chased hard and caught them halfway back along the road, the tactical racing began again.
It was clear that Chris Aitkin was struggling on the day, as Garry Millburn attacked multiple times, without his teammate following. Into the final kilometre and Garry attacked again, when Chris didn’t follow Seb and I decided this was the perfect opportunity to counter, with a little push (on Seb) and some burning legs we finally cracked Chris and rolled in for another fourth place on stage, maintaining our fourth place overall.
With the shortened stage we now have all day to relax amongst the beanbags, with good company, food, and finally, weather.
Another day done at the iconic race that is The Pioneer, with only one stage to go everyone can almost taste the finish into Queenstown tomorrow.
Team Jojo won in mixed with Holly and Michael Harris in 4th, and 2nd on GC. The leading women still lead, same in the Grand Masters men and Masters women. And while the open mens race is still open as anything could happen – it is the Masters Men who have a whole lot to play for on the final stage.