Wet and Slippery Start for Epic Series Legend Race in New Zealand
The Pioneer mountain bike stage race in New Zealand’s Southern Alps – part of the global Epic Series that culminates in South Africa’s Absa Cape Epic – is now underway, kicking off with a 20km prologue in wet and slippery conditions.
New Zealanders Michael Vink and Tim Rush (ONYA Bike) made the best of the conditions on the Coronet Peak course to finish in 1:11:42 and carve out a commanding four-minute lead.
Vink was a little surprised at how well the day went: “It is hard to know what to read into it. You never know what to expect and it is only the prologue so we won’t read too much into it, but it certainly is a nice gap to have on what was one of the more technical stages of the race.”
Next home was the Belgian/Spanish combination of Sebastien Carabin and Ismael Sanchez (Vojomag ESMTB) with defending champions and Kiwis Jimmy Williamson and Scott Lyttle (Willbike MortgageMe Queenstown) in third.
However the Europeans pulled back on the Kiwis’ advantage on stage 1, a testing out-and-back loop of 69km with 2245m of climbing, starting and finishing at the Ice Arena in Queenstown. They showed that they will be a genuine threat for GC victory as the week unfolds, especially on the more technical single-track riding. Two-time Absa Cape Epic top ten finisher Carabin and teammate Sanchez took the stage from prologue winners Rush and Vink, with Spot Africa/Insect team of Alan Gordon and Timothy Hammond (South Africa) taking third.
Amy Hollamby and 2018 Commonwealth Games road cyclist Kate McIlroy (Wellington Airport) were first home in the women’s race-against-the-clock in 1:39:19, but only have a 12 second lead over fellow New Zealanders Nina McVicar and Mary Gray (New World St Martins).
“That was definitely hard,” said Hollamby afterwards. “We were a bit apprehensive with the amount of mud out there given (that) we are primarily roadies. We were outside our comfort zone, but we had a plan and stuck to it and it went well.”
The Kiwi pairing made it back to back stage wins with a repeat performance on stage 1, gaining another 5:18 on their rivals and firming their early grip on the overall classification in the open women’s category.
For most others in the 560 strong field – with 23 nations represented, including South Africa – it was a longer but, by all accounts, enjoyable opening day.
For stage 2, the event shifts to an overnight camp in Alexandra (Molyneaux Park) as The Pioneer moves into Central Otago for three stages before heading back to Queenstown and the finish line on Friday.
The Pioneer is one of three Epic Series Legends events – along with the Absa Cape Epic and the Swiss Epic – and part of Epic Series of global mountain bike races.
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