Alexandra Turns on the Weather for the Queen Stage
Central Otago put on a picture-perfect November day for riders on the Queen Stage of The Pioneer, a 101km ride over some of the regions famous bike trails, taking riders on a mountain biking version of the regions greatest hits, and it was the Kiwis who dominated proceedings.
Team ONYA Bike won the stage and took a stranglehold on the open men’s general classification, with Tim Rush and Michael Vink all class as they completed the stage in 4:38:26, winning by an incredible 20 minutes from South African pairing Alan Gordon and Timothy Hammond (team Spot Africa/Insect Science).
Their general classification lead has ballooned out to 38:19, with the unexpected withdrawal of previous second placed team Vojomag/ESMTB with Ismael Ventura Sanchez unable to complete the stage due to a stomach bug picked up prior to arriving in New Zealand.
Vink and Rush were imperious though, with Rush describing a great day right from the early kilometres.
“We went on the first 5k single track climb, over Butchers Dam, it was the first time we have ridden it and we enjoyed it. I just rode tempo and we got into a good rhythm and the other guys dropped off. It was good to get that gap and then Vinky put it in the 38 on the downhill and spun her up and we were away.”
Vink described a much easier day when riding from in front early on.
“It was good even in terms of racing, the difference today is we were in front and not chasing, we got that gap early and that was the difference. Yesterday we were kind of chasing from the first difficult section which made it hard, but today we rode within ourselves and to our own tempo, I think that was the key.”
The 2018 Tour of Southland winner is loving his time in the dirt, hinting that he might return without a race number and timing chip.
“It was really fun, to be honest it would be nice to ride through here not racing and in quite so much pain, it would be nice to cruise through here and enjoy a bit more, but we are still taking time to take things in and share a few things on course, we are having fun, that is what it is all about at the end of the day.”
The mixed category continues to be dominated by defending champions team New World, Mark Williams and Kate Fluker (New Zealand), who made it two stage wins in a row today, but they know that their overall margin of just 7:41 is one that can disappear very quickly in a multi stage event such as The Pioneer.
“That was a great race, those guys had a great start and got a good gap on the first climb. We set off to to our own thing, regrouped and rode at our own pace. And then at the top of Fraser Weir Kate bounced back and started to push, and from there we started to pick teams off and caught them with about 10k to and got a little gap, but it is great racing and great to have those guys in the race.”
Fluker spoke of a tough day, one that tested her resolve and had her drawing on her previous two Pioneer wins to come through.
“Experience helped us today, Willy knows that I am always trying my best and when I am not going well there is a reason, so he sticks by me, and I did come right and got it going and made it to the finish.”
Williams says the formula is simple when either of them is having a tough patch.
“Just feed the machine, keep eating, keep putting fuel in the body and sooner or later you always come right.”
It was a similar story in the open women’s category, with Kate McIlroy and Amy Hollamby winning the stage by 3:23 to extend their general classification lead, but Aussie pairing Brodie Chapman and Briony Mattocks remain a threat, finishing second today to be 12:52 behind after three days of riding.
Chapman is loving the Pioneer experience and vows to keep fighting over the closing three days.
“That was a really long day on the bike, longer than I usually ever do, some super punishing climbs but the atmosphere and landscape made it doable. The aid stations absolutely saved us with that electrolyte and food ready to go, it was so good. The single track was fun, and you just have to keep turning the legs over.
“The other girls are very strong and we both have our strengths. We feel we excel in the single track and can look to make up time there, but when it comes to those super brutal climbs and long pulls you have to ride your own race, there is no point trying to hold someone’s wheel that you just can’t sustain.
“Briony has been awesome and is super experienced, she said to me today we are like Simpson and the Donkey, she is Simpson and I am the Donkey, which is actually very accurate, but we are super stoked at team Shimano.”
One of the more impressive pairings in the event is the Grand Masters pairing of Shaun Portegys (Alexandra) and Tim O’Leary (Queenstown). The two ‘locals’ lead the category by 21:11 with Portegys saying ‘so far so good’ between the good mates.
“What an awesome day, great weather, it never got really hot. We have just got back from Aussie last month and did an 8-day race over there in high thirties so today was perfect. It is going really well, I think we are going good, he (Tim) is still talking to me anyway, but there are a few days still to go.”
One of the more heroic stories on a day full of amazing tales was that of South African pairing Yolandi du Toit and Ben Swanepoel, the Team Garmin riders had to walk the final kilometres yesterday after du Toit injured a shoulder. After further treatment and a night’s rest, the pair continued on today, finishing in 6:30:09 in the mixed category.
Riders stay again overnight in Alexandra tonight, before taking on Stage Three on Wednesday, a journey on the way to arriving at the second remote race village at Bannockburn.
The stage is predominantly on farm track and will take riders deep into remote high-country stations along the way. Riders will be exposed to spectacular views 1000m above sea level on the Cairnmuir Range.
After the extra helping of single track from yesterday, riders will be relieved to roll through town and onto the Alexandra - Clyde River Trail, a 10km section of wide and fast flowing track between the willows. In Clyde, the course joins the Fruitlands roads, what will be speedy section on tar seal blazing past apple, cherry and apricot orchards.
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