Fascinating Final Day in Prospect
2018 Tour of Southland champion Michael Vink looks set to capture a unique double as he and riding partner Tim Rush (ONYA Bike) enter the final day of The Pioneer Mountain Bike Stage Race with a commanding lead on general classification, but the race is well and truly on in both the Mixed and Women’s categories with just 86km left to pedal into Queenstown.
Vink and Rush have had command of the race for most of the week and enter the finishing straight with a massive 1:06:29 lead over Spot Africa/Insect Science team of Alan Gordon and Timothy Hammond.
“I think we have found our rhythm this week and just settled into it,” said Vink. “Today was probably one of the more consistent days we have had, we were in the bunch more than usual and we just rode a steady pace up the climb, not trying to drop anyone and felt better for it.
“Tomorrow we just keep doing what we have been doing, don’t change anything, we will just do our thing, not take any risks and make sure we have good tyres on and that the chains aren’t worn. We just need to get it done and enjoy it as well.”
Second placed team Spot Africa/Insect Science have experience at some of the world’s big multi stage mountain bike races but were fulsome in their praise of The Pioneer.
“It has been awesome, there is no better way to see New Zealand than on a bicycle and it seems like there are mountain bike tracks everywhere in New Zealand, it has been great,” said Hammond.
Defending champions Jimmy Williamson and Scott Lyttle (Willbike/Mortgage Me Queenstown) kept the pressure on the South Africans for the minor placings, with a second-place finish on the stage today to edge to just over five minutes further behind in third.
The women’s race has been a stunner throughout the week, best highlighted by a sprint finish to the stage into Bannockburn today, won by Briony Mattocks and Brodie Chapman (team Shimano) by 4 tenths of a second, the Aussies just pipping team Wellington Airport’s Kate McIlroy and Amy Hollamby (New Zealand). The Kiwis however lead on general classification by 7:54.
McIlroy is a renowned competitor and is loving the battle with the Aussies but admits she has some learning to do when it comes to aid station etiquette.
“The Aussie girls are amazing riders and I think it is just cool that the top two teams are so close. Amy was awesome today for us, we were talking the whole way. It was an awesome day, the hardest day of the six, we weren’t feeling so great yesterday so went into today wanting to ride our own pace. Brodie and Briony were around us all day and helped us keep tabs on where they were at, it has made it really competitive, but that was an awesome day.
“The aid stations are a bit tricky, I have to apologies to the volunteers at the aid stations. I am not used to stopping in a race, it was panic stations and try and grab a whole plate of oranges and try and get them up my top, it is amazing what you can fit in!”
The Mixed Category is the closest of the big three, with New World’s Kate Fluker and Mark Williams (Queenstown, New Zealand) watching team Joejo Joe Skerman and Josie Wilcox (New Zealand) take four minutes off their overall lead today, leaving the Queenstown riding stars a perilous 6:11 in front with just the ride home.
“it was quite cool at the start of the stage which was quite nice, we cruised with Kate and Willy for the first 20k and then started the Carricktown climb,” said Wilcox. “Carricktown was an epic climb, over an hour of climbing so it was about pace and not going too hard. We gradually got some distance and just increased and knew we had to get to the descent before them, and then managed to hang on.”
The Men’s Masters has been dominated by the impressive Australian pairing of David Evans and Anthony Shippard (SRAM), best underlined by a superb stage today that saw the Aussies extend their lead by an amazing 18 minutes on the 70km climb into the hills around Bannockburn.
Team IMB Kath Kelly and Peg Leyland (New Zealand) look set to make it a clean sweep in the Women’s Masters, claiming yet another stage today to lead on general classification by almost two and a half hours from Emma McCosh and Marquita Gelderman (team Pikelet and Blini, NZL).
Aptly named by age but not performance, 2 Old Men are in complete control of the Grand Masters, Shaun Portegys and Tim O’Leary (NZL) taking out the stage today by 18 minutes to bank a 1:38:49 lead over Peter O’Sullivan and Trevor Woodward (Crankit Cycles, NZL), with Kent Wilson and Chris Clark (The Hub Cycles/Napier Painting Contractors) in third on GC.
Riders can sleep easy tonight in their tent city and campervans at Andersons Farm in Bannockburn, knowing they have just the 86km ride back into Queenstown to finish an amazing week of riding, with Central Otago turning on a stunning week of weather and views, with promised thunderstorms largely skirting the stage today.
Riders will depart Bannockburn at 7am on Friday, and make their way home via the Kawarau Gorge, over Mt Michael in the final big climb of the week into the Pisa Range. It is then largely downhill or rolling country all the way home, interrupted by the famous river crossing with riders transported across the Kawarau on jet boats, coming home on the pristine Queenstown Cycle Trails, past wineries and the Bungy Bridge, with home almost in sight at the Ice Arena.
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