The 4th day of The Pioneer saw another Australian team come to the fore.
Today was a triumphant win for the fastest Australian women's team at The Pioneer, as Brodie Chapman and Briony Mattocks went one better than their 2nd place results on the last two stages.
The third stage of The Pioneer was also a transfer stage, one where would all try to cram everything back into our gear bags, and race to the next race village. In this case we were leaving the very comfortable Alexandra and heading towards Bannockburn. And the route? Old school Pioneer. If that phrase can be used for an event that is only three years old.
But hear me out. The first two editions of The Pioneer took us over long distances on farm trails, up impossibly steep climbs until we could see forever, and then down bottomless descents to do it all again. And in a sense, that's what today's stage had echos of, as we climbed up and over the Cairnmuir Track.
We started out along river, on cycle trail up to Clyde, before the climbing begun on the access road next to the Clyde Enduro trail, which we had raced down not even 24 hours earlier. The sun beat on rider's backs, and the farm tracks moved ever higher.
It was a big climb, and one where riders who could tackle the steep pitches and maintain the rage on the flatter sections would really prosper.
The men’s race was more to the script of previous days, with ONYA Bike Tim Rush and Michael Vink extending their overall lead to a massive 50 minutes over Spot Africa/Insect Science Alan Gordon and Timothy Hammond (South Africa), with Willbike/Mortgage Me’s Jimmy Williamson and Scott Lyttle (New Zealand) third on the day, and third on general classification. Best Aussies were Alex Malone and Dan Bonello again, in 4th.
The Aussie pairing of Mattocks and Chapman made the biggest statement, with Mattocks hinting that the best is yet to come.
“We are just chipping away at the time gap, after the prologue we started behind so our plan each day is to chip away. We know we are good for the week, everybody hurts but we will do the little things we can to maybe hurt a little less than everyone else and hopefully get there in the end.”
Chapman described a tough stage, but one they still were able to appreciate for the views and stunning scenery.
“It was long, anytime off the bike and walking takes it out of your body in ways you aren’t used to as a cyclist, but it was all made up for by the awesome landscape we were riding through, it was surreal and as much as we are trying to be on the pedals we are taking it all in and appreciating what an awesome opportunity it is to be riding here like this.
“There is no way you would be up on those mountain tracks without being in an event like this, it is really cool. But it is a race and since we lost time on that first day, we have been trying to make up time while riding our own race, knowing we have the whole week to get through so there is no point going too hard too early.”
McIlroy and Hollamby know they are in for a great scrap over the final two days, with Hollamby saying recovery is key to the days ahead.
“That was a tough day, those girls took it to us and rode great, but we will recover and come back again tomorrow. I just felt a bit flat today and was eating and taking on board anything I could, but we will be back and ready again tomorrow.”
Vink and Rush surely have one hand on the beautiful greenstone Pioneer trophy, winning today’s stage by 12 minutes over their nearest rivals. Vink is not taking anything for granted though, on a day when their margin might have been even bigger.
“We were aware that we had a gap, but we weren’t sure how big it was. We actually had a puncture in the last 10k, on an event like this it is always good to have that lead as you never know when you might need it, so we were riding hard even though we knew we had a gap as you never know what might happen.”
Queenstown riders Mark Williams and Kate Fluker (New World) sent an ominous message to their nearest rivals, winning yet another stage and extending their overall lead to just over ten minutes, with Fluker announcing that she had found her riding legs.
“We had a good day today, we were both feeling good today which is a nice change, the last few days I have been struggling a bit but got my legs back today, so I am happy,” said Fluker. “I have just been pedaling as hard as I can but going nowhere, that is pretty hard mentally but as we said yesterday, you just keep eating and drinking and you get through.”
The Women’s Masters has been dominated throughout the week by team IMB, Kath Kelly and Peg Leyland (New Zealand), the Men’s Masters is led by the equally impressive SRAM team of Anthony Shippard and David Evans (Australia), and the Grand Masters is being bossed by Central Otago pair of Alexandra’s Shaun Portegys and Queenstown’s Tim O’Leary (2 Old Men).
Riders spend the night tonight in the village at Bannockburn, on Andersons Farm, with tomorrows stage another taste of the incredible beauty of the Central Otago Region, with a 70km loop stage that takes in 3,563m of climbing.
The stage presents the toughest climbing of the week and includes a climb to Pylon Track on the Nevis Range, a long climb on the historic Carricktown Trail with incredible views at the top of the Carrick Range.
The toughest part of the day is the aptly named climb of Mt Difficulty, with the reward being stunning views again to Nevis River Gorge and the Gibbston Valley, before descending to take in the Bannockburn Loop Track then home to Andersons Farm for a well-earned rest ahead of the final day’s ride back into Queenstown.
You can find the full results online.