Stage Four proved to be perhaps the most stunning so far as The Pioneer wound its way from Tekapo to Lake Ohau, skirting Lake Pukaki in the process with stunning vistas of Mount Cook to the North on another picture postcard day.
The 111km stage saw riders enjoy largely flat conditions for the first 60km as the event headed south-west from Tekapo, passing Twizel before taking on the mighty Ben Ohau Range and descending to Ohau and the event village on the lake shore. The ride of the day belonged to Kate Fluker and Mark Williams (NZL). The Queenstown pair are dominating the Open Mixed Category and did so again today to the extent they were 4th overall on the stage.
“I am really happy, it was nice to have that flat start where I could ease into it,” said Fluker. “It has been really interesting learning from Willy (Mark Williams) how to take on the climbs at our own pace, we are finding we are getting into our rhythm and picking others off as we climb.”
Fluker is loving getting the riding under her belt in The Pioneer as the cross country rider contemplates a possible Olympic selection in the coming months.
“Normally this would be base miles at this time of the year so this is the perfect opportunity to get this done in a fun, competitive environment. This is so much better than riding on my own in Queenstown, the self-motivation you have to have, this is so much easier to get it done in a pretty awesome environment.
“I totally think this race will match the best in the world. I was talking to the Kona boys as they have some good international experience and they say The Pioneer has all the ingredients to be right up there with the best stage races in the world, they say it is a matter of time and I agree.”
Fluker was especially proud to ride with thoughts of her close friend Kelly McGarry in her heart, just 36 hours after he tragically passed away while riding in Queenstown.
“I can’t stop thinking about him, he was just such an amazing guy and a special friend. That helped me get up the hard parts of the ride today, those climbs are nothing to the pain of losing him and the pain that Kelly’s family and friends are all feeling.”
The Open Male Category came down to a sprint finish, and in what was almost a carbon copy of yesterday it was Anton Cooper and Dan McConnell who just held off the Kona Factory team of Spencer Paxson (USA) and Cory Wallace (CAN), this time by a mere two seconds.
“Today was kind of nice to have that leg speed, rolling along with beautiful views for the first two hours,” said Paxson. “Then the climb almost felt harder today, I’m not sure what it was. It was tiring but I was whooping and hollering down the last descent once you pop out and the lake is right in front of you and it is just so spectacular.”
Wallace paid tribute to the stage winners.
“Dan and Anton made it hard too, they didn’t stop for the second feed so they got a gap on us and we were in chase mode the whole day, we got them at the bottom of the final descent and then chased home together.”
Steve Gurney and Simon Callaghan continue to lead the Male Masters 50+ category, but it was a bandaged Gurney who arrived at the stage finish and headed straight for some first aid on a lacerated arm that required stitches.
“Oh man, that was just stupid! It wasn’t even a crash, it was all in slow motion. I had stopped at an aid station to refill on water and turned to see Simon (Callaghan) and before I knew it I had collided with another rider who was also looking around so didn’t see me. From there it was like a slow motion scene in a movie, we both went down and my arm came down on his brake lever and did some damage – but really it is more embarrassment! Medical wanted me to stop for some stitches but I knew it was okay and after all, the race clock was ticking!”
The Open Female Category is simply a one team race, with Erin Greene and Kath Kelly ‘owning’ the leaders jerseys all week, today winning their fourth consecutive stage to extend their overall lead to a massive three hours fifty nine minutes.
Stage Five from Ohau to Hawea is the ‘Queen stage of the inaugural Pioneer. With 107km and close to 4000m of ascent, this will test even the fittest of competitors, but this is why they entered in the first place. From classic beech forest tracks, crossing crystal clear mountain rivers, scintillating descents and climbing the likes of the Ahuriri, Mt Melina Saddle and then the high point of the day as riders reach 1442m up and out of the Lindis Pass, Stage Four has it all for the inaugural ‘Pioneers’ before they will again put up their feet in Race village and share stories of the day.
Stage Five also welcomes riders in the Three Day Traverse, with 60 more riders joining the event for the final three days into Queenstown.
The Pioneer Results Stage Four, Lake Tekapo to Lake Ohau, 111km
1 - ANTON Anton Cooper NZL & Dan McConnell AUS, 4:28:10
2 - KONA FACTORY TEAM A Cory Wallace CAN & Spencer Paxson USA, 4:28:12
3 - KONA FACTORYTEAM B Barry Wicks USA & Kris Sneddon CAN, 4:42:25
1 - TORPEDO7 Erin Greene NZL & Kath Kelly NZL, 5:37:31
2 - THUNDERCATS Kylie Burrows AUS & Sarah White AUS (232) 21:53:22
1 - NEW WORLD Mark Williams NZL & Kate Fluker NZL, 4:49:44
2 - TEAM GOOZIE Susie Wood NZL & Gary Milbanke NZL, 5:32:59
3 - NZMTBR MAGAZINE Margaret Leyland NZL & Justin Price NZL, 5:48:21
Male Masters 40+
1 - LEAVE PASS 2 Minter Barnard AUS & Ian Chitterer AUS, 4:54:50
2 - IRIDE Andrew Young NZL & Yuri Hauswald USA, 4:58:26
3 - FAT BOY SLIM Matthew Brick NZL & Jon Hume NZL, 5:00:41
Female Masters 40+
1 - FUSE CREATIVE Leigh Cockerill NZL & Sue Clark NZL, 6:17:39
2 - TOTAL BETTY CLOTHING Tracey Harkness NZL & Sarah Heine NZL
Male Masters 50+
1 - MASTERS OF MUD PLUGGING MAYHEM Steve Gurney NZL & Simon Callaghan NZL, 5:05:35
2 - GREG AND ROB Rob Garden NZL & Greg Barbour AUS, 5:45:12
3 - JUST CHECKING THE BOUNDARIES. Cam McLeay NZL & Gil Peters NZL, 6:24:07