There was drama and excitement aplenty on stage two of The Pioneer as the Mountain Bike Stage race took the 338 riders over the 106km course from Geraldine to Fairlie on another blistering hot day in the Central South Island.
Line honours were contested by three teams in a sprint finish, with the win going to Imparables riders Ibon Zugasi and Tommi Misser (ESP) as they nudged out Kiwis James Williamson and Scott Lyttle (Watson & Son Manuka Honey), with Oamaru brothers Tim and Kris Rush (Alps to Ocean) right on their wheel after just over four and a half hours of hard riding.
In winning the stage the Spaniards extend their considerable lead in the Masters 40+ category, while Williamson and Lyttle extended a further 41 seconds on the Rush brothers in the Men’s Open category.
The Open Mixed race had a major spanner thrown in the works though, more specifically into the hopes of American/Canadian team Freakshow, with Sonya Looney and Gordon Wadsworth losing 24:59 on category leaders Mark Williams and Kate Fluker (Team New World) after a crash that saw Wadsworth all but wreck his rear rim and ride on gingerly after replacing the tyre and tube.
“We rode hard and were working super well as a team, but that is racing, sometimes you have good luck and sometimes bad. There was a humungous rock, bigger than our heads, somehow it came loose and Gordon hit it and did a flip in the air and thank goodness he is okay but the rim just folded over. It took a long time for Gordon to fix it – I was just a spectator at that point, offering positive encouragement. But he was able to fix it and we could finish our day, which was our main goal. We are happy to be here, we had fun today, it is disappointing for sure but there are multiple days to go and we can still race for stage wins.”
Wadsworth suggested there was a bit of MacGyver going on to make the repairs. “We do a lot of back country riding back home too and you have to be prepared for what you will face and today it was a big old boulder that sent me flying. We managed it and realized how far ahead we were at the time, we were killing it at the time in fourth or fifth overall. The good news is we could sit up a bit and take in the beauty around us.”
Looney then summed up the wonderful approach of the duo best as she smiled and said “This is stage racing, it happens. You just have to do your best, have fun and ride your arse off.”
Williams knew that their main opposition was in trouble, but at first thought it was nothing more than a puncture. “That was really hard, it is really tough on the flat sections, you can go at your own pace on the climbs but on the flat you have to just try and hang on to some groups. They (Freakshow) went out hard and tagged on to the lead group, we could see them in the distance and they had a minute or two on us but they obviously punctured. That is stage racing though, their misfortune was to our advantage today, tomorrow it could be different.”
The Open Women’s category continues to be led by the irrepressible Nina McVicar and Reta Trotman, the Christchurch pair are usually heard before they are seen approaching the finish line and when they do, their smiles are a mile wide through any pain they might be suffering.
“It is not up for negotiation, that is blooming hard work, the whole way,” said Trotman.
“Rule number one is have fun,” said McVicar. “We like to think the person who has the most fun wins, regardless of where they come, so that is our first rule. The second is to communicate and keep chatting to each other, because Rita was so much stronger today. It is understanding that and not pushing too hard when the other rider is struggling.”
“It is also about being inspired,” said Trotman. “Nina has been riding for just two years, she is amazing and inspires me, I am holding on for dear life behind her on the single track. It is just awesome, the riding and the people, it is just brilliant.”
4-Day Traverse riders completed the stage knowing that they are already halfway through their event so might sleep easier tonight knowing that they are in effect riding towards ‘home’.
Leading the Open Men’s is the impressive Australian based Italian, Manolo Zanella who won his second consecutive stage, finishing ahead of Nathon Wright to extend his general classification advantage to a mighty 20:34 at the halfway point in stages – if not in distance.
The women’s 4-Day Traverse is also being dominated by one rider, with Amy Haddon making it back to back stage wins to extend her overall lead to 30:53 over Harriet Beaven.
After resting in Fairlie tonight, the Pioneer takes riders on an 80km journey to Tekapo on Tuesday, with 2,747 metres of climbing to further test the legs. Stage 3 gets underway at 8:00am Tuesday morning.
Photo Credit - Tim Bardsley-Smith/Pioneer