There are so many landmark stages, so many ‘wow’ moments on the Pioneer Mountain Bike Stage Race that it is hard to single any out, but the climb over Ben Ohau must be in the conversation and it didn’t disappoint on today’s stage four of the race from Christchurch to Queenstown.
The climb didn’t separate Watson and Son Manuka Honey (James Williamson and Scott Lyttle) and Imparables (Ibon Zugasti and Tommi Misser, Spain) - the two strongest teams, nor did it affect the strongest individual from the 4-Day-Traverse, with Manolo Zanella riding with the 7-Day-Epic leaders through to the finish to put an exclamation mark on what had already been a dominant display of riding from the hugely likeable Italian.
Moments after crossing the line the Brisbane based rider was talking of coming back next year to take on the 7-Day-Epic – the only problem might be finding a partner capable of keeping up!
“This was a wonderful week, what a ride, the views, the trails, the organisers and the atmosphere in the village each night, it has been amazing. Next year yes, I would like to come back and ride the seven days, I just need to find a partner to ride with. I don’t feel like finishing now, even with the long day tomorrow, I feel like I want to carry on!”
Zanella has enjoyed the company of his wife while riding The Pioneer, as she also enjoys the challenge of riding in the 4-Day-Traverse as well as seeing the stunning countryside of the South Island from a riders perspective.
The women’s 4-Day-Traverse was thrown wide open with the overnight withdrawal of previous runaway leader Amy Haddon, after she had damaged her AC joint in her left shoulder in a crash yesterday and while she finished the stage, Haddon was unable to ride on today.
That opened the door for Harriet Beaven and she smashed it down, winning the stage and taking out overall honours in the 4-Day-Traverse.
“That was tough, it was fun on the flat, we got to talk to a few people riding along by the canals and it was great, then we saw this massive hill appearing, looming large in front of us and we were thinking ‘surely we aren’t going to ride up there’! But it was great, I stopped at the top and got a selfie with dad (father Alex is also riding) and would love to come back next year, maybe to ride the 7-Day with my boyfriend.”
In the 7-Day-Epic it was Imparables who made it to the line just a second ahead of Watson and Son Manuka Honey, but the Spaniards were given a five-minute penalty by race officials for a breach of the equipment rules that stipulate the minimum level of equipment and clothing that riders must carry with them on each stage. The penalty handed the overall stage win to James Williamson and Scotty Lyttle, but does not affect Imparables lead in the Men’s Masters 40+ category.
Conditions proved superb for today’s riding, with the cold and overcast of Tekapo gradually giving way to a fine, crisp summer’s day that importantly for the riders as they climbed up and over Ben Ohau, had little wind to trouble them.
In other categories, it was business as usual for Team New World’s Mark Williams and Kate Fluker as they extended their lead in the Open Mixed race to 43 minutes while Nina McVicar and Reta Trotman took out a narrow win over Amy Hollamby and Haley Van Leeuwen and defending champion Erin Greene and her new riding partner Ingrid Richter in the Open Women’s, in the process cementing their overall lead on general classification.
One of the closest battles was in the Men’s Masters 60+, with Canadian visitors John Cockburn and David Lech edging the stage by just over three minutes from Kevin Stobbs and Bruce Whale, with Mark Moores and Andrew Gordon a further 20 seconds back in third today.
The 7-Day-Epic riders continue tomorrow with the Queen Stage, considered the longest and toughest of the week as riders negotiate the 112km to Lake Hawea, with 3,578 metres of climbing to test already tired legs.