The day dawned wet, cold and windy this morning in Fairlie, forcing Pioneer organisers into plan B mode with the 80km stage to Lake Tekapo altered to avoid the first climb out of Fairlie and over the Albury Range.
It certainly proved a popular decision amongst the 338 riders given many of them would be out on the stage for five or more hours, with the risk of the cold and in particular the high winds atop Albury too big to allow the race to follow its intended course.
In the end the forecast of improving weather had the riders still battling the wind as they crested Burkes Pass and rode down into Tekapo, but by then the sun was out and the temperatures were warming as the rain jackets and thermals were tucked away for the ride home.
It proved to be a statement day for overall race leaders Watson and Son Manuka Honey, with James Williamson and Scott Lyttle riding away from their main contenders, putting valuable time on the Spanish Imparables team of Ibon Zugasi and Tommi Misser and Alps to Ocean team of Tim and Kris Rush (Oamaru). James Williamson agreed 100% with the decision of the event organisers, one that resulted in a safer but still tough ride.
“That was definitely the right decision today, no question. It wasn’t nice at all this morning and there could have been people in trouble if we went up the first climb in that weather. It didn’t make it any easier though, you just had to ride harder for a shorter period of time. There was probably still 1500m of climbing in that ride anyway so that was a solid day out.”
After losing out in a sprint finish into Fairlie to the Spaniards, Lyttle was pleased to have established a lead before the finish line loomed into sight today. “We didn’t make a move as such, we just kept riding our race and riding our tempo. The solo Italian guy (4-Day-Traverse rider Manolo Zanella) was phenomenal today and was with us almost to the end. I am not sure what happened to the Spanish team, they were with us and were having a bit of a laugh and a joke and all of a sudden they were gone.”
Alps to Ocean not only lost time on the trails, but lost a further five minutes after they crossed the line. Riders are required (primarily for safety reasons) to stay within two minutes of each other throughout and at one point the Rush brothers were separated by almost five minutes and as a result incurred a five-minute penalty.
In the Open Women’s category team Hirepool continue to dominate, with Nina McVicar and Reta Trotman making it three stage wins from three, extending their lead on General Classification to over 25 minutes, with nearest rivals Erin Greene and Ingrid Richter (Sujon/Thermatech) hampered by a fall and knee injury to Richter.
In the Open Mixed category, Team New World Mark Williams and Kate Fluker stamped their class on the event that they won so impressively last year, winning the stage by over 15 minutes, with Williams high in his praise of Fluker and her climbing ability over Burkes Pass.
“Kate was just a machine today and rode so aggressively on the hills, I reckon she has gained us that 15 minutes today, she was superb.”
As mentioned by Scott Lyttle, it was an impressive day for Manolo Zanella, the Australian based Italian was a class above in the 4-Day-Traverse and it will take a mechanical issue to halt his progress towards an overall victory with just one day to ride.
“Today was pretty good, the start was not too bad, a bit of rain but I don’t mind that,” said Zanella. “I was riding with the leading guys and stay with them until 5k to go, when in the rocky section they went away, but I am happy with my day.”
Further down the field the wonderful and inspiring stories abound, not the least of which is Team Talley’s Pure Mussel. Greg Buckett (Motueka) and Willie Snowden (Tasman) are raising money and awareness for the Arthritis Foundation, something very personal to Buckett.
“I first was born with arthritis and had an artificial hip and shoulder from a young age and have followed a local hero for me in Nathan Faave in his multisport racing and always said that if there was a race like this or anything close to what he does I would be keen to give it a go and see what happens.
“I never thought I would be out here to be honest, I have always been battling, I couldn’t walk when I was 15 but I can ride for hours, I can’t walk for very long but I can ride quite happily. It is good, I am a little bit stiff and sore, day five might be interesting but we will take it one day at a time.”
Willie plays down his role in the team but is loving every moment. “He is still hard to keep up with, he is a machine and a real inspiration, he dragged me along and it was a great excuse to be here. Today was pretty good, the wind just about blew us up the big climb, so yeah, an awesome day, real cool.”
To make a donation to support Team Talley’s Pure Mussel, CLICK HERE
Full Results Here