They call it the Queen Stage and so it proved today on The Pioneer, with the 112km ride from Lake Ohau to Lake Hawea testing even the strongest of the riders, as Watson & Son Manuka Honey (James Williamson and Scott Lyttle) rode superbly to extend their overall lead on general classification.
After mechanical issues yesterday derailed the Alps to Ocean team of Tim and Kris Rush, all eyes were today on Williamson and Lyttle and their closest rivals, the Imparables Men’s Masters 40+ pairing of Ibon Zugasti and Tommi Misser (Spain), but it was the Kiwi pair who came out strongest, winning the stage by 4:24.
Lyttle was blunt in his assessment of the ride, one that included 3,578 metres of climbing, as riders crested the upper end of the Ahuriri River, Mt Selina and then the final gut busting climb to 1,442 metres out of the Lindis Pass, before an exhilarating ride down to the finish on the shore of Lake Hawea.
“It is one of the harder days I have ever done on a bike, the amount of climbing on that last reach over the top out of the Lindis Pass is ludicrous, no normal person would do that.”
Williamson is getting closer to home (Alexandra) as the event makes its way to Queenstown finish on Saturday was full of praise for the Spaniards and by no means is he counting them out.
“I think both teams had issues today, they had a puncture I think, and we had one, but that stuff happens when you are out on the bike for so long in that sort of country, but they are putting up such a good fight, it has been bloody hard racing.
“You can’t rest, it is not over until you get that bike over the finish line, we have a big, big climb tomorrow and they are climbing well, so we have a fight on our hands still.”
Originally from Masterton, the now America based Lyttle is equally guarded, albeit pleased with their form so far through the 7-Day-Epic event.
“This has been a great week for us, better than we anticipated, to be in such a good position is a great feeling, but there are still two days to go and there is a lot of racing to come so we won’t rest easy.”
Misser rued the punctures and the fact he did not have the legs of his riding partner on a tough day today.
“At the beginning I have a cut on the tyre, a big one, and then after we tried to push and push and Ibon caught both leaders but at the end of the last downhill I have another flat. I think they have a puncture too and we tried to catch him but I am really tired today, but we are happy still.
“I think today will be a hard day for the other riders on The Pioneer, the last hill is very hot and very steep. Today was nice and enjoyable, but the last downhill for me was really hard.”
Seven Day Adventurists (Phil Walter and Adrian Retief, NZL), continued their rise in the general classification, coming home second fastest in the Men’s Open category, to move to second overall in that category.
Looking stronger with every stage and taking complete control of the Open Mixed category were Team New World Kate Fluker and Mark Williams, the Queenstown pair were fifth fastest overall today and now lead Sony Looney (CAN) and Gordon Wadsworth (USA) by a commanding 68 minutes and four seconds.
Nina McVicar and Reta Trotman (NZL) continue to dominate the Open Women’s race, team Hirepool made it five stages wins from five as they came home in a tick under eight hours, pushing their lead over defending champion Erin Greene and Ingrid Richter (Sujon Thermatech) to nearly an hour.
Tomorrow’s stage six takes The Pioneer field from Hawea to Snow Farm, where the event will camp out at altitude for the night, before the final push into the finish line at Queenstown. Riders can sleep easy tonight as they rest weary bodies knowing that tomorrow is one of the shortest stages on the event at 67km, but still contains over 2,000 metres of climbing to keep them honest.