The South Island of New Zealand is one of the most spectacular places on earth but its beauty has an unquenchable thirst that, after days of threatening, finally delivered into Bannockburn. Overnight forecasts didn’t look good for today’s original route and with a drenched start and snow on the surrounding peaks, Stage 3 from Alexandra to Bannockburn was modified and shortened. Just 60km and 1,250m would seem like a day off at The Pioneer but this race doesn’t do rest days.
Words: Alex Malone
Photography: Tim Bardsley-Smith
The weather forecast for this year’s Pioneer had been grim from the outset and yet, it took until Stage 3 (Day 4) to really deliver on the bureau’s calculations. Last night, you could hear the whispers about today’s almost certain drenching and this morning the bunch received the news around a shortened and modified stage.
Contingency routes are part of building an event in the South Island of New Zealand and it was only two years ago that similar conditions forced organisers to avoid the sky-high summits. Today, we’d depart Alexandra and follow a more subdued course before heading to the high point of the day around Fraser Dam followed by a steady downward run into the finish at Bannockburn.
Stage 3 was presented with 60km and 1,260m to be covered, instead of 80km and more than 2,00m of climbing. The cheers were deafening but the crowd was promptly silenced as the front wave blasted out along the Alexandra rail track toward the Fraser Dam climb. Team Onya Bike took the race by the scruff today and blasted the field to take line honours and reclaim the yellow jerseys.
“It is all about who has recovered best and who has the most in the tank today, it was only two hours today and if anything that is a bit short for us, but we recovered really well and rode within ourselves and rode with confidence and had a plan and it worked out,” said Michael Vink of team Onya.
“We went from the first climb, it was pretty much a time trial from that first climb all the way to the finish over 40k, I have a few jerseys for racing over 40k in my closet so that is something that usually suits me well. I was pretty motivated not be a ball and chain around Tim’s ankle anymore so that was great that we could ride as a team today.”
Team Giant Off-Road were the next best on the trail nearly six minutes down while Winger Hamilton put in another strong ride to finish third and hold onto third in the GC.
Stonewood Homes did it just as hard as everyone today but the leading Women’s squad again pushed on well to retain their lead at the top of the standings and hold onto top-20 overall.
The short, punchy, wet and cold stage proved to SRAM Mtoss’ liking with the Harris duo taking the stage and with it, moved slightly closer to the overall lead. Team Jojo may have lost a few minutes but did more than enough on the day for second while Team New World-Pivot finished just behind in third.
“Usually we are terrible in the mud, but on the start line I had this weird thing when I thought, I actually like the rain, so I decided to enjoy it and I did. The creeks are so cold, there are ruts full of mud, it was crazy but so much fun!, said Holly [Harris].”
Over in the Master’s category, the competition remains fierce with the top-four contenders spread across just 10 minutes. With tomorrow’s huge stage and the final kicker into Queenstown on Friday, these fellas will need to be doing everything right before, during and after each stage to remain in contention.
After giving myself a pat on the back yesterday, today I could have done with a push on my pack such was my lacking pace. After a flat and stressful start to the day with mud and water flying everywhere, it wasn’t until Michael Vink and Tim Rush (Onya) hit the front up towards Fraser that I realised today wasn’t going to be my day. My heart rate was sitting where it needed to be and I certainly wasn’t limited in power but for whatever reason, others around me were just significantly faster.
The soft boggy ground made for tough going and while Dan was more than happy to keep with the teams in front, I couldn’t match the pace. Over the top and we’d somehow managed to latch back on and pass a few teams but with slow-going terrain and no singletrack, my weakness today was very much exposed.
Tomorrow delivers a huge stage in a repeat to last year with 2,730m of climbing compressed into just 69km. Returning riders may have pushed the memories of Carricktown and Mount Difficulty to the back of their minds but Stage 4 will bring it right back again.
Stage 3 – Results
Full results here.
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Stage 3 – Alexandra to Bannockburn
Strava activity: strava.com/activities/2909719454
Heart rate TSS: 165
Max speed: 63km/h (in the mud)
Wahoo time: 2:38
Average speed: 22.8km/h
Total ascent: 1,264m
Average temperature: 8 degrees Celsius
Calories burned: 2,213
Cabs consumed: 150 grams (approx)
Average heart rate: 146bpm
Max heart rate: 163bpm
Bottles consumed: 2