As the crisp sunrise crested the top of the world at Snow Farm, racers of the Pioneer Stage Race thundered down the alpine tussocks toward Queenstown and the conclusion of a massive week of racing and adventure. Day 7 was no walk in the park. Though the finish line at Lake Wakatipu rested far below the mountains, riders still faced over 1,900m of punchy climbing. Kona duo of Cory Wallace and Spencer Paxson claimed the stage victory, finishing ahead of the seemingly unconquerable pair of Anton Cooper and Dan McConnell. Barry Wicks and Kris Sneddon high fived as they rolled across in third.
“This race has been like an everlasting gobstopper of wild terrain, and today was no exception,” said Barry on the final stage, “in some ways this day was one of the most backcountry, just caining down these barely detectable sheep paths and hiking up steep slopes through the tussocks, it was sweet…but hard!” Early on, Paxson set the pace down the hill with the usual suspects of Cooper, McConnell and the rest of the Kona boys in tow. Wicks suffered a flat at the first aid station, forcing him and Sneddon out of the lead group. Meanwhile, Wallace and Paxson chugged on with Cooper and McConnell. The Aussie and Kiwi created a small gap, but eventually an off course bobble created just the opportunity for Wallace and Paxson to leap into the lead and power all the way in for the win. “Not necessarily the way we want to claim a stage win,” said Cory, “but wrong turns are a legit part of this style of racing, and besides, I think we had a stage win comin’ all week, glad we got one in!”
Wallace and Paxson completed the week in second overall, while Wicks and Sneddon claimed third. “It’s hard to overstate how great this week has been,” said Paxson, “the organizers have done a fine job of finding that line between physical beatdown and emotional supercharge. I’ve never done an event that’s felt like such a journey. It’s a huge accomplishment for everyone here and that’s just so great to be a part of. What a way to start the season!”
“Get motivated, ’cause you’re gonna want to do something like this,” were Sneddon’s final words on the week. With Kiwi tan lines burned in for extra posterity, the Kona boys ship out from New Zealand and on to their next respective adventures. Be sure to check back here at the COG for the next installment.