“That’s probably the toughest climb I’ve done in years,” was Kris Sneddon’s summation of the 111km Day 4 of the Pioneer Stage Race. Hump day brought racers on a scenic, sun-blasted route from Lake Tekapo to Lake Ohau, with a fast, flat 60km intro, contrasted by a massive wall of a climb up and over the Ben Ohau mountains. The Kona duo of Cory Wallace and Spencer Paxson once again sprinted to the line with overall leaders Cooper and McConnell, with ultra-endurance specialist Wallace out-sprinting all of the World Cuppers to the line. Meanwhile, Wicks and Sneddon brought up 3rd on the day.
Although Day 4 began innocently with 60km of flat terrain and gorgeous views of the Southern Alps, the sole climb of the day may have been the hardest of the race. Fully exposed to the harsh New Zealand sun, with an unrelenting grade wavering between 15-20%, the mighty Ben Ohau grade rose over 800m in about 10km. Wallace and Paxson were committed to reloading their water supply at the feed zone 2 at the base of the climb while McConnell and Cooper trundled on. A slow motion battle ensued up the rest of the climb as the Kona boys gave chase. Wicks and Sneddon settled into a conservative pace over the climb, but Wallace and Paxson plugged their way over the top and caught McConnell and Cooper at the base of the face melting descent.
“Our plan was to keep things together today and be more aggressive in the closing kilometers,” described Paxson, “the climb was gnarly and we thought we had lost the leaders after the feed zone stop, but kept them in sight up the climb and I think went just fast enough to to keep the radiators from boiling over.” Paxson and Wallace’s consistency has delivered them back to second overall, with Wicks and Sneddon in third. “Dan and Anton still have a massive lead…not really touchable unless they experience some bad luck, but I think tomorrow could be a slow motion battle royale anyway since it’s a mega day,” added Wallace.
Day 5 will certainly be momentous in any event, as it is the longest, most vertically challenging day of the race, coming after 4 days of punishing riding. Racers will climb over 3,500m and 112km from Lake Ohau to Hawea, an estimated 6-plus-hour effort for the race leaders alone, assuming it’s a smooth day. The Kona boys will be flying the flag up and down the giant Kiwi mountains tomorrow. Be sure to check back on the COG and on the Pioneer Stage Race website for how it unfolds.