The New Zealand backcountry adventure continued today with Stage 3 of the Pioneer Stage race, which took riders along an arduous 74km route between Fairlie and Lake Tekapo. The Kona endurance team put forth another strong performance, with Cory Wallace and Spencer Paxson sprinting across the line to finish second, just a breath behind race leaders Anton Cooper and Dan McConnell. The storied duo of Barry Wicks and Kris Sneddon rolled through minutes later taking 3rd on the day. The overall remains much the same, with Cooper and Anton holding a significant lead over Wicks and Sneddon, followed by Wallace and Paxson in 3rd.
Day 3 began in fairly rowdy fashion with a 1,000m climb punching into the sky just 6km into the stage. The Kona boys quickly separated from the group along with Cooper and McConnell, a dynamic expected to play out the remainder of the week. Wallace and Paxson traded back and forth with McConnell and Cooper over the main climb, and a trailing Wicks and Sneddon made contact at the bottom of the high speed descent, pushing their King Kahunas to the absolute limit to bridge the gap.
“It was much rougher terrain out there today,” said a salt-crusted Sneddon at the finish, “I was basically in purgatory from the first climb onwards…it’s fully backcountry cowboy trails out there, riverbeds and creek crossings, sheep everywhere, big views, never a dull moment.” Indeed, the landscape became more vast and spectacular with each kilometer as the race made its way deeper into the Southern Alps.
The leaders finished the grueling stage in just over four hours. “It was good to have a clean day today,” said Wallace, “Spence and I had a good rhythm going at the front with Dan and Anton and were happy not to add to the hole we dug yesterday…there’s lots of tough racing to go so we are just focused on keeping it rolling smooth and looking to be opportunistic when we can. Those guys are obviously world class and very strong but this is backcountry stage racing, anything can happen!”
With Kona sitting well in the top-3 overall going into Day 4, smart racing and mental fortitude will be the name of the game. Tomorrow’s stage will cover 111km between Lake Tekapo and Lake Ohau. The first 60km should be blistering fast, until a gut-punching climb will shoot the racers up 800m of elevation before descending down to the remote Lake Ohau. Be sure to check back here at the COG and at The Pioneer website for how it unfolds!