All the way up today…all the way to the panoramic outpost of Snow Farm Lodge. On the sixth day of the grueling Pioneer Stage Race, racers left the warm valley of Lake Hawea and ascended to over 1,500m and 67km across alpine tussocks and scenes straight out of Lord of the Rings (in fact, the catering outfit working the race is the same crew that provided for the infamous film project).
Like a band of adventurous (but skinnier and taller) hobbits, the Kona boys plowed into the penultimate stage of the race, with Wicks and Sneddon setting a brisk pace from the gun. “It’s always better to just hammer into it,” said Wicks, “everyone is feeling it at this point, and we wanted to burn through those flat kilometers and get that last big climb over with.” Riders were all feeling the effects of the prior Queen Stage 5, which had he leaders out for over 6 hours. “That may be one of the biggest mtb stage race days we’ve ever done,” said Wicks, “at least in the top-5!” That’s saying something, coming from one of the most seasoned and accomplished off road stage racers in the sport.
Both Kona teams rolled in unison across the finish of stage six, having come together on the long slog up to Snow Farm, an act of equal camaraderie and fatigue. “Yesterday’s Queen Stage kinda broke me,” explained a drained Paxson, “yesterday was a big day for me regardless…I don’t have quite the same endurance battery, and to add to it I dealt with flats once again and burned some precious energy chasing, re-filling, chasing…I was pedaling squares like a little cross country whippet halfway up the last huge climb on Stage 5…today was okay, but I didn’t have much. It’s too bad because Cory is riding so strong, he would have had the legs to contest Dan and Anton for the win.” Indeed, strongman and endurance phenom Wallace comes alive the more grueling it gets. “This should set me up well for 24-hour World Champs in Rotorua in two weeks,” smiled Wallace, who has been relishing the toughness of the race all week.
“We’re good as a group and we’re there for each other,” commented Sneddon, “it’s been just a huge week, any way you look at it…one thing I’ve learned in all these years is that the first edition of any big stage race like this is usually the hardest…they find the limit.” The Kona teams remain in second and third overall behind the tremendous duo of Dan McConnell and Anton Cooper. Barring a major mishap, classification is unlikely to shuffle too much on the seventh and final stage, which will involve a net elevation loss as riders shred down from Snow Farm to Queenstown. It will be a shorter day and welcome change up from the big climbs of the last six days. “We’ll have done over 50,000 ft by the finish,” laughed Cory, “these boys put in a good effort for sure…the fitness should be real solid after this.”
Be sure to check back here on the COG and on the Pioneer Stage Race website to see how it all wraps up!