The 2019 Absa Cape Epic route – all you need to know

From the iconic slopes of Table Mountain’s National Park – to the craggy shoreline of the Southern Coast. And on; traversing the famous Winelands and beyond into the high mountains of the Western Cape. The 2019 Absa Cape Epic route – proudly brought to you by Land Rover, our Official Vehicle and Route Partner – challenges, rewards and offers spectators the most revealing view of the Untamed African MTB Race yet.

Eight days, 624 kilometres and 16 650 meters of climbing – the bare statistics tell less than half the story. Rugged mountain trails, bone jarring dual tracks, windswept gravel roads and, yes, sand lie between the Prologue at the University of Cape Town and the trails to the Grand Finale at Val de Vie Estate.

 

Prologue

Distance       21km

Climbing       600m

Start / Finish Location      University of Cape Town

The Grand Depart

In 2019 Cape Town’s most iconic landmark plays host, for the fifth time, to the inaugural stage of the Absa Cape Epic. The Prologue is more than just a scene setter though; it will provide the first shake-up of the general classification and hints of who has prepared best for the herculean task at hand. 21 kilometres long, with 600 meters of climbing, it takes in the now infamous “climb which cannot be named in print” the grind up to the cauldron of spectators gathered around Dead Man’s Tree and the scenic vistas of Table Mountain Road, all forming part of Table Mountain National park. The first section of Land Rover Technical Terrain of the race is located on the Plum Pudding Singletrack which tests bravery and skill in equal measures. Expect the UCI men’s and women’s teams to blitz the course and the time gaps to be calculated in seconds. But know that further down the field, surviving the Prologue unscathed should be the aim for the day – the Absa Cape Epic really begins on Monday in Hermanus.

 

Stage 1

Distance       112km

Climbing       2700m

Start / Finish Location      Hermanus High School

Heaven and Back to Earth

Relentless. Attritional. A return to the Absa Cape Epic Stage 1’s of old and the Hemel en Aarde Valley. Rotary Drive, the La Vierge stairs and the Paddocks set the tone for a day of relentless ascents before the day’s first spectator point at Creation Wines. Then it is onwards and upwards towards the Dimension Data Hotspot near the summit of the Katkloof Climb. Baked by the summer sun it will be littered with loose pebbles, clinging precariously to a shifting sand surface. In the wheat fields of Overberg, rolling roads provide momentary respite before the war of attrition resumes on the slopes of the Babilonstoring Mountains, then descending into the Tesselaarsdal Valley – where in 2017 many an Epic dream was dashed. Turning for Hermanus and home it is downhill in theory – but reality and Charley’s Babe have other ideas. The Gorge, in the final fifteen kilometres provides the day’s Land Rover Technical Terrain and one of the most exhilarating approaches to an Absa Cape Epic finish line yet. There is still one final sting in the tail though; the Water Works climb, designed to bring a tear to eye of those who failed to prepare.

 

Stage 2

Distance       86km

Climbing       2250m

Start Location         Hermanus High School

Finish Location      Oak Valley Estate

Enter Sandman

A teaspoon of cement is in order for the first move day of the 2019 Absa Cape Epic, as it packs challenge after challenge into its relatively brief 86 kilometres. Tyre choice and pressure are sure to be decisive on Stage 2 where 10 arduous kilometres within the first half of the day could prove definitive. The stage starts with an ascent of Rotary Drive before crossing out of the Hemel en Aarde Valley to the west – into the sandman’s playground. Dubbed The Machine, for the mysterious landowner known only by that moniker, it provides a steep ascent followed by the day’s Land Rover Technical Terrain, a rollercoaster ride along a trail carved out by motocross bikes. The key point of the stage is a brand new singletrack, cut into the Hottentots Holland Mountains by Wildekrans’ Braam Gericke. This 6 kilometre long climb gains over 500 meters in elevation and has been named the Wildekrans Tokoloshe.

 

Stage 3

Distance       103km

Climbing       2800m

Start / Finish Location      Oak Valley Estate

The Emerald Princess

No Absa Cape Epic sojourn in Elgin would be complete without an assault on Groenlandberg. But in 2019 the famed emerald mountain, though the highest point of the route, does not earn the honour of being titled the Queen Stage. Overshadowed, slightly, by Stage 5 it still provides a stern test. The day kicks off with the ascent of the Nuweberg, followed by the Groenlandberg herself. For the elite riders crossing the highest point in the race, at 1 100 meters above sea level, first will yield a cash prize for the Dimension Data Hotspot award. A white knuckle descent follows, then it’s upwards again on the stage’s Land Rover Technical Terrain climb to Die Nek. In the Egin Valley, far below, a mix of rocky singletrack, concentration demanding dual track and two more infamous climbs await. There are riding rewards on offer too, following the last significant climb of the day, on the initially rocky but always thrilling Lebanon trails. Then the trail home follows the easiest possible route and includes flowing singletrack through cattle filled pastures, not a bad way to end the day with the second largest accumulated altitude gain in the 2019 Absa Cape Epic.

 

Stage 4

Distance       43km

Climbing       1000m

Start / Finish Location      Oak Valley Estate

Just Like Clockwork - The Time Trial

After three marathon stages the 2019 Absa Cape Epic route provides some relief in terms of distance, but the singletrack filled race against the clock will certainly not ease up on the difficulty. The allure is rather one of a shorter day in the saddle with more recovery time. Taking in the best of Oak Valley and Paul Cluver’s plethora of world class trails, but linking them with savage climbs the mid-race time trial provides a test of power, speed and concentration. Trails like Pine Singles, Tranquillity, Nürburgring, Mamba, Vissie’s Magic, Sounds of Silence, Wonderland and the Greenhouse Effect, are linked by climbs like Tierkop, Ma se Gat, Berg Adder, Puff Adder along with a 350 meter long beast. For the fans the time trial provides the perfect vantage point, the Paul Cluver Amphitheatre. The route forms an irregular figure of eight, crossing over at the Paul Cluver Bike Park; this provides spectators with the chance to see their favourite riders at kilometres 6 and 20 without having to move locations.

 

Stage 5

Distance       100km

Climbing       2850m

Start / Finish Location         Oak Valley Estate

Newton’s Queen

Overcoming gravity and fighting to maintain momentum are the orders of the day on the Queen Stage of the 2019 Absa Cape Epic. Though similar statistically to Stage 3, in reality Stage 5 is by a considerable distance the toughest stage of the race. Rugged terrain and brutally steep climbs ensure it has the topography to prove decisive in the battles to be crowned Kings and Queens of the Absa Cape Epic. Out of Oak Valley the Nuweberg sets the scene for a challenging day, before the A to Z trails lead riders to the summit of the Gantouw Pass. While portaging down, heed the wagon wheel scars cut in the stone and acknowledge how easy life has become since those pioneers hauled ox wagons over the mountains. At the foot of the pass the hidden Lourensford Valley provides the chance for on-the-bike recovery before the toughest climb of the race. Snaking its way up the Helderberg, King’s Climb could work its way into Epic folklore in a single outing. At the summit the Dimension Data Hotspot awaits, followed by the Land Rover Technical Terrain – down the scintillating Helderberg Trails singletrack. Four sapping vineyard climbs separate Helderberg Farm from Stellenbosch, but the Dornier and Mont Marie trails provide respite in between; before G-Spot caps a day well spent in the mountains.

 

Stage 6

Distance       89km

Climbing       2650m

Start Location         University of Stellenbosch Sports Fields

Finish Location      University of Stellenbosch Sports Fields

Death, Taxes, Singletracks & Vineyard Climbs

The old saying goes that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. When mountain biking in Stellenbosch another two can be added: singletracks and vineyard climbs. Play day, or earn the right to play day; Stage 6 of the 2019 Absa Cape Epic starts with Heart Break Hill inside the first kilometre. Then it is onwards and upwards, because Botmaskop needs to be conquered in order to earn the right to swoop down Skyfall. No circumnavigation of the Banhoek Valley is complete without Nik Naks, a technical climb and descent. The climb to Tokara on the Simonsberg follows, before descending into Rustenberg Wines. An inexorable grind with a name stolen from the singletrack at its summit – Never-Say-Neverender – traverses Rustenberg, Quoin Rock, Delvera, and Uitkyk where after the Simonsberg Trails reward with singletrack descents. Across the valley Klapmuts Kop and the stage’s Land Rover Technical Terrain awaits, on a rocky but flowing switchback descent. The route back to Stellenbosch takes a lower line but still requires climbing all the way back to Botmaskop, where the final thrill of the day is provided by the revitalised World Cup Downhill track from the late nineties.

 

Stage 7

Distance       70km

Climbing       1800m

Start Location         University of Stellenbosch Sports Fields

Finish Location      Val de Vie Estate

The Grand Finale

No procession through the Winelands the final stage of the 2019 Absa Cape Epic still provides opportunities for general classification shake-ups. From Stellenbosch to Jonkershoek the asphalt road surface provides a deceptive lull, but do not be fooled once in the reserve the typical Absa Cape Epic terrain resumes with vengeance. A dual track climb thins the field for Bosluis. Then it is across the valley to climb Never Ending Story. The best of Jonkers is showcased by Bennet’s Red and the Land Rover Technical Terrain: Armageddon. From the valley floor the only way is up, on Fiona’s Beast, beyond a fairy tale castle to Botmaskop and through the culvert to the slopes of the Simonsberg. Vuurberg’s dirt jumps, which the route weaves between, lead to Boschendal’s Inferno and Sugar Bowl trails. One final climb and a brand new section of singletrack ensures riders will enter Val de Vie Estate, the Champs-Elysées of the Absa Cape Epic, with a smile, but in need of those last few – mercifully flat – kilometres to gain their composure. Emotions are sure to spill over still; rolling across the finish line – as a 2019 Absa Cape Epic finisher.

 

 


One to go to become Epic Legends

Two New Zealanders look to complete the set – all three week-long Epic Series races – at the 2019 Absa Cape Epic.

Having finished the Swiss Epic and The Pioneer, Kylie Burrows and Alexander Donaldson have only the Absa Cape Epic to conquer to be awarded the coveted Epic Legend medals. If all goes well over the eight days, 624 kilometres (with 16 650 meters of climbing) they’ll join the seven special athletes who’ve completed all three Epic Series Legend Races.

The two are Kiwis and their route to the start of the untamed African mountain bike stage race took them around the world. Donaldson managed to complete both the Swiss Epic and The Pioneer late last year – within two and a half months! Burrows competed in the 2016 Swiss Epic and between then and riding The Pioneer last year, she had another battle to win. Excited to be standing on South African soil ready to race, Burrows enthused, “It will be a bit of a celebration as well as I will be two years post breast cancer so I am stoked I am here and well enough to participate.” Donaldson has spent the last part of his pre-event preparation time in Cape Town, notably posting an excellent result at the Cape Town Cycle Tour.

They’ll join 1350 riders as they roll off the prologue start ramp at University of Cape Town onto the slopes of the iconic Table Mountain before heading to the craggy shoreline of the Southern Coast and onto traversing the famous Winelands and beyond into the high mountains of the Western Cape. Of those 1350, they’ll meet five of the seven Epic Legend riders, who’re back for more at the 2019 edition, including the first ever, Minter Barnard from Australia.

Rugged mountain trails, bone jarring dual tracks, windswept gravel roads and sand lie between them and their Epic Legend medals, waiting for them at the Grand Finale in Val de Vie Estate, the Champs-Élysées of mountain biking. No doubt they’ll be cheered on by fans, and their spirits buoyed by the legendary camaraderie among the riders at the race.

To follow them on their journey go to www.cape-epic.com – they’ll have their Spot Trackers on.

Burrows' race number: 211-2

Donaldson's race number: 411-1


2019 Absa Cape Epic starts this weekend - who to watch

 

Stellar elite field set for 2019 Absa Cape Epic

 

The Absa Cape Epic is the most competitive mountain bike stage race in the world. The pinnacle of the Epic Series is in its sixteenth edition and the Untamed African Mountain Bike Race again showcases the best riders on the planet in peak condition. The exceptional elite field features two Olympic champions, plus several world, continental and national champions and ten previous winners.

The star-studded line-up is headed to the prologue at UCT, held on the slopes of the iconic Table Mountain in Cape Town. Here’s a who-to-watch list, to know who to look out for at the sharp end of the field. For more info, and to catch the action on live streaming go to www.cape-epic.com

MEN

Investec-Songo-Specialized

1-1 Jaroslav Kulhavý [CZE]

Age: 34

Epics completed: 4

Stage wins: 13

Best result: 1st (2013, 2015, 2018)

2012 Olympic Gold Medallist

 

1-2 Sam Gaze [NZL]

Age: 23

Epics completed: 0

2017 Under 23 World Champion XCO

 

The unfortunate withdrawal of one half of last year’s winning team forced a last-minute reshuffle in the Specialized camp. Luckily the highly successful factory racing team has deep pool of talent to draw from and young Sam Gaze was nominated to ride with the Czech express. Even though the former under 23 world champion is a newbie, Gaze has more than enough pedigree to fill Grott’s shoes. As the winner of the 2018 Stellenbosch UCI World Cup he’s one of a small handful of riders to truly put the imperious Nino Schurter to the sword on the circuit over a span of eight years

Another such rider is Kulhavy himself: dubbed as the world’s most complete mountain biker, with a full range of titles to his name – Olympic, world cross country, world marathon and Absa Cape Epic championships. Although it’s hard to tell how team chemistry will pan out with the specific pressures of mountain bike stage racing at the highest level, the pair spend a great deal of time together on tour, and know each other’s strengths and (very few) weaknesses well. Watt for Watt, they seem an even more deadly match than the successful Kulhavy / Grotts combo. Safe to say, Schurter’s radar pinged loudly when this news broke.

Also, if Gaze needed any more stage race insight and guidance, he has the expert back-up of multiple world champion five-time Absa Cape Epic winner Christoph Sauser, who’s partnered with Danish champion Simon Andreassen. Scott-SRAM, Bulls and Cannondale Factory Racing better find a solution quick or they’re set for another trouncing.

 

Bulls

2-1 Karl Platt [GER]

Age: 41

Epics completed: 14

Stage wins: 17

Best result: 1st (2004, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2016)

2015 German Champion XCM

 

2-2 Alban Lakata [AUT]

Age: 39

Epics completed: 9

Stage wins: 3

Best result: 2nd (2015)

4x World Champion XCM

 

6-1 Urs Huber [SWI]

Age: 33

Epics completed: 8

Stage wins: 5

Best result: 1st (2016)

2016 Swiss Champion XCM

 

6-1 Simon Stiebjahn [GER]

Age: 28

Epics completed: 6

Stage wins: 0

Best result: 3rd (2014)

2012 U23 European Champion XCM

 

Race favourites Investec-Songo-Specialized and Scott-SRAM are all too familiar with the big names who’ll challenge them in 2019. However several of 2019’s team combinations come in different forms. Most notable are the Bulls – a new pairing sees five-time Absa Cape Epic winner Karl Platt race with none other than Alban Lakata, second in 2018. The two are certainly not strangers, having gone head to head at the race for over a decade. They know each other well and where master tactician Platt may have used Lakata’s weaknesses against him in the past, he’ll know exactly how to harness the raw power that carried the Austrian to three marathon world titles. Could this be his last try for a record sixth win?

For the last two years, we haven’t seen the form that carried Platt to a convincing 2016 victory. With both riders well into the twilight of their careers, fans wonder if they ever will again, given the speed and relative youth of their rivals. The Bulls’ best bet is to hold true to the tactic that served them well. Keep a high rhythm and wait for others to make a mistake. Ever-evolving, the Bulls seem to have a different take on the back up team concept, preferring to field two super-strong teams to hedge their bets, with Platt’s six-time partner Urs Huber pairing with Stiebjahn. The German is a worthy partner to the 2016 champion considering that he too has a podium spot to his name. It makes for a stealthy two-pronged tactic to keep rivals guessing. Both have back up from the young, yet fast-maturing duo of Martin Frey and Simon Schneller.

 

Cannondale Factory Racing                  

3-1 Manuel Fumic [GER]

Age: 36

Epics completed: 4

Stage wins: 5

Best result: 3rd (2018)

2nd 2013 World Championships XCO

 

3-2 Henrique Avancini [BRA]

Age: 29

Epics completed: 3

Stage wins: 5

Best result: 3rd (2018)

2018 World Champion XCM

 

If history were to repeat itself, as it’s done every year that Fumic and Avancini have ridden together, we’d suggest (to fans and rivals) to keep a close eye on Cannondale Factory Racing in the early stages of the race. Their explosive style and fearless attacking netted has them five stage wins to date. They’re likely to pile on the pressure from the get-go, which will have a strong influence on the race’s outcome, whether or not they repeat 2018’s podium spot. They excel on all types of terrain. As cross country specialists, highly competitive on the UCI World Cup circuit (Avancini placed second at the Mont-Saint-Anne leg last year), they still managed to take it to the marathoners, even before they reach their favourite terrain of tight singletrack and short steep climbs.

Avancini is the current Marathon World Champion and Fumic the German Cross Country Champion. As a partnership they’re a joy to watch and have legions of supporters across the world, but one can’t help wish they were bringing a much-needed back-up team – their GC chances have been scuppered more than once already at the race. That said, they are due some good luck and with their firepower and stage racing experience, they’re the biggest threats to Investec-songo-Specialized and Scott-SRAM.

 

Scott-SRAM

4-1 Nino Schurter [SWI]

Age: 32

Epics completed: 4

Stage wins: 4

Best result: 1st (2017)

2016 Olympic Gold Medallist

 

4-2 Andri Frischknecht [SWI]

Age: 24

Epics completed: 1

Stage wins: 2

Best result: 6th (2017)

2018 Swiss Epic Winner

 

It’s a longstanding debate at the Absa Cape Epic: who will win – the short-form cross country specialists or the turbo diesel-engined marathon hard-men? The 2017 edition was direct evidence that talent transfers and champions prevail. Pure-bred cross country racer Nino Schurter adjusted his preparation for the 2017 race, brought along an excellent back up team and romped home with Matthias Stirnemann for the win. Stirnemann fell ill early on in the 2018 edition, writing off their attempt to repeat it, but the Olympic and world champion returns for revenge, this time with Andri Frischknecht at his side.

Schurter is the best mountain biker of his generation, capturing a full set of Olympic medals and seven world titles so far – second place simply won’t do. This puts his partner under immense pressure, under which many a mortal would suffer. However the son of mountain bike legend Thomas Frischknecht is now coming of age, winning the Swiss Epic in 2018, showing he’s up to the task. The dynamic required for success from these two involves Schurter leading from the front, with an eye on young Andri, making sure he doesn’t go too deep too early and pay the price. Backed up by European cross country champion Lars Forster and top South African rider Gert Heyns, mechanical and tactical assistance will be close at hand.

 

Canyon

5-1 Kristian Hynek

Age: 38

Epics completed: 4

Stage wins: 2

Best result: 1st (2014)

2012 European Champion XCM

 

5-2 Petter Fagerhaug

Age: 21

Epics completed: 0

2017 Norwegian Champion XCO

 

Hynek hit a home run on his first outing at the 2014 Absa Cape Epic, partnered with Robert Mennen. This edition saw all the elements that make for a thrilling contest (endeavor, intrigue, unexpected alliances and pure firepower) with one key ingredient – a deadly team dynamic. In the following years, Hynek partnered with marathon legend Lakata and not seen the top step since his debut, leaving the question “is it the partnership…” This year should go some way to answering that, with his talented new Norwegian superstar partner.

Fagerhaug won the men's under-23 race at the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Stellenbosch in 2018 and went on to win two more in the series, so there is no doubting his ability to dice at the front with the world’s finest. What is under scrutiny however is his ability, at 21 years old, to maintain this level throughout the week. Hynek’s ability to impart his experience will play a huge role in how the final few days pan out. Fagerhaug’s 2019 strategy may be ‘race to learn’ but don’t be surprised to see this pair on the podium during the week.

 

PYGA Euro Steel

7-1 Philip Buys [RSA]

Age: 30

Epics completed: 7

Stage wins: 3

Best result: 5th (2014, 2015)

4x African Continental Champion XCO

 

7-2 Matthys Beukes [RSA]

Age: 31

Epics completed: 5

Stage wins: 2

Best result: 5th (2015)

2018 Cape Pioneer Trek Winner

 

The tried and tested all-South African team is back with a bang. Buys will want to forget the painful memory of missing the 2018 race due to illness; while Beukes keeps the pairing buoyant with the momentum of back-to-back Absa African jersey wins. This adds them to a short list of favourites when it comes to predicting a winner of the category, and we shouldn’t discount a possible top five on GC, overall. With their experience (Buys raced with none other than Nino Schurter in 2014) there’s no reason why they shouldn’t. They have won stages before, in do-or-die mode, but with the stakes as they are, they may play it safe and aim for a high placing at the end of the week. The Absa African jersey is worth too much to them to risk blowing up.

They have the pace to stay up at the front with the best and are underwritten by their backup team, consisting of Phillimon Sebona and Pieter Du Toit (who rode together to a creditable 25th place in 2018). Sebona is one of the great success stories of the Exxaro Mountain Biking Academy and the Exxaro Special Jersey initiative. With the home crowd behind these four all the way, they have a little extra morale boost to carry them high up the leader board again.

 

Silverback SBC

8-1 Nicola Rohrbach [SWI]

Age: 32

Epics completed: 3

Stage wins: 4

Best result: 2nd (2016)

6th 2017 World Championships XCM

 

8-1 Konny Looser [SWI]

Age: 30

Epics completed: 5

Stage Wins: 0

Best result: 11th (2012)

2017 Swiss Champion XCM

 

Looking back to Looser’s debut in 2011, partnered with Urs Huber, the youthful Swiss rode out of his skin to match Huber’s pace all week. That was till a fateful crash on Groenlandberg wrecked his frame and the team’s 4th place on GC. Since then however, he hasn’t been seen inside the top ten after Huber moved to the Bulls, never quite getting the team formula right. Given his performance at the race and that he claimed the Swiss marathon title in 2017, there’s no doubt he has the ability perform far better than his results stats show, given the right partner.

The right partner could well be fellow Swiss Nicola Rohrbach. He’s proved there’s no shortage of firepower in his legs, with two podium places and a stage win in his three year history at the race. Rohrbach has also proved that he doesn’t need to partner with Daniel Geismayr to post a top result, getting second in 2016 riding with Matthias Pfrommer. Both in their athletic prime, this dark horse team will be closely followed by fans, their new sponsors and of course their rivals.

 

Centurion Vaude               

9-1 Daniel Geismayr [AUT]

Age: 29

Epics completed: 5

Stage wins: 3

Best result: 3rd (2017)

2018 Austrian Champion XCM

 

9-2 Jochen Käß [GER]

Age: 37

Epics completed: 6

Stage wins: 3

Best result: 2nd (2011)

2017 Swiss Epic winner

 

Keeping it interesting, the 2018 edition is marked by the contrast of established team combinations and some new and surprising pairings rolling up on the start ramp at UCT in March. Centurion Vaude’s configuration is somewhere in-between. Geismayr and Käß have only ridden the Absa Cape Epic once together, despite being on the same trade team for seven years. Proving their quality, they teamed up to win the 2017 Swiss Epic. Another change from previous years: they’re backed up by two young newbies.

The bookmakers may give those facts some weight when predicting a result. But as consummate professionals, this two are at the top of their game and can be relied upon to deliver a high placing and possibly a couple of stage wins to top it off. Ever consistent, Käß hasn’t shown much sign of coming off his physical peak, even at 37. At 29, Daniel Geismayr is in his prime and will be looking to add more top results to his palmarès. Tactically, they’ll know not to chase the cross country bandits blindly and to keep their composure in the early part of the week when the race ignites. They’ll aim to keep their powder dry, stay in contention and keep something left in the tank to pounce on opportunities as the weekend approaches.

 

Trek Selle San Marco

10-1 Damiano Ferraro [ITA]

Age: 32

Epics completed: 3

Stage wins: 1

Best result: 3rd (2016)

5th 2015 World Championships XCM

 

10-2 Samuele Porro [ITA]

Age: 30

Epics completed: 2

Stage wins: 2

Best result: 3rd (2016)

2x Italian Champion XCM

 

16-1 Fabian Rabensteiner [ITA]

Age: 28

Epics completed: 3

Stage wins: 1

Best result: 6th (2018)

3rd 2018 European Championships XCM

 

16-2 Michele Casagrande [ITA]

Age: 34

Epics completed: 1

Stage wins: 1

Best result: 6th (2018)

2nd 2018 Roc D'Azur

 

“The Trekkies” as they’re affectionally known are an ever-present force at the Absa Cape Epic. They may not have big hitter names with majestic titles like the Scott-SRAMs and Investec-songo-Specializeds of the world, but they’re never to be discounted, regularly popping up on the podium. They’re a tight-knit crew, all four similarly matched and they vary the team combinations year by year, depending on form, to tweak the mix. 2018 saw Rabensteiner and Casagrande take the prestigious Grand Finale stage at Val de Vie Estate. Though Ferraro and Porro were the so-called primary team, the second pairing was set free to make hay while the sun shone. Unpredictability is their secret superpower.

Ferraro and Porro are issued with the more prestigious number board, but given the nature of the Italian team, and of the race itself, don’t be surprised to see the ‘back-up’ team take glory. All of the riders have won stages at the Absa Cape Epic and all are capable of winning more. Like with the Bulls, a dominant team is not as clearly defined as in other camps, and they’ll play this to their advantage, both tactically and when negotiating with Lady Luck – a notoriously prickly mistress.

 

Specialized Foundation NAD

13-1 Alan Hatherly [RSA]

Age: 23

Epics completed: 0

2018 Under 23 World Champion XCO

 

13-2 Matthew Beers [RSA]

Age: 25

Epics completed: 3

Best result: 15th (2018)

2017 Cape Pioneer Trek Winner

 

The likely wearers of the red Absa African jerseys by the end of race week can be narrowed down to two teams: Pyga Euro Steel, and this outfit. Hatherly took the Under 23 Cross Country World Championship title last year, making this a team to watch closely, not only for the battle for the red Absa African jersey, but also for stage wins. Beers gets stronger and more consistent every year and is primed for the limelight of world mountain biking. Riding with Nico Bell in 2018, the pair had a slow start, with Beers ailing, but halfway through race week they were up front with the biggest names in the sport.

As a team, there’ll be no time wasted getting to know each other – they’re great friends off the bike and regular training partners out on the trails. They’ll also have the expert guidance of Christoph Sauser (who has 13 Epic starts and 5 wins under the belt). Sauser will focus more closely on newbie Hatherly (Beers has already chalked up three finishes) hoping to share tips on how to measure the effort perfectly to go the full distance, all the way from the start ramp to the podium. If all goes to plan, they’ll be Buys and Beukes’ biggest headache.

 

Kross

14-1 Sergio Mantecón Gutiérrez [ESP]

Age: 34

Epics completed: 1

Stage Wins: 0

Best result: 25th (2011)

2x Spanish Champion XCO

 

14-2 Ondřej Cink [CZE]

Age: 28

Epics completed: 0

Stage Wins: N/A

2015 Czech Champion XCO

 

It’s clear that Cink is a classy rider – after a top ten overall on the UCI World Cup circuit and a podium spot at the Andorra leg in 2016, he transferred his high-output engine and mastery of the bicycle to the road, earning him a berth on the Bahrain-Merida team’s Tour de France squad only six months after his tarmac debut. The Czech has since returned to his first love, fortunately for mountain biking fans, and for Mantecón Gutiérrez (who’ll have his work cut out for him).

It’s the two-time Spanish cross country champion’s second Absa Cape Epic, his first was 8 years ago, riding with Olympic bronze medallist Carlos Coloma Nicolas. After a disastrous prologue, the pair focused on individual stages, coming up with a podium spot on stage 4. But like many others, it’s likely they’ll aim for a high GC placing, not just to get their name in lights at the biggest mountain bike stage race in the world, but also to earn UCI points on their road to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

 

WOMEN

Investec-Songo-Specialized

50-1 Annika Langvad [DEN]

Age: 34

Epics completed: 4

Stage wins: 24

Best result: 1st (2014, 2015, 2016, 2018)

2016 World Champion XCO

 

50-1 Anna van der Breggen [NED]

Age: 28

Epics completed: 0

Stage Wins: N/A

Current Olympic and World Road Champion

 

Langvad has a perfect four-from-four record at the Absa Cape Epic. Three of those four wins came from a lethal partnership with Ariane Lüthi, but last year’s pairing with new mountain biking star Kate Courtney strongly suggests that Langvad is the common denominator for success at the race, therefore Van Der Breggen is in good hands. As a five-time Marathon World Champion, Langvad is clearly well-suited to long format racing, not to forget she’s also won six UCI World Cups and ended 2018 ranked second overall. It’s a unique kind of mentorship for Langvad. Van Der Breggen is more than able to match her power, but the Dutchwoman will lean on her heavily for support and insight into the nuances of racing off-road day after day.

The current Olympic and world road champion is an Absa Cape Epic rookie, but no stranger to flat bars – when her road schedule allowed, she raced on the UCI World Cup circuit in 2018, familiarising herself with the demands of mountain biking. Despite Van Der Breggen’s relative inexperience, she has a significant advantage in that her ‘redline’ is higher compared to that of her rivals (except perhaps for Annika Langvad herself). This ‘maximum capacity’ is commonly the point at which riders make errors, both technical and in pacing. So as long as the pair stays conservative throughout and only push hard where it counts, there’s little to stop Langvad equal Christoph Sauser and Karl Platt’s record five victories.

 

Meerendal WIAWIS Rotwild

51-1 Sabine Spitz [GER]

Age: 47

Epics completed: 3

Stage wins: 7

Best result: 2nd (2016, 2018)

2008 Olympic Champion

 

51-1 Nadine Rieder [GER]

Age: 29

Epics completed: 0

Stage Wins: 0

3rd German Championships XCO

 

Spitz has a full collection of Olympic medals, bronze in 2004, gold in 2008 and silver in 2012. She’s also a former world and national champion. Very few athletes in the world have a list of palmarès like hers and the Absa Cape Epic is only title missing from that. She and Robyn de Groot were the pre-race favourites in 2017 but she crashed badly, losing significant time on two stages and these setbacks ultimately cost them the victory. In 2018’s edition the German / South African pair rolled out a solid performance for second on GC.

This year De Groot is out with injury so Spitz pairs up with fellow German Nadine Rieder. Although the 29-year-old may not be as well-known as her illustrious teammate, Rieder is placed third in the German XCO Championships and at Ischgl Ironbike, plus won the final round of the highly competitive Internationale MTB Bundesliga series. Spitz herself has named the pairing the “German Dream Team” so it’s clear that the triple Olympic medallist has faith in her new partner. Rieder will no doubt be determined to prove she’s worthy of this confidence.

 

Silverback Fairtree

52-1 Jennie Stenerhag [SWE]

Age: 43

Epics completed: 4

Stage wins: 4

Best result: 1st (2017)

2017 Swiss Epic Winner

 

52-2 Mariske Strauss [RSA]

Age: 27

Epics completed: 4

Stage Wins: 1

Best result: 2nd (2017)

2018 South African Champion XCO

 

There’s a vast age gap between Strauss and Stenerhag and they could not have more varied career paths. Strauss has focused almost exclusively on cross country racing, delving into stage racing occasionally. She delivered her best Absa Cape Epic result (second) in 2017, riding with British cross country star Annie Last. Stenerhag’s stats include Swedish road and mountain biking titles in the marathon discipline. Since switching from asphalt, and making Cape Town her home, she’s been an ever-present force on the local and international stage racing scene, and has placed first, second and third at the Absa Cape Epic.

Strauss’ memories of the 2018 race range from the high of dicing at the front among the rainbow-sleeved Annika Langvad and Kate Courtney to the lows of catching a stomach bug and running on empty over the last two days. As much of an unlikely pairing as it is, the two are unbreakably positive and fans expect them to bring out the best in each other and put together a stellar performance.

 

Kross-Spur Racing

53-1 Ariane Lüthi [SWI]

Age: 35

Epics completed: 7

Stage wins: 17

Best result: 1st (2014, 2015, 2016)

2x Swiss champion XCM

 

53-2 Maja Włoszczowska [POL]

Age: 35

Epics completed: 0

Stage Wins: N/A

2x Olympic Silver Medallist

 

The 2018 edition saw a low point in Lüthi’s illustrious Absa Cape Epic career. After three wins in the women’s category and two in the mixed, her DNF will surely fuel the fire in her to come back guns blazing. She’s struggled in the last two years to find the level of partner to replace Annika Langvad, but this year she’s hit the jackpot with UCI World Cup star Włoszczowska, former Cross Country World Champion and two-time Olympic Silver Medallist.

Former teammate of 2017 Cross Country World Champion Jolanda Neff, the Pole brings the firepower necessary to challenge the Investec-songo-Specialized duo and Lüthi has the experience of seven Absa Cape Epics under her belt to contribute. Włoszczowska’s form will be primed with the World Cup season starting soon and if Lüthi hits peak fitness on the 17th of March, there’s no doubt we’ll see a victory salute from these two, at least once during race week.

 

Summit Fin

54-1 Candice Lill [RSA]

Age: 27

Epics completed: 2

Stage Wins: 0

Best result: 4th (2018)

2x African Continental Champion XCO

 

54-2 Adelheid Morath [GER]

Age: 34

Epics completed: 2

Stage Wins: 0

Best result: 3rd (2016)

2015 Swiss Epic winner

 

Touted in pre-race predictions for the 2018 edition as serious GC podium contenders, Lill and Morath’s campaign ended before it began, with Morath fracturing her scaphoid at the Stellenbosch leg of the UCI World Cup. The pairing did get to show their talents later in the year, dominating the field at the Wines2Whales, which reassures them that the combination is well-dialled – a vital component to mountain bike stage racing.

Lill’s raw ability was apparent early in her career, taking third at the XCO World Championships as a junior behind Pauline Ferrand-Prevot. Morath has been a regular top ten finisher on the UCI World Cup circuit and is a former German champion. With her international experience and Lill’s local knowledge of the trails, having raced on this terrain year after year, the time is right to reach their full potential and prove the analysts right, albeit a year later.

 

dormakaba

55-1 Amy Beth McDougall [RSA]

Age: 29

Epics completed: 3

Stage Wins: 0

Best result: 4th (2018)

2017 Cape Pioneer Trek Winner

 

55-2 Samantha Sanders [RSA]

Age: 35

Epics completed: 2

Stage Wins: 0

Best result: 8th (2017)

2013 South African Champion XCO

 

In 2018 dormakaba fielded two teams and won the inaugural women’s Absa African Jersey competition. Even though they’re down to one now, it’s still highly likely that the red jerseys will end up on the shoulders of this pair. Sanders and McDougall rode with different partners last year but they still are highly familiar with each other’s capabilities, backing each other up in local races throughout the year.

McDougall raced the mixed category at the Absa Cape Epic, and had a number of successful stage race partnerships, including with Ariane Lüthi. But in Sanders she has forged an understanding that has transcended changes in sponsors. Both McDougall and Sanders excel on technical terrain, so expect them to come into their own on the rocky trails around Stellenbosch.

 

Galileo Risk

56-1 Theresa Ralph [RSA]

Age: 43

Epics completed: 8

Stage Wins: 0

Best result: 2nd (2012)

2018 joBerg2c Winner

 

56-2 Sarah Hill [RSA]

Age: 25

Epics completed: 0

Stage Wins: N/A

2018 joBerg2c Winner

 

Sarah Hill holds rookie status, so Theresa Ralph will act as mentor, being one of the more experienced Absa Cape Epic riders in the field. Ralph has placed second, third, fourth and fifth before but a victory to complete the set looks unlikely. That won’t deter them from aiming at the Absa Africa jersey competition though. Her and Hill aren’t the types to let dormakaba have it easy.

It’ll be a head-to-head battle between Ralph and Hill and dormakaba’s McDougall and Sanders. With the prize money and prestige of wearing red at stake, they’d best be served taking the pragmatic approach – leave the UCI World Cup stars to fight it out and focus on the other all-South African teams. In this rare case, it’s a case of ‘less risk, more reward’.


First Epic Legend set to tackle 2019 Absa Cape Epic

Dad duo aiming for a top 10 in the masters category

The first rider to ever complete all three Epic Legend races, the Swiss Epic, The Pioneer, and the Absa Cape Epic is heading back to the Western Cape for the untamed African race, the pinnacle of mountain biking and the Epic Series. Australian Minter Barnard (46) will partner up with Luke Beuchat (45), both working dads, riding for team Velosure. No strangers to the gruelling event, the pair are aiming to finish top 10 in the Masters Category. It’ll be a tall order – they will  be racing against the likes of former XCO world champion Jose Hermida and 17 World Cup winner Thomas Frischknecht . Barnard’s cycling journey took off after he completed the Cape Epic in 2011. Beuchat completed the Cape Epic in 2015 and has other multiple stage races under his belt such as the Cape to Cape in Australia, also part of the growing Epic Series.

The race begins on March 17 with the time-trial prologue at the University of Cape Town and is set to finish on March 24 at Val de Vie Estate in Paarl. The route changes annually and this year 1300 riders are expected to participate. This eight-day challenge will have riders climbing 16650 meters of rugged mountain trails, bone-jarring dual tracks, windswept gravel roads and sand. “The Cape Epic is obviously the biggest mountain bike race on the planet so we’ve upped our training,” says Beuchat. Juggling everyday life with six kids and training is no easy task. The duo’s lunchtime cardio and core sessions are known as ‘Vegter’ sessions – meaning  Warrior in Afrikaans. These intense sessions include a rigorous regime of physical training exercises with 30 sets of stairs, 200 sit-ups, 200 push-ups and the infamous redback spider plank all done around Sydney Harbour in preparation for the 100km race stages.

Beuchat mentions that training for the Cape Epic involves a lot of sacrifices and it is important to realise that it means sacrifices for your partner and your kids as well. Both riders have tremendous appreciation for the support from their family and friends. Follow them on their social media platforms as they hope to inspire other working dads  to stay fit and healthy.

Instagram:

@minter_barnard

Twitter:

@lukebeuchat

 

 


From Africa, to Europe to the Antipodes… Epic Series wraps up 2018 with Kiwi stunner

The 2018 Epic Series races have taken riders from rugged South African countryside to the stunning Swiss Alps to the beautiful snow-covered peaks of New Zealand’s South Island.

 

On Friday tired yet excited riders crossed the line in Queensland, Otago, to earn their finishers’ medals in New Zealand’s The Pioneer, the third and final Legend event of the series in 2018. The Pioneer finishers had covered 424 km in six days of racing and ascended a formidable 15,124m during that time.

 

Among them were the first three people to have completed all three of the Epic Series races in one calendar year – South Africa’s Tim Hammond, New Zealander Haley van Leeuwen and Chak Shing Cheng of Hong Kong.

 

The eight-day Absa Cape Epic in the Western Cape in March is the pinnacle event of the Epic Series. The five-stage Swiss Epic is next up in August and then The Pioneer over six days in November, with both Epic Series Qualifier Races giving riders the chance at a guaranteed entry to the South African event.

 

“This is our first year in which we have hosted all three Epic Series races and are more than delighted by the way they have been received,” said Epic Series CEO Kevin Vermaak. “Congratulations to everybody who has managed to join the Epic Legend’s club and get a Legends medal – that’s an amazing achievement,” he said.

 

A rider who finishes all three events earns the title of Epic Legend and receives a special Epic Legend medal – already one of the most sought after in the mountain bike stage racing.

 

Hammond finished second at The Pioneer with fellow South African partner Alan Gordon (Team SPOT Africa/Insect Science) after he had notched up a 19th place finish in the Absa Cape Epic, riding with Arno du Toit. Hammond and Gordon finished 20th in the Swiss Epic.

 

“That’s a lot of racing kilometres in the legs this year,” said 30-year-old Hammond at The Pioneer’s final awards ceremony in Queenstown. “The Pioneer sent us to some of the most remote, exposed and scenic trails I’ve ever found myself on and doing all three events back-to-back can only be described as a true mountain biker’s dream.”

 

The Epic Series is a global portfolio of best-in-class mountain bike stage races. Epic Series Qualifier Races offer riders the chance to guarantee their slot in the Absa Cape Epic, the most prestigious mountain bike stage race in the world. Category winners in the Epic Series races are among those who get a guaranteed entry into the Absa Cape Epic, an event that traditionally sells out in seconds.

 

The Pioneer winners Michael Vink and partner Tim Rush (ONYA Bike), both New Zealanders, have therefore qualified for the Untamed African MTB race. The women’s event was won by another Kiwi pairing, with Kate McIlroy and Amy Hollamby (Wellington Airport) winning by 20 minutes from Aussies Briony Mattocks & Brodie Chapman (Shimano).

The event began with a Prologue on the snow-covered Coronet Peak in the Southern Alps before moving on to Central Otago for four stages and then to Queenstown and the finish on Friday.

Vink and Rush generally dominated the men’s open event, leading from the Prologue. Their finish time of 20 hours 28 minutes and 25 seconds was more than an hour quicker than their nearest competitors.

“What a week, it has been tough and character building, but we have learned so much and have improved throughout the week… and that is what we wanted,” said Vink.

The Pioneer takes place in the southeastern region on New Zealand's South Island. The terrain includes snow-capped mountains, glacial lakes and a peninsula renowned for its sandy beaches. Queenstown, where the race finished, is a mecca for adventure sports enthusiasts.

At the finish, former Hong Kong champion Cheng reflected on earning an Epic Series Legend medal: “As a rider, I gained a lot of insights into multi-day stage races, especially different racing styles in multiple continents. The Absa Cape Epic is definitely the toughest as it’s the longest in days and distance. Between the Absa Cape Epic and Swiss Epic, the terrain is so different – the wild nature of South Africa compared to the steep descents and rocky trails among the Alps and glaciers. The Pioneer to me is sort of a mix of the other two!”

 

The Pioneer, 2018
FINAL GENERAL CLASSIFICATION
Prologue and 5 Stages of racing
424km and 15,124m of climbing

Open Men
1 ONYA Bike, Tim Rush & Michael Vink (NZL), 20:28:25
2 Spot Africa/Insect, Alan Gordon & Timothy Hammond (SA), 21:43:57
3 Willbike/Mortgage Me Queenstown, Jimmy Williamson & Scott Lyttle (NZL) 22:01:13

Open Women
1 Wellington Airport, Amy Hollamby & Kate McIlroy (NZL), 25:27:11
2 Shimano, Briony Mattocks & Brodie Chapman (AUS), 25:54:52
3 Madison NZ, Erin Greene & Hannah Miller (NZL), 27:34:06

Mixed
1 JoJoe, Josie Wilcox & Joe Skerman (NZL), 24:08:35
2 New World, Mark Williams & Kate Fluker (NZL), 24:11:43
3 Niner Bikes/Kappius Components, Jean-Francois Bossler & Fanny Bourdon (FRA/CZE), 25:12:57

Masters (Both riders 40+)
1 SRAM, Anthony Shippard & David Evans, (AUS), 22:51:01
2 Nutritec, Nathon Wright & Gene Marsh (NZL), 24:13:56
3 A21 Linc’n’Lister, Lincoln Carolan & Peter Lister (AUS), 24:27:10

Womens Masters (both riders 40+)
1 IMB, Peg Leyland & Kath Kelly (NZL), 27:57:26
2 Pikelet & Blini, Emma McCosh & Marquita Gelderman (NZL), 31:03:47
3 Cable Geraldine Logging, Kylie Burrows & Sarah Kaehler (NZL & AUS), 35:02:39

Grand Masters (both riders 50+)
1 2 Old Men, Shaun Portegys & Tim O’Leary, NZL), 23:44:34
1 Stutho & Sutho Protocol, Blair Stuthridge & Neil Sutherland (NZL), 24:51:35
3 The Hub Cycles/Napier, Kent Wilson & Chris Clark (NZL), 25:09:20

 


Hammond and van Leeuwen make Epic Series history – six new Epic Legends at The Pioneer 2018

It was celebrations for all who crossed the line today in Queenstown, New Zealand as 505 riders collected their The Pioneer 2018 finisher’s medals after 6 days and 424km of challenging trails in the Southern Alps. Tim Hammond (RSA) and Haley van Leeuwen (NZL) had even more to celebrate, becoming the first to complete all three Epic Series Legend Races in one calendar year – the Swiss Epic, The Pioneer and the pinnacle of the Epic Series – the Absa Cape Epic. Joining them as one of only three riders to have ever achieved this was Chak Shing Cheng (HKG).

 

“That’s a lot of racing kilometres in the legs this year!” said a tired but satisfied Hammond at The Pioneer’s final awards ceremony. He was to take multiple trips to the stage: once to be awarded his Epic Legend Medal and also for his second place on general classification. A top 20 finisher at the 2018 Absa Cape Epic, Hammond is an experienced mountain bike stage race campaigner (and member of the Amabubesi Club having completed three untamed African editions). “The Pioneer sent us to some of the most remote, exposed and scenic trails I’ve ever found myself on and doing all three events back-to-back can only be described as a true mountain bikers dream!”

 

Haley van Leeuwen was also the first rider to receive the Epic Legend Medal when she finished the 2018 Swiss Epic. She completed her first The Pioneer in 2017 and is a local. Partnering with husband Johnny, The Pioneer route is virtually in their backyard, “I felt apprehensive at the start, I don’t know why – we know all the trails! We had a couple of dark moments and the Queen stage was one of the toughest we’ve ever done. But we pulled through and I got on ‘the Johnny train’ and we brought it home.”

 

Former Hong Kong champion Chak Shing Cheng reflected on the year’s experience. “As a rider, I gained a lot insights into multi-day stage race, especially different racing styles in multiple continents. The Absa Cape Epic is definitely the toughest as it’s the longest in days and distance. Between the Absa Cape Epic and Swiss Epic, the terrain is so different – the wild nature of South Africa compared to the steep descents and rocky trails among the Alps and glaciers. The Pioneer to me is sort of a mix of the other two!”

 

The Epic Series honoured six more intrepid athletes at the final awards ceremony – each earning the coveted Epic Legend Medal, having just completed all three of these full-length, week-long races. Joining Tim Hammond (RSA) and Chak Shing Cheng (HKG) were Alan Gordon (RSA), Peter Felber (CZE), David Wright (RSA) and Enrico Theuns (NED). “These adventurous, determined and skilled riders can all consider themselves exceptional athletes – complete mountain bikers,” said Kevin Vermaak, founder of the Absa Cape Epic and CEO of Epic Series.

 

The next Epic Series Legend Race on the calendar is none other than the Absa Cape Epic. Expect to see more of these special riders up on stage to receive the coveted Epic Legend Medal at the end of raceweek at Val de Vie in March 2019.


Vink in unique double, McIlroy and Hollamby fend off Aussies, new mixed champions at The Pioneer

Leading New Zealand road cyclist Michael Vink notched up a unique double today, adding The Pioneer Mountain Bike Stage Race to the 2018 Tour of Southland title, and hinting that he might not yet be finished on the dirt.

 

Kate McIlroy showed her potential to add another sport to add to her national representation in athletics, triathlon and road cycling, winning the Open Women’s category with Amy Hollamby (Wellington Airport), while in the Mixed Category, former triathlete Josie Wilcox and Joe Skerman (New Zealand) won the final stage to surge ahead of defending champions and local Queenstown riders Mark Williams and Kate Fluker (team New World).

 

Vink and partner Tim Rush (ONYA Bike) dominated the six-day race that took riders throughout the Central Otago region, riding over 400km and climbing over 15,000m, taking on some of the toughest alpine trails and stunning single-track riding that the region has to offer.

 

Vink and Rush took out the final stage into Queenstown today, in the end winning the overall title by a whopping one hour and fifteen minutes and suggested that he and Rush might find other metaphorical and literal mountains to climb on the bikes.

 

“What a week, it has been tough, character building but we have learned so much and have improved throughout the week and that is what we wanted,” said Vink.

 

Category winners earn a guaranteed start at the renowned Cape Epic in South Africa, an event that traditionally sells out in moments, one regarded as the ultimate in mountain bike stage racing and an event that is on Vink’s mind.

 

“Cape Epic is something we have discussed, it is a different scale and we have a lot to improve on if we are to go, we don’t want to go just for the experience, we want to be competitive so we have to think about what we can do and what our goals are, it is on the table and up for discussion, at some stage it is an itch that will need scratching.”

 

The celebrations for Rush were made all the sweeter after the disappointment of 2017.

 

“I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder after last year’s DQ and I always wanted to come back. It was about two years ago when I first hit Michael up and talked about it, I needed someone decent and I knew he was up to it, I knew if I could get my body up to it we would have a fun week and we did, it was painful but we did it and I couldn’t have done this with a better partner, I am real happy.”

 

Vink and Rush dominated the week, from the moment they took out the prologue at Coronet Peak on Sunday, to the moment they rode into the Gardens today, the ONYA Bike riders won five of the six days after the early demise of the European challengers Vojomag, when Ismael Ventura Sanchez withdrew with illness.

 

Second home today and overall were the well credentialled South Africans, Timothy Hammond and Alan Gordon (team Spot Africa/Insect Science), they finished 17 minutes ahead of defending champions Jimmy Williamson and Scott Lyttle (Willbike/Mortgage Me, New Zealand).

 

The women’s title was very much up in the air heading into the final stage, with Wellington Airport’s Kate McIlroy and Amy Hollamby (New Zealand) holding an eight-minute lead over Brodie Chapman and Briony Mattocks (Shimano, Australia), but the Kiwis held their nerve to win the stage and stamp their name on the trophy.

 

“We have worked really well together, working out each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we complement each other really well. It has been a massive six days, I don’t know if either one of us expected to win it, so it is a huge surprise and we are absolutely stoked”, said McIlroy.”

 

“It is quite stressful having the yellow leader jersey on all week and to be honest we didn’t expect to have it so soon after the prologue and to keep it all week. There were some nervous moments but today was awesome. The last two hours were probably the longest of my life, the Queenstown Trail is not easy!”

 

Hollamby was third last year with Haley Van Leeuwen and has ridden and led the team superbly all week and was full of praise for McIlroy.

 

“That was unbelievable, this girl has some pure strength, I can’t believe how she rides, she has had me in the box all week,” said an exhausted but elated Hollamby.

 

Third home was team Madison of Erin Greene and Hannah Miller (New Zealand), Greene was the defending champion from 2017.

 

Closest of all categories was the Mixed, with two-time defending champions Mark Williams and Kate Fluker (New World, New Zealand), unable to defend a six-minute lead on the final day, with the hard charging Josie Wilcox and Joe Skerman (team JoJoe) storming to victory with a nine-minute stage victory into Queenstown.

 

“We got a five-minute penalty on Tuesday so were quite determined to get that back, it is our first stage race, so it was a learning experience, but we are really happy. I am so proud of Joe, he hung in and rode through some pretty dark places today,” said Wilcox

 

“I tried to go on the hill, but Joe had other ideas, Kate caught Joe on the hill and we worked together but then Joe told me Willy (Mark Williams) had a flat tyre and I knew we had to make the most of it, which is pretty awful and just really unlucky, I knew we had a good lead at the jet boat and then we pretty much time trial back into town.”

 

Skerman was his usual understated self as he contemplated putting the bike away for a while to get back to work on the farm.

 

“The tank is well empty now, that was a tough one today. It has been great racing, we have learned a lot.  Kate and Willy are awesome riders, we just wanted to keep the pressure on all week and we managed to get it today which we are pretty happy about it.

 

“That is very rewarding, I am proud of the result, but I will be happy to get back to my dairy farm and milk the cows again.”

 

Queenstown local Mark Williams was full of praise for Wilcox and Skerman, despite the disappointment of the untimely puncture.

 

“That is racing, hats off to Josie and Joe, they raced really hard all week, they deserve it and have been charging and been really strong. Some things happen for a reason, a staple through the tyre for me today just said it wasn’t meant to be for us this year.  I am happy, we raced well and gave it our all and have just come up a bit short, but we have still had a great time out there.”

 

Emphasising the quality of the Kiwis was the third placed team of Jean-Francois Bossler (France) and Fanny Bourdon (CZE), the 2016 Cape Epic winners loving their time in New Zealand.

The Masters division was taken out by the Australian SRAM team of Anthony Shippard and David Evans, the pair were dominant throughout the week to win by almost four hours from CyclingTips.com.au Wade Wallace and Allan Iacuone (Australia), with team Nutritec Nathon Wright and Gene Marsh (New Zealand) in third.

 

Equally impressive was team IMB in taking out the Women’s Masters by over three hours, with Kath Kelly and Peg Leyland (Australia) winning the final stage to wrap up a superb week of riding. Second were Emma McCosh and Marquita Gelderman (New Zealand), with Kylie Burrows and Sarah Kaehler (Australia) in third.

 

Burrows was one of the inspiring stories from the event as she returned having undertaken treatment to fight an aggressive breast cancer discovered just weeks after she rode in the 2017 Pioneer. In her own words she was not going to be beaten and returned to compete again in 2018, with a few less ‘free loaders’ on board.

 

The Grand Masters (both riders 50+) was won by Shaun Portegys and Tim O’Leary (2 Old Men, New Zealand), with today’s stage winners Blair Stuthridge and Neil Sutherland (New Zealand) coming home second overall, with Napier pair Kent Wilson and Chris Clark in third on GC.

 

The celebrations at the finish line in the Queenstown Gardens extended well into the afternoon however, with every rider welcomed as a hero as the scope of the accomplishment hit home for many. There were tears, hugs, cheers and smiles aplenty as exhausted riders enjoyed the moment with their team mates, other riders and the many family and friends lining the finish chute at the Ice Arena.

 

The 2018 Pioneer
Stage five results
86km, Bannockburn to Queenstown

Open Men
1 ONYA Bike, Tim Rush & Michael Vink (NZL), 4:14:10
2 Spot Africa/Insect, Alan Gordon & Timothy Hammond (SAF), 4:23:13
3 Willbike/Mortgage Me Queenstown, Jimmy Williamson & Scott Lyttle (NZL), 4:35:20

Open Women
1 Wellington Airport, Amy Hollamby & Kate McIlroy (NZL), 5:08:40
2 Shimano, Briony Mattocks & Brodie Chapman (AUS), 5:28:27
3 Madison NZ, Erin Greene & Hannah Miller (NZL), 5:34:23

Mixed
1 JoJoe, Josie Wilcox & Joe Skerman (NZL), 4:47:09
1 New World, Mark Williams & Kate Fluker (NZL), 4:56:28
3 Team Garmin, Yolandi du Toit & Ben Swanepoel (SAF), 5:02:29

Masters (Both riders 40+)
1 SRAM, Anthony Shippard & David Evans, (AUS), 4:36:30
2 Cyclingtips.com.au, Wade Wallace & Allan Iacuone (AUS), 4:46:22
3 Nutritec, Nathon Wright & Gene Marsh (NZL), 4:57:08

Women’s Masters (both riders 40+)
1 IMB, Peg Leyland & Kath Kelly (NZL), 5:42:42
2 Pikelet & Blini, Emma McCosh & Marquita Gelderman (NZL), 6:20:51
3 Cable Geraldine Logging, Kylie Burrows & Sarah Kaehler (NZL & AUS), 7:01:25

Grand Masters (both riders 50+)
1 Stutho and Sutho, Blair Stuthridge & Neil Sutherland, (NZL), 4:55:05
2 2 Old Men, Shaun Portegys & Tim O’Leary, NZL), 4:57:55
3 Beeej and Deeez, Richard Read & Brian John, (AUS), 5:07:00

 

The Pioneer
FINAL GENERAL CLASSIFICATION
Prologue and 5 Stages of racing
424km and 15,124m of climbing

Open Men
1 ONYA Bike, Tim Rush & Michael Vink (NZL), 20:28:25
2 Spot Africa/Insect, Alan Gordon & Timothy Hammond (SAF), 21:43:57
3 Willbike/Mortgage Me Queenstown, Jimmy Williamson & Scott Lyttle (NZL) 22:01:13

Open Women
1 Wellington Airport, Amy Hollamby & Kate McIlroy (NZL), 25:27:11
2 Shimano, Briony Mattocks & Brodie Chapman (AUS), 25:54:52
3 Madison NZ, Erin Greene & Hannah Miller (NZL), 27:34:06

Mixed
1 JoJoe, Josie Wilcox & Joe Skerman (NZL), 24:08:35
2 New World, Mark Williams & Kate Fluker (NZL), 24:11:43
3 Niner Bikes/Kappius Components, Jean-Francois Bossler & Fanny Bourdon (FRA/CZE), 25:12:57

Masters (Both riders 40+)
1 SRAM, Anthony Shippard & David Evans, (AUS), 22:51:01
2 Nutritec, Nathon Wright & Gene Marsh (NZL), 24:13:56
3 A21 Linc’n’Lister, Lincoln Carolan & Peter Lister (AUS), 24:27:10

Women’s Masters (both riders 40+)
1 IMB, Peg Leyland & Kath Kelly (NZL), 27:57:26
2 Pikelet & Blini, Emma McCosh & Marquita Gelderman (NZL), 31:03:47
3 Cable Geraldine Logging, Kylie Burrows & Sarah Kaehler (NZL & AUS), 35:02:39

Grand Masters (both riders 50+)
1 2 Old Men, Shaun Portegys & Tim O’Leary, NZL), 23:44:34
1 Stutho & Sutho Protocol, Blair Stuthridge & Neil Sutherland (NZL), 24:51:35
3 The Hub Cycles/Napier, Kent Wilson & Chris Clark (NZL), 25:09:20

 


Vink on the verge of unique cycling achievement – women's race still up for grabs at The Pioneer

A fascinating final day lies in prospect as The Pioneer nears the end of a stunning week.

 

2018 Tour of Southland champion Michael Vink looks set to capture a unique double as he and riding partner Tim Rush (ONYA Bike) enter the final day of The Pioneer Mountain Bike Stage Race with a commanding lead on general classification, but the race is well and truly on in both the Mixed and Women’s categories with just 86km left to pedal into Queenstown.

 

Vink and Rush have had command of the race for most of the week and enter the finishing straight with a massive 1:06:29 lead over Spot Africa/Insect Science team of Alan Gordon and Timothy Hammond.

 

“I think we have found our rhythm this week and just settled into it,” said Vink. “Today was probably one of the more consistent days we have had, we were in the bunch more than usual and we just rode a steady pace up the climb, not trying to drop anyone and felt better for it.

 

“Tomorrow we just keep doing what we have been doing, don’t change anything, we will just do our thing, not take any risks and make sure we have good tyres on and that the chains aren’t worn. We just need to get it done and enjoy it as well.”

 

Second placed team Spot Africa/Insect Science have experience at some of the world’s big multi stage mountain bike races but were fulsome in their praise of The Pioneer.

 

“It has been awesome, there is no better way to see New Zealand than on a bicycle and it seems like there are mountain bike tracks everywhere in New Zealand, it has been great,” said Hammond.

 

Defending champions Jimmy Williamson and Scott Lyttle (Willbike/Mortgage Me Queenstown) kept the pressure on the South Africans for the minor placings, with a second-place finish on the stage today to edge to just over five minutes further behind in third.

 

The women’s race has been a stunner throughout the week, best highlighted by a sprint finish to the stage into Bannockburn today, won by Briony Mattocks and Brodie Chapman (team Shimano) by 4 tenths of a second, the Aussies just pipping team Wellington Airport’s Kate McIlroy and Amy Hollamby (New Zealand). The Kiwis however lead on general classification by 7:54.

 

McIlroy is a renowned competitor and is loving the battle with the Aussies but admits she has some learning to do when it comes to aid station etiquette.

 

“The Aussie girls are amazing riders and I think it is just cool that the top two teams are so close. Amy was awesome today for us, we were talking the whole way. It was an awesome day, the hardest day of the six, we weren’t feeling so great yesterday so went into today wanting to ride our own pace. Brodie and Briony were around us all day and helped us keep tabs on where they were at, it has made it really competitive, but that was an awesome day.

 

“The aid stations are a bit tricky, I have to apologies to the volunteers at the aid stations. I am not used to stopping in a race, it was panic stations and try and grab a whole plate of oranges and try and get them up my top, it is amazing what you can fit in!”

 

The Mixed Category is the closest of the big three, with New World’s Kate Fluker and Mark Williams (Queenstown, New Zealand) watching team Joejo Joe Skerman and Josie Wilcox (New Zealand) take four minutes off their overall lead today, leaving the Queenstown riding stars a perilous 6:11 in front with just the ride home.

 

“it was quite cool at the start of the stage which was quite nice, we cruised with Kate and Willy for the first 20k and then started the Carricktown climb,” said Wilcox.  “Carricktown was an epic climb, over an hour of climbing so it was about pace and not going too hard. We gradually got some distance and just increased and knew we had to get to the descent before them, and then managed to hang on.”

 

The Men’s Masters has been dominated by the impressive Australian pairing of David Evans and Anthony Shippard (SRAM), best underlined by a superb stage today that saw the Aussies extend their lead by an amazing 18 minutes on the 70km climb into the hills around Bannockburn.

 

Team IMB Kath Kelly and Peg Leyland (New Zealand) look set to make it a clean sweep in the Women’s Masters, claiming yet another stage today to lead on general classification by almost two and a half hours from Emma McCosh and Marquita Gelderman (team Pikelet and Blini, NZL).

 

Aptly named by age but not performance, 2 Old Men are in complete control of the Grand Masters, Shaun Portegys and Tim O’Leary (NZL) taking out the stage today by 18 minutes to bank a 1:38:49 lead over Peter O’Sullivan and Trevor Woodward (Crankit Cycles, NZL), with Kent Wilson and Chris Clark (The Hub Cycles/Napier Painting Contractors) in third on GC.

 

Riders can sleep easy tonight in their tent city and campervans at Andersons Farm in Bannockburn, knowing they have just the 86km ride back into Queenstown to finish an amazing week of riding, with Central Otago turning on a stunning week of weather and views, with promised thunderstorms largely skirting the stage today.

 

Riders will depart Bannockburn at 7am on Friday, and make their way home via the Kawarau Gorge, over Mt Michael in the final big climb of the week into the Pisa Range. It is then largely downhill or rolling country all the way home, interrupted by the famous river crossing with riders transported across the Kawarau on jet boats, coming home on the pristine Queenstown Cycle Trails, past wineries and the Bungy Bridge, with home almost in sight at the Ice Arena.


The 2018 Pioneer
Stage Three Results
79km Alexandra to Bannockburn

Open Men
1 ONYA Bike, Tim Rush & Michael Vink (NZL), 3:36:00
2 Willbike/Mortgage Me Queenstown, Jimmy Williamson & Scott Lyttle (NZL), 3:50:02
3 Spot Africa/Insect, Alan Gordon & Timothy Hammond (SAF), 3:51:54

Open Women
1 Shimano, Briony Mattocks & Brodie Chapman (AUS), 4:24:05
2 Wellington Airport, Amy Hollamby & Kate McIlroy (NZL), 4:24:05.9
3 Madison NZ, Erin Greene & Hannah Miller (NZL), 4:59:53

Mixed
1 JoJoe, Josie Wilcox & Joe Skerman (NZL), 4:06:43
1 New World, Mark Williams & Kate Fluker (NZL), 4:10:46
3 Team Garmin, Yolandi du Toit & Ben Swanepoel (SAF), 4:22:47

Masters (Both riders 40+)
1 SRAM, Anthony Shippard & David Evans, (AUS), 3:51:43
2 Nutritec, Nathon Wright & Gene Marsh (NZL), 4:10:13
3 Rivet Racing, Gianluca Valsenti & Matthew Webber (NZL), 4:11:38

Women’s Masters (both riders 40+)
1 IMB, Peg Leyland & Kath Kelly (NZL), 5:04:15
2 Pikelet & Blini, Emma McCosh & Marquita Gelderman (NZL), 5:40:36
3 Cable Geraldine Logging, Kylie Burrows & Sarah Kaehler (NZL & AUS), 6:23:14

Grand Masters (both riders 50+)
1 2 Old Men, Shaun Portegys & Tim O’Leary, NZL), 4:09:06
2 Crankit Cycles, Peter O’Sullivan & Trevor Woodward, (NZL), 4:28:02
3 The Hub Cycles/Napier, Kent Wilson & Chris Clark (NZL), 4:35:18

The Pioneer
General Classification after the Prologue, Stage One and Stage Two

Open Men
1 ONYA Bike, Tim Rush & Michael Vink (NZL), 16:14:14
2 Spot Africa/Insect, Alan Gordon & Timothy Hammond (SAF), 17:20:44
3 Willbike/Mortgage Me Queenstown, Jimmy Williamson & Scott Lyttle (NZL) 17:25:52

Open Women
1 Wellington Airport, Amy Hollamby & Kate McIlroy (NZL), 20:18:31
2 Shimano, Briony Mattocks & Brodie Chapman (AUS), 20:26:25
3 Madison NZ, Erin Greene & Hannah Miller (NZL), 21:59:43

Mixed
1 New World, Mark Williams & Kate Fluker (NZL), 19:15:14
2 JoJoe, Josie Wilcox & Joe Skerman (NZL), 19:21:26
3 Niner Bikes/Kappius Components, Jean-Francois Bossler & Fanny Bourdon (FRA/CZE), 20:04:58

Masters (Both riders 40+)
1 SRAM, Anthony Shippard & David Evans, (AUS), 18:14:31
2 Nutritec, Nathon Wright & Gene Marsh (NZL), 19:16:47
3 A21 Linc’n’Lister, Lincoln Carolan & Peter Lister (AUS), 19:21:20

Women’s Masters (both riders 40+)
1 IMB, Peg Leyland & Kath Kelly (NZL), 22:14:44
2 Pikelet & Blini, Emma McCosh & Marquita Gelderman (NZL), 24:42:55
3 Cable Geraldine Logging, Kylie Burrows & Sarah Kaehler (NZL & AUS), 28:01:04

 

Grand Masters (both riders 50+)
1 2 Old Men, Shaun Portegys & Tim O’Leary, NZL), 18:46:39
1 Stutho & Sutho Protocol, Blair Stuthridge & Neil Sutherland (NZL), 19:56:29
3 The Hub Cycles/Napier, Kent Wilson & Chris Clark (NZL), 20:01:18

 


Chapman & Mattocks make their move as Aussies close on Kiwis at The Pioneer

Team Shimano were the big movers on day four of The Pioneer as Central Otago turned on another stunning picture-postcard day, the Australian open women’s team of Brodie Chapman and Briony Mattocks won their first stage of the event and in the process took five minutes out of the lead held by Wellington Airport, Kate McIlroy and Amy Hollamby (New Zealand).

 

The men’s race was more to the script of previous days, with ONYA Bike Tim Rush and Michael Vink extending their overall lead to a massive 50 minutes over Spot Africa/Insect Science Alan Gordon and Timothy Hammond (South Africa), with Willbike/Mortgage Me’s Jimmy Williamson and Scott Lyttle (New Zealand) third on the day, and third on general classification.

 

On another beautiful warm day, it was the Aussie pairing of Mattocks and Chapman that made the biggest statement as the event rode 79km from Alexandra into Bannockburn, with Mattocks hinting that the best is yet to come.

 

“We are just chipping away at the time gap, after the prologue we started behind so our plan each day is to chip away. We know we are good for the week, everybody hurts but we will do the little things we can to maybe hurt a little less than everyone else and hopefully get there in the end.”

 

Chapman described a tough stage, but one they still were able to appreciate for the views and stunning scenery.

 

“It was long, anytime off the bike and walking takes it out of your body in ways you aren’t used to as a cyclist, but it was all made up for by the awesome landscape we were riding through, it was surreal and as much as we are trying to be on the pedals we are taking it all in and appreciating what an awesome opportunity it is to be riding here like this.

 

“There is no way you would be up on those mountain tracks without being in an event like this, it is really cool. But it is a race and since we lost time on that first day, we have been trying to make up time while riding our own race, knowing we have the whole week to get through so there is no point going too hard too early.”

 

McIlroy and Hollamby know they are in for a great scrap over the final two days, with Hollamby saying recovery is key to the days ahead.

 

“That was a tough day, those girls took it to us and rode great, but we will recover and come back again tomorrow. I just felt a bit flat today and was eating and taking on board anything I could, but we will be back and ready again tomorrow.”

 

Vink and Rush surely have one hand on the beautiful greenstone Pioneer trophy, winning today’s stage by 12 minutes over their nearest rivals. Vink is not taking anything for granted though, on a day when their margin might have been even bigger.

 

“We were aware that we had a gap, but we weren’t sure how big it was. We actually had a puncture in the last 10k, on an event like this it is always good to have that lead as you never know when you might need it, so we were riding hard even though we knew we had a gap as you never know what might happen.”

 

Queenstown riders Mark Williams and Kate Fluker (New World) sent an ominous message to their nearest rivals, winning yet another stage and extending their overall lead to just over ten minutes, with Fluker announcing that she had found her riding legs.

 

“We had a good day today, we were both feeling good today which is a nice change, the last few days I have been struggling a bit but got my legs back today, so I am happy,” said Fluker. “I have just been pedaling as hard as I can but going nowhere, that is pretty hard mentally but as we said yesterday, you just keep eating and drinking and you get through.”

 

12-time IRONMAN New Zealand champion Cameron Brown is loving his week, riding with good mate Andrew Smith in team Vital All In One.

 

“It is bloody hard, but I came here to see the scenery and see the different places that no one can ever get to, that is what is very unique. It is tough, very tough, but at the end of the day you sit down and just like an IRONMAN you forget how hard it is and regroup for the next day.

 

“We are just looking to get through it, enjoy it, stay upright and not break a collar bone. We have had some scary moments with the odd heart flutter, you have to be mentally on your game the whole time. If you have a slip up for a couple of seconds you will go down in a heap.”

 

It was a tough finish for team Tri Adventures NZ/TWC Racing, with Matt Bradbury having a smashed derailleur wreck his rear wheel, forcing him to run the final 11km of the stage.

 

“The derailleur came off on the last big downhill, must have got a rock into it and broke it and threw it into the spokes. I was lucky I didn’t come off with it, but I managed to get back here in an hour and eight. The legs feel good at the moment, but I will be knackered tomorrow. We tried to get rid of the bike but were told it was against the rules, so had to bring it with us!”

 

The Women’s Masters has been dominated throughout the week by team IMB, Kath Kelly and Peg Leyland (New Zealand), the Men’s Masters is led by the equally impressive SRAM team of Anthony Shippard and David Evans (Australia), and the Grand Masters is being bossed by Central Otago pair of Alexandra’s Shaun Portegys and Queenstown’s Tim O’Leary (2 Old Men).

 

Riders spend the night tonight in the village at Bannockburn, on Andersons Farm, with tomorrows stage another taste of the incredible beauty of the Central Otago Region, with a 70km loop stage that takes in 3,563m of climbing.

 

The stage presents the toughest climbing of the week and includes a climb to Pylon Track on the Nevis Range, a long climb on the historic Carricktown Trail with incredible views at the top of the Carrick Range.

 

The toughest part of the day is the aptly named climb of Mt Difficulty, with the reward being stunning views again to Nevis River Gorge and the Gibbston Valley, before descending to take in the Bannockburn Loop Track then home to Andersons Farm for a well-earned rest ahead of the final day’s ride back into Queenstown.


The 2018 Pioneer
Stage Three Results
79km Alexandra to Bannockburn

Open Men
1 ONYA Bike, Tim Rush & Michael Vink (NZL), 3:42:37
2 Spot Africa/Insect, Alan Gordon & Timothy Hammond (SAF), 3:54:52
3 Willbike/Mortgage Me Queenstown, Jimmy Williamson & Scott Lyttle (NZL), 3:58:07

Open Women
1 Shimano, Briony Mattocks & Brodie Chapman (AUS), 4:27:23
2 Wellington Airport, Amy Hollamby & Kate McIlroy (NZL), 4:32:20
3 Madison NZ, Erin Greene & Hannah Miller (NZL), 4:59:51

Mixed
1 New World, Mark Williams & Kate Fluker (NZL), 4:17:14
2 JoJoe, Josie Wilcox & Joe Skerman (NZL), 4:19:47
3 Niner Bikes/Kappius Components, Jean-Francois Bossler & Fanny Bourdon (FRA/CZE), 4:27:13

Masters (Both riders 40+)
1 SRAM, Anthony Shippard & David Evans, (AUS), 4:07:53
2 Nutritec, Nathon Wright & Gene Marsh (NZL), 4:20:33
3 A21 Linc ‘n’ Lister, Lincoln Carolan & Peter Lister (AUS), 4:21:00

Women’s Masters (both riders 40+)
1 IMB, Peg Leyland & Kath Kelly (NZL), 5:03:17
2 Pikelet & Blini, Emma McCosh & Marquita Gelderman (NZL), 5:31:15
3 Cable Geraldine Logging, Kylie Burrows & Sarah Kaehler (NZL & AUS), 6:17:45

Grand Masters (both riders 50+)
1 2 Old Men, Shaun Portegys & Tim O’Leary, NZL), 4:16:41
1 Stutho & Sutho Protocol, Blair Stuthridge & Neil Sutherland (NZL), 4:26:07
3 The Hub Cycles/Napier, Kent Wilson & Chris Clark (NZL), 4:28:36

The Pioneer
General Classification after the Prologue, Stage One and Stage Two

Open Men
1 ONYA Bike, Tim Rush & Michael Vink (NZL), 12:38:14
2 Spot Africa/Insect, Alan Gordon & Timothy Hammond (SAF), 13:28:49
3 Willbike/Mortgage Me Queenstown, Jimmy Williamson & Scott Lyttle (NZL) 13:35:50

Open Women
1 Wellington Airport, Amy Hollamby & Kate McIlroy (NZL), 15:54:25
2 Shimano, Briony Mattocks & Brodie Chapman (AUS), 16:02:20
3 Madison NZ, Erin Greene & Hannah Miller (NZL), 16:59:50

Mixed
1 New World, Mark Williams & Kate Fluker (NZL), 15:04:27
2 JoJoe, Josie Wilcox & Joe Skerman (NZL), 15:14:43
3 Niner Bikes/Kappius Components, Jean-Francois Bossler & Fanny Bourdon (FRA/CZE), 15:39:12

Masters (Both riders 40+)
1 SRAM, Anthony Shippard & David Evans, (AUS), 14:22:48
2 Nutritec, Nathon Wright & Gene Marsh (NZL), 15:06:34
3 A21 Linc’n’Lister, Lincoln Carolan & Peter Lister (AUS), 15:07:13

Women’s Masters (both riders 40+)
1 IMB, Peg Leyland & Kath Kelly (NZL), 17:10:28
2 Pikelet & Blini, Emma McCosh & Marquita Gelderman (NZL), 19:02:19
3 Cable Geraldine Logging, Kylie Burrows & Sarah Kaehler (NZL & AUS), 21:37:50

Grand Masters (both riders 50+)
1 2 Old Men, Shaun Portegys & Tim O’Leary, NZL), 14:37:32
1 Stutho & Sutho Protocol, Blair Stuthridge & Neil Sutherland (NZL), 15:08:10
3 The Hub Cycles/Napier, Kent Wilson & Chris Clark (NZL), 15:26:00


Alexandra turns on the weather at The Pioneer's Queen Stage - Kiwi teams take control

Central Otago put on a picture-perfect November day for riders on the Queen Stage of The Pioneer, a 101km ride over some of the regions famous bike trails, taking riders on a mountain biking version of the regions greatest hits, and it was the Kiwis who dominated proceedings.

Team ONYA Bike won the stage and took a stranglehold on the open men’s general classification, with Tim Rush and Michael Vink all class as they completed the stage in 4:38:26, winning by an incredible 20 minutes from South African pairing Alan Gordon and Timothy Hammond (team Spot Africa/Insect Science).

Their general classification lead has ballooned out to 38:19, with the unexpected withdrawal of previous second placed team Vojomag/ESMTB with Ismael Ventura Sanchez unable to complete the stage due to a stomach bug picked up prior to arriving in New Zealand.

Vink and Rush were imperious though, with Rush describing a great day right from the early kilometres.

“We went on the first 5k single track climb, over Butchers Dam, it was the first time we have ridden it and we enjoyed it. I just rode tempo and we got into a good rhythm and the other guys dropped off. It was good to get that gap and then Vinky put it in the 38 on the downhill and spun her up and we were away.”

Vink described a much easier day when riding from in front early on.

“It was good even in terms of racing, the difference today is we were in front and not chasing, we got that gap early and that was the difference. Yesterday we were kind of chasing from the first difficult section which made it hard, but today we rode within ourselves and to our own tempo, I think that was the key.”

The 2018 Tour of Southland winner is loving his time in the dirt, hinting that he might return without a race number and timing chip.

“It was really fun, to be honest it would be nice to ride through here not racing and in quite so much pain, it would be nice to cruise through here and enjoy a bit more, but we are still taking time to take things in and share a few things on course, we are having fun, that is what it is all about at the end of the day.”

The mixed category continues to be dominated by defending champions team New World, Mark Williams and Kate Fluker (New Zealand), who made it two stage wins in a row today, but they know that their overall margin of just 7:41 is one that can disappear very quickly in a multi stage event such as The Pioneer.

“That was a great race, those guys had a great start and got a good gap on the first climb. We set off to to our own thing, regrouped and rode at our own pace. And then at the top of Fraser Weir Kate bounced back and started to push, and from there we started to pick teams off and caught them with about 10k to and got a little gap, but it is great racing and great to have those guys in the race.”

Fluker spoke of a tough day, one that tested her resolve and had her drawing on her previous two Pioneer wins to come through.

“Experience helped us today, Willy knows that I am always trying my best and when I am not going well there is a reason, so he sticks by me, and I did come right and got it going and made it to the finish.”

Williams says the formula is simple when either of them is having a tough patch.

“Just feed the machine, keep eating, keep putting fuel in the body and sooner or later you always come right.”

It was a similar story in the open women’s category, with Kate McIlroy and Amy Hollamby winning the stage by 3:23 to extend their general classification lead, but Aussie pairing Brodie Chapman and Briony Mattocks remain a threat, finishing second today to be 12:52 behind after three days of riding.

Chapman is loving the Pioneer experience and vows to keep fighting over the closing three days.

“That was a really long day on the bike, longer than I usually ever do, some super punishing climbs but the atmosphere and landscape made it doable. The aid stations absolutely saved us with that electrolyte and food ready to go, it was so good. The single track was fun, and you just have to keep turning the legs over.

“The other girls are very strong and we both have our strengths. We feel we excel in the single track and can look to make up time there, but when it comes to those super brutal climbs and long pulls you have to ride your own race, there is no point trying to hold someone’s wheel that you just can’t sustain.

“Briony has been awesome and is super experienced, she said to me today we are like Simpson and the Donkey, she is Simpson and I am the Donkey, which is actually very accurate, but we are super stoked at team Shimano.”

One of the more impressive pairings in the event is the Grand Masters pairing of Shaun Portegys (Alexandra) and Tim O’Leary (Queenstown). The two ‘locals’ lead the category by 21:11 with Portegys saying ‘so far so good’ between the good mates.

“What an awesome day, great weather, it never got really hot. We have just got back from Aussie last month and did an 8-day race over there in high thirties so today was perfect. It is going really well, I think we are going good, he (Tim) is still talking to me anyway, but there are a few days still to go.”

One of the more heroic stories on a day full of amazing tales was that of South African pairing Yolandi du Toit and Ben Swanepoel, the Team Garmin riders had to walk the final kilometres yesterday after du Toit injured a shoulder. After further treatment and a night’s rest, the pair continued on today, finishing in 6:30:09 in the mixed category.

Riders stay again overnight in Alexandra tonight, before taking on Stage Three on Wednesday, a journey on the way to arriving at the second remote race village at Bannockburn.

The stage is predominantly on farm track and will take riders deep into remote high-country stations along the way.  Riders will be exposed to spectacular views 1000m above sea level on the Cairnmuir Range.

After the extra helping of single track from yesterday, riders will be relieved to roll through town and onto the Alexandra - Clyde River Trail, a 10km section of wide and fast flowing track between the willows. In Clyde, the course joins the Fruitlands roads, what will be speedy section on tar seal blazing past apple, cherry and apricot orchards.

 

Stage Two Results

Open Men
1 ONYA Bike, Tim Rush & Michael Vink (NZL), 4:38:26
2 Spot Africa/Insect, Alan Gordon & Timothy Hammond (SAF), 4:58:24
3 Willbike/Mortgage Me Queenstown, Jimmy Williamson & Scott Lyttle (NZL), 5:00:36

Open Women
1 Wellington Airport, Amy Hollamby & Kate McIlroy (NZL), 5:47:21
2 Shimano, Briony Mattocks & Brodie Chapman (AUS), 5:50:44
3 Madison NZ, Erin Greene & Hannah Miller (NZL), 6:11:17

Mixed
1 New World, Mark Williams & Kate Fluker (NZL), 5:39:39
2 JoJoe, Josie Wilcox & Joe Skerman (NZL), 5:41:44
3 Niner Bikes/Kappius Components, Jean-Francois Bossler & Fanny Bourdon (FRA/CZE), 5:47:32

Masters (Both riders 40+)
1 SRAM, Anthony Shippard & David Evans, (AUS), 5:21:41
2 CyclingTips.com.au, Wade Wallace & Allan Iacuone (AUS) 5:27:08
3 Nutritec, Nathon Wright & Gene Marsh (NZL), 5:30:09

Women’s Masters (both riders 40+)
1 IMB, Peg Leyland & Kath Kelly (NZL), 6:10:30
2 Pikelet & Blini, Emma McCosh & Marquita Gelderman (NZL), 6:55:56
3 Cable Geraldine Logging, Kylie Burrows & Sarah Kaehler (NZL & AUS), 7:50:21

Grand Masters (both riders 50+)
1 2 Old Men, Shaun Portegys & Tim O’Leary, NZL), 5:22:45
1 Stutho & Sutho Protocol, Blair Stuthridge & Neil Sutherland (NZL), 5:33:28
3 The Hub Cycles/Napier, Kent Wilson & Chris Clark (NZL), 5:37:47

General Classification after the Prologue, Stage One and Stage Two

Open Men
1 ONYA Bike, Tim Rush & Michael Vink (NZL), 8:55:37
2 Spot Africa/Insect, Alan Gordon & Timothy Hammond (SAF), 9:33:57
3 Willbike/Mortgage Me Queenstown, Jimmy Williamson & Scott Lyttle (NZL) 9:37:42

Open Women
1 Wellington Airport, Amy Hollamby & Kate McIlroy (NZL), 11:22:05
2 Shimano, Briony Mattocks & Brodie Chapman (AUS), 11:34:57
3 Madison NZ, Erin Greene & Hannah Miller (NZL), 11:59:58

Mixed
1 New World, Mark Williams & Kate Fluker (NZL), 10:47:13
2 JoJoe, Josie Wilcox & Joe Skerman (NZL), 10:54:55
3 Niner Bikes/Kappius Components, Jean-Francois Bossler & Fanny Bourdon (FRA/CZE), 11:11:59

Masters (Both riders 40+)
1 SRAM, Anthony Shippard & David Evans, (AUS), 10:14:54
2 Nutritec, Nathon Wright & Gene Marsh (NZL), 10:46:01
3 A21 Linc’n’Lister, Lincoln Carolan & Peter Lister (AUS), 10:46:12

Women’s Masters (both riders 40+)
1 IMB, Peg Leyland & Kath Kelly (NZL), 12:07:10
2 Pikelet & Blini, Emma McCosh & Marquita Gelderman (NZL), 13:31:04
3 Cable Geraldine Logging, Kylie Burrows & Sarah Kaehler (NZL & AUS), 15:20:05

Grand Masters (both riders 50+)
1 2 Old Men, Shaun Portegys & Tim O’Leary, NZL), 10:20:51
1 Stutho & Sutho Protocol, Blair Stuthridge & Neil Sutherland (NZL), 10:42:03
3 The Hub Cycles/Napier, Kent Wilson & Chris Clark (NZL), 10:57:23