Multisport: Southern Alps loom in Pioneer

The South Island turned on a belter on day two of The Pioneer mountain bike race, showing off the looming Southern Alps in all their glory as riders made their way from Geraldine to Fairlie, completing the 106km in brilliant sunshine.

It was again the Aussie/Kiwi combination of Dan McConnell and Anton Cooper dominating, completing the testing stage in 4:26:32 to further extend their lead on the two chasing Kona Factory teams from North America.

McConnell said it wasn't all plain sailing though.

"We are really happy with how that went, it is a pretty big day, one of the longest in the race so to get through that and get a bit more time was a bit of a bonus. We had a mechanical as well, I flatted at about 30k and lost a couple of minutes but we were able to claw it back and not have to go too crazy or too hard. Setting a good tempo was important today and not going too quick and get too carried away on the climbs."

Cooper spoke earlier in the week about the importance of pacing themselves on such a week of long rides.

"I think we did a pretty good job, when Dan got the puncture I thought it would make life hard for us today but we worked well together and clawed the time back and then I think made a bit more time in the hills.

We paced it pretty well and we are happy, but there is so much more riding to do."

Conditions were hot throughout most the ride, with temperatures nudging 30 degrees, not that it bothered McConnell.

"The heat is perfect for me, coming straight from Australia in the middle of summer, I am more than happy with it. Anton though is I think finding it a bit rough, but this is showcasing what the event is all about and this part of New Zealand so I think everyone will be happy."

Cooper admitted he was a little less comfortable in the searing heat.

"When Dan punctured I was just about taking everything off - we have probably only had a handful of days like this in Christchurch where I am doing all my training so to get one today and spend four and half hours in it was brutal, but all good."

The leading women's team of Erin Greene and Kath Kelly (Team Torpedo7) extended their lead also, dominating the day to extend their lead to a massive 1:21:05 after two of the seven days with a 5:29:59 stage ride today.

"That was bloody hot, there was not enough water in the rivers out there to cool me down. The views though were amazing, just an amazing day."

Greene reflected on a trouble free ride.

"That was a good day for us, no mechanicals, no punctures, a good day at the office but I am glad to be finished, you might say we are perfectly wrecked!"

Next best of the women's teams was the Masters pairing of Leigh Cockerill and Sue Clark, riding into Fairlie almost 40 minutes behind the impressive Greene/Kelly combination to take a stranglehold on the Masters 40+ category.

In the Open Mixed category it is New Zealand rep rider Kate Fluker and Mark 'Willy' Williams leading the way after another impressive day. Fluker is hoping to qualify for the Rio Olympic Games and is laying down a great foundation for the season with rides such as today's in The Pioneer.

"We thought today was meant to be easier but rolling over the line five hours later we were both spent. It was quite tough out of the start with the first pinch out of town (Geraldine) and then we just decided to let the first group go but as the race went on we were reeling a few people in and apparently by the last aid station we were third overall which was surprising.

"We rode really well together though in what was just a gorgeous place to be riding. It was quite hot but the aid stations were great and looked after us. I had no idea it was going to be that amazing though, New Zealand is just so amazing, with all these hidden gems that most people never see, it was so cool to ride there today."

One of the talking points today was the performance of two of the older riders with considerable length to their CV's. Dr Matt Brick and Jon Hume own numerous national and world titles and records between them in cycling, triathlon, duathlon and multisport.

Today 53-year-old Brick and 47-year-old Hume turned back the clock, coming home in 11th overall in 5:03:42. Matt says his racing is still fun but a lot slower than it used to be.

"I try and do different events that are both a challenge and an adventure. I have done many triathlons, duathlons, cycling and running events. I have never done a 7-day Mountain Bike stage race before though.

"Jon suffered a nasty bike versus car concussion in 2008. It really put the skids on his life, family, work and sport. It has been a long slow process and getting ready for Pioneer has been fantastic to see the first glimpses of the powerful athlete that Jon used to be. Six months ago I thought I would be dragging him around the Southern Alps but now I am quite sure it will be the other way around over the next few days."

Stage three departs the Fairlie Show Grounds at 8am on Tuesday morning, taking the riders 74km to Lake Tekapo with the riders into the Alps for the first time. Riders face an early climb towards the Albury Range (1290m at the summit), followed by a jaw dropping 9km descent before rolling along Single Hill Range on farm tracks. There is another climb late in the stage before a fast rocky descent into Edwards Stream. The Stage finishes through the local Mountain Bike Park to Takapo.

- NZ Herald

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