African drums echo for riders

Motatapu trek: Kate Fluker and Mark 'Willy' Williams PICTURE: TIM BARDSLEY-SMITH

Queenstown mountain bikers are hoping to continue their winning ways in the world’s biggest mountain bike race in Africa.

Kate Fluker and Mark ‘Willy’ Williams won the mixed team title at The Pioneer race, from Christchurch to Queenstown, earning them entry into next year’s Cape Epic in South Africa.

But that clashed with Fluker’s Commonwealth Games ambitions, so they’ve managed to get a spot in this year’s race, starting on March 19.

Williams, 43, says: “It’s great. What we realised is that it’s such a great opportunity to go while we’ve got fitness from building up and racing well at The Pioneer.

“We can carry our fitness through and take this opportunity to go to Africa and hopefully have a really good race and potentially contest the podium.”

The former R+R Sport co-owner was disappointed at having to pull out of the Godzone adventure race but couldn’t pass up the African opportunity.

“Kate and I have proven that we work really as a team. We have a good time and that’s paramount, at the end of the day we’ve got to enjoy what we’re doing.

“But we seem to be really good at supporting each other and helping each other out when one of us is having a bit of a bad patch.”

Fluker, 29, who won her sixth Motatapu title last weekend, says it’s a good feeling when hard work pays off.

However, her body felt the pinch on Sunday after the pair decided to cycle back to the Wanaka start-line.

“That was a dumb idea, it really did hurt.”

The race has left the duo in good shape for their African adventure.

Cape Epic is raced in eight stages over 691km, with 15,400m of vertical climbing. Fluker says it’s more technical than The Pioneer.

The Cape Epic has more single tracks, rocky terrain to manoeuvre and sandy patches.

It’s a massive race, attracting 1500 riders, and a star-studded field featuring Olympic and world champions.

Fluker and Williams will line up against one of his childhood heroes, Swiss rider Thomas Frischknecht, who’s racing in the mixed category with the current Olympic champion Jenny Rissveds.

Will he turn all wobbly-kneed?

“No way mate,” Williams chuckles. “I’m going to show him a clean pair of heels and he can follow the dust in my wheel.”

Fluker says they’re hoping for a top-five spot.

Sponsor New World St Martins is helping pay for the African trip, over $7000 for entry alone, and the pair will also be Pioneer ambassadors, hoping to attract some stars for next year’s race.