Victory in The Pioneer for Queenstowners Kate Fluker and Mark Williams has been tempered by grief at the death of friend Kelly McGarry.
McGarry, a leading slopestyle mountain biker, last Monday.
Mixed category winners Fluker and Williams made a special trip to Queenstown last Friday evening to join more than 400 people in a memorial ride and service.
Fluker says they considered pulling out of the inaugural mountain bike stage race but, after talking to friends, decided McGarry would have wanted them to carry on.
The 28-year-old Rio Olympic hopeful says The Pioneer has been ideal preparation.
“I don’t think I could have got a better base session in than this.
“From here we need to work on the speed in my legs for the shorter sharper racing, but I am feeling really good … and just want to build on this now.”
Of The Pioneer’s 300-strong field, more than 250 competed in the 7-Day Epic race, a 569-kilometre route on cycle trails, farm tracks and roads that began in Christchurch two Sundays ago.
Otago riders dominated the category winners, but it was Christchurch’s under-23 cross-country world champion Anton Cooper and his Australian team-mate, Daniel McConnell, who claimed the first winners’ trophy.
Only a wrong turn during Saturday’s final stage from Snow Farm on the Pisa Range to the Queenstown Events Centre cost them a clean sweep of stage wins.
They finished the day second to the Kona factory team of Cory Wallace (Canada) and Spencer Paxson (United States), but their aggregate time of 26hr 50min 53sec was nearly an hour quicker.
All-Queenstown team Erin Greene and Kath Kelly won every stage to carve out a more than six-hour victory margin in the open women’s category.
Dunedin amateur riders Guy Carter and Johnny Van Leeuwen surprised everyone, including themselves, to finish as the top all-New Zealand team in the open men’s category.
They often outrode their professional and sponsored rivals to finish ninth overall and fifth in the final stage.
Carter says their goal had been to crack the top 20 “so to come away with what we’ve achieved, we’re pretty stoked”.
Another Otago pairing won the masters men’s 50-plus category, with nine-time Coast to Coast winner Steve Gurney, of Queenstown, and Gore’s Simon Callaghan winning every stage in the process.
Otago Daily Times