Next for Pioneer victors: Africa

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Winners: James Williamson, left, and Scott Lyttle at the finish of The Pioneer's 7-Day Epic. PICTURE NEIL KERR/PIONEER

Kiwi winners of New Zealand’s toughest mountain bike race have South Africa in their sights.

After seven days, 545km of racing and a gruelling 15,508m of climbing through the Southern Alps, competitors in The Pioneer 7-Day Epic rode to the finish in Queenstown on Saturday.

New Zealand’s James Williamson and Scott Lyttle took the trophy, holding off Spaniards Tomi Misser and Ibon Zugasti.

Williamson, of Alexandra, says: “It was super-hard.

“There are no easy days and we had to battle all the way.”

They completed the journey from Christchurch in 26hr 42min.

The victory earns them a spot in next year’s Cape Epic, a 700km staged mountain race in South Africa in March, which means they might not defend their Pioneer title.

“Doing them both in the same year would be too hard, not just physically but logistically and financially, as well,” Williamson says.

Lyttle, originally of Masterton but now of Boulder, Colorado, said they were thrilled to win after the great battle with the Spanish riders, who were filmed for a documentary.

He was drawn to the race by last year’s photos.

“I wanted to see the scenery but to be fair, I didn’t. My eyes were either full of sweat or looking at the terrain we were riding over.”

Mark Williams and Kate Fluker, both of Queenstown, won the open mixed category in 29hr 13min.

They, too, earned a spot in next year’s race in South Africa.

Up and over: Queenstowners Kate Fluker and Mark Williams tackle the Crown Range on the final day

Riders from 17 countries took on the epic challenge, 154 in the seven-day team event and 234 in the shorter 4-day Traverse, which finished on Wednesday.

Nina McVicar, of Nelson, and Reta Trotman, of Christchurch, took the women’s honours.

Former world downhill star Misser and Zugasti won the masters 40+ men’s category, just 20 minutes behind in the overall standings.

Kylie Burrows and Sarah Kaehler, of Geraldine, won the 40+ women in 40hr 19min, Australians Robert Watson and Bernie l’Ons won the 50+ men in 33hr 7min, and Canadians John Cockburn and David Lech, won the 60+ men’s category in 45hr 59min.

Brisbane-based Italian Manolo Zanella won the 4-day Traverse in 13hr 55min and Auckland rider Harriet Beaven was fastest woman in 18hr 5min.

Otago Daily Times