Resort mountain bike royalty Kate Fluker and Mark ‘Willy’ Williams are chasing a three-peat at The Pioneer six-day race starting in Queenstown this Sunday.
The pair were mixed category winners in the first two editions of the two-person team race, which ran from Christchurch to Queenstown.
In the last race, early last year, they were also fifth overall.
This time the course starts with a prologue on Coronet Peak skifield on Sunday, followed by a 69km race on Monday taking in local backcountry like Ben Lomond Station and Seven Mile.
Then, after three days around Central Otago, the race finishes in Queenstown next Friday.
Along with local knowledge in their favour, Williams also had a hand in designing the course in his capacity as Queenstown Trails Trust CEO.
The pair, who’ve also competed together in South Africa, believe their teamwork holds them in good stead.
Williams: “You’ve got to know each other well enough that you know when your partner’s suffering, and you do everything you can to help them through that.
“And without doubt, there’ll be a stage in the race where Kate will have a flat spot and I’ll have to drag her through, and I’ll have a flat spot and she’ll drag me through.
“I think a lot of teams capitulate ‘cos they end up racing each other, whereas we’re just constantly helping each other.”
Williams says they just run their own race.
“You watch teams go out from the start-line like a rocket, then halfway through the stage you catch them up, and by the end of the stage they’re gone.
Asked to sum up Fluker, Williams says “she’s very talented, really strong and mentally very determined. The best thing is she’s pretty hard to put down, especially when she gets this thing called ‘the rage’ – it’s like this inner beast comes out.”
Fluker, 31, says Williams, 45, who’s called ‘old dad’ by the biking fraternity, “could completely take off and leave me, but he really does look after me and makes the whole experience really fun”.
The Pioneer’s becoming one of the big events on the worldwide stage-race calendar.
A record 300-plus teams have entered this year.