Two Queenstowners are shooting for the mixed title in one of the world’s most famous mountain bike stage races.
Kate Fluker and Mark ‘Willy’ Williams, mixed category winners in the first two editions of The Pioneer two-person race, from Christchurch to Queenstown, are competing in the seven-day TransRockies Classic, in the Canadian Rockies, from July 22 to 28.
Williams, 45, raced the event in 2008 with his brother over the same 550km course in British Columbia – from Panorama to Fernie – as this month’s race.
A 2014 Commonwealth Games competitor, Fluker feels she’s in her best form for years.
She won the women’s title at Contact Epic, at Hawea, in April, and in May finished second in the Port to Port MTB in New South Wales, Australia, after sportingly stopping to help the frontrunner who’d had a massive crash.
She and Williams were on track for a three-peat at The Pioneer last year, but a fencing staple went through the latter’s rear tyre on the last day, costing them 15 minutes after they’d had a three-minute lead.
The pair also finished fifth in the famous Cape Epic, in South Africa, after several punctures set them back.
Fluker says their teamwork sets them apart.
“I think where we’re real strong is we never leave each other – people do, and they make it quite hard on their teammate, whereas you just have to ride with whoever’s slower on the day and make them feel good, rather than crappy.”
Training through winter, Fluker says the cold’s been hard on her feet but at least it hasn’t been snowy.
Williams says the secret’s not to go out too hard, “you almost build into it”.
He can’t recall much about the 2008 race “but I remember it was tough, pretty hard, with big climbs [about 11,500m of vertical]”.
“You’ve got the added interest of bears and other wildlife on the track.”
He jokes that it’s Fluker’s fear of bears that’s made her train so hard.
Fluker, meanwhile, says she’s grateful to Central Otago Motor Group supplying a training support vehicle, and Around The Basin Bike Tours for providing her race bike. Williams adds they’re both appreciative of the support of New World St Martins, in Christchurch, and Pete Forch from Remarkable Physios.