“That’s one of my hardest days on the bike” – midweek at The Pioneer

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Today’s stage from Alexandra to Bannockburn looked a little innocuous on paper. 79km, with a couple of big climbs – but all farm track. That’s over 20km shorter than Stage 2, but similar climbing, but no singletrack – so it should be faster.

And I think for many people, they probably liked it. And deep down – Imogen and I did too. But a race experience is always based on circumstance as well, and today our circumstances were a little uncertain until the gun went.

The sun was brilliant in Alexandra, as we enjoyed a later start and a longer breakfast on the lush grass of Molyneux Park. But race time would come, and as we filed into the start chute, Imogen and I had to wonder – how would today pan out? Imogen hit the ground really hard yesterday, and is still pretty sure she should get an X-ray or CT scan. But… even if there is a crack it’s stable. So what does it matter? Imogen is well accustomed to dealing with pain, and starting the day she said it was about 5 out of 10. Breaking her iliac crest and shoulder last year was 8.5. She’s keeping 10 for child birth. So in my mind, 5 isn’t great.

With heavy legs we found our group on the Clyde river trail, keeping the tempo about right to shed some riders, and hopefully feel a lot better when we started the mega climb.

That sort of worked. We had a good small group, we couldn’t shell the mixed team who are just ahead of us on GC, but we’d see how it played out over the stage. Imogen is a boss on long climbs.

But not today. Imogen can’t easily lift her right leg, as her hip flexors aren’t working. Her abdominals that attach to her iliac crest are also not working. There’s a lot of swelling. So climbing is hard, without the stability required from her core, Imogen needs to use her back. If you’re reading this, you probably know that is always short lived. Steep climbs were agony, and slow. Moderate climbs were ok.

MarathonMTB The Pioneer NZ

So we worked hard, I pushed when I could, but pushing on steep terrain is really hard with my level of fitness. Imogen would almost ride away on the shallower climbs below about 8%. But the steep climbs took a big toll. Descents were hard too, with less stability.

The thing is, the views were amazing. You don’t easily get up high to places like we rode today. It is truly special and that was not lost on us.

We seemed to slow down in the second half, not helped by a rider passing and stuffing it up, putting the end of their bars right into Imogen’s right hip, on the wound below the dressing. Thanks!

I’m not actually sure how we made it, Imogen was barely able to push the pedals, but somehow she always found a little more to give. She always has a little more fight – something I really respect.

At the front of the race, there wasn’t any huge surprise. And that includes Briony Mattocks and Brodie Chapman winning the stage in the women’s race today, and taking about 5 minutes out of their deficit to the lead. These two are classy riders, and are working hard but smart, and with a few changes in the race dynamic today that was a lot more evident. I’m interested to see if the race leaders bounce back tomorrow, or whether Mattocks and Chapman take more time back.

You can find full results online.

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