The last two days of The Pioneer have been all about out-of-this-world turquoise glacial lake finishes, which has helped take riders’ minds off the suffering that this event is inflicting mentally, physically and mechanically. Today's stage left the crystalline waters of Lake Tekapo and traced a 68-mile route along the hydro canals on a mix of sealed and gravel roads, which eventually fed onto a twisty, undulating cycle trail (almost like single track) along the shores of Lake Pukaki. It was here that the Kona boys, who have been smashing it all week at the front, twisted the throttle and strung the field out, creating the first gaps of the day.
Speaking of power, it was fitting that today's stage ran along the glacial canals, as hydroelectricity in New Zealand has been a part of the country’s energy system for over 100 years and continues to provide more than half of the country’s electricity needs. Pretty sure most riders would've liked to have tapped into some of that energy as the hulking mass of Ben Ohau, the day's big climb, loomed ominously on the horizon.
If riders thought yesterday's finish at Lake Tekapo couldn't be topped, they were in for an eyeful when they crested Ben Ohau (4,586 ft.) and treated to 360-degree views of the snow-capped Mackenzie Country and Lake Ohau. Lake Ohau is cradled between the Ohau Range to the west in the Main Divide and the Ben Ohau range to the east. Ohau is the smallest of three roughly parallel glacial lakes running north to south along the northern edge of the Mackenzie Basin, and completed The Pioneer lake trifecta for the day. The reward for the 6,100 ft. of climbing was a screaming descent off Ben Ohau on a washed-out scree slope littered with tufts of tussock and head-size hidden rocks just waiting to end a racer's day. The stage finished with 15 miles of gravel bike path along the lake shore.
If racers didn't take a dip in the glacial waters of Lake Ohau to aid recovery, they should've, because tomorrow's Queen Stage is a monster. If you're going to crack, it will likely be on Stage Five. Yeah, we may be camping on the edge of an aquamarine glacial lake tonight, but the beauty of the area can't mask the pain and suffering that 66 miles and 12,545 ft of climbing will inflict tomorrow. The only saving grace is that another lake awaits us with open glacial arms when we finish.