When competing as a duo in a seven day mountain bike stage race, you hope to ride like well-rehearsed dance partners. Each knowing the other's strengths and weaknesses, each able to catch the other when they make a wrong move, each able to help the other shine when they aren't at their best. The only problem is that my partner Andrew and I had never really cut a rug together before deciding to do The Pioneer.
Good dance/ride partners complement the other's riding style, hopefully. A push to one's pull, a dip to one's dive, a shimmy to one's shake, and, most importantly, compensate for mistakes, or weaknesses, when need be. With practice, there becomes an intuitive, unspoken language between the two that communicates exactly what the other rider is planning to do, how they are feeling, and how hard they can be pushed. You hope to be more Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers than Fred and Wilma Flintstone.
Full disclosure: I've been Fred Flintstone for most of the week. My complete meltdown on Stage Two lost us a huge chunk of time, and I've been the albatross around my teammate's neck on the climbs. But like a good dance partner, Andrew has been setting the proper tempo, keeping a positive attitude, compensating for my weakness and coaxing me along when I've been near breaking, which has happened more than I'd like to admit.
The two wheeled tango that Andrew and I have been rehearsing the past four stages had its most shining expression of synchronicity on today's Queen Stage, a monster of a route at 68 miles with 12,545 ft. of brutal, exposed climbing. The day's route, which started on the shores of Lake Ohau, serpentined over the Melina Ridge Saddle before dropping back through the towering peaks of Mt. Melina and Pavilion Peak and into the Lindis River Valley, where a stout westerly smacked riders in the face. Adding insult to injury was the day's before final 4,700 foot, 8 mile climb to the top of Grandview Mountain, which provided vast 360-degree views of Lake Hawea on the valley floor, assuming riders had the presence of mind to take them in.
Today was the day that Andrew and I became Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. We may not have always pedaled with ease, and I was definitely a bit clumsy on the climbs, but we put together a fluid ride routine that saw us take the win in the 40+ category. It wasn't without struggle, but we did it as a team, and I'm quite proud of that.
Tomorrow's dance recital, while relatively short at 41 miles and with 6,663 feet of climbing, will take riders from Lake Hawea, to the top of Snow Farm (5,249 ft.), a ski resort located in the Pisa Range. Riders will have just one more day after that until the final dance into Queenstown.