It's very likely, especially when traveling half-way around the world, that day three of any stage race can be the hardest day of all, or at least that's how it's worked for me in the past. Compound that with the fact that Stage Two of The Pioneer saw the wheels come off my bus due to pace, the amount of climbing and the heat, and the stars were lining up for Stage Three to be a real doozy for me.
Stage Three of The Pioneer, while 20 miles shorter than the previous day, packed the same amount of climbing, which meant that it was going to be hard right out of the gate, and it was to be hotter than the day before. Racers rolled out of Fairlie on a short 4-mile section of sealed road, before the course turned abruptly, and painfully, upwards towards the Albury Range, a 3,200-foot climb crammed into the span of 4 miles. Talk about a swift kick to the groin from the get go, huh?! The Kona boys pinned the pace from the gun, which quickly strung the field out, and meant that we hit the climb in a long, thin line.
When I wasn't chewing on my stem, or hoofing it up the extreme pitches, I tried to take in the vast views of the valley below and safely navigate the clumps of alpine tussock that dotted the trail. What's tussock you ask? Tussock grasses or bunch grasses usually grow in clumps, tufts, or hummocks (another Seussian word), as singular plants that create a thick carpet in isolated spots, and were quite difficult to ride through as they obscured the trail and slowed your progress due to extra drag.
As fate, or the constellations would have it, today's stage went better than I had thought it would, especially in light of my spectacular melt down the day prior. Despite temperatures in the high 80s, and a very demanding course, the wheels didn't come off the bus, which allowed my partner and I to find our groove and ride as team.
The day ended on the shores of Lake Tekapo (featured in Lord of the Rings), a massive glacial lake fed by the Southern Alps to the north, which mean that it's the most spectacular turquoise color one could imagine. Day three of The Pioneer definitely left a dent, but with four more arduous days ahead, it's time to eat, recover and rest.