Words: Sebastian Jayne                                                                   Photos: Tim Bardsley-Smith

The Pioneer 2019 by the numbers

370 riders

24 countries

Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, Republic of Ireland, Russia, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, USA, Wales.

433km total length

12,540m climbing

Oldest rider 72

Apparently, the youngest rider is my teammate Sam Fox at 19.


I found out down the first descent of the two-up prologue time-trial that ‘youngest’ and most ‘excited’ go hand in hand when the steady pace we agreed on went to full gas! And then I went full gas into a bush and creek… It’s alright though, we’re both still talking which for most teams is a big plus before the massive adventure ahead.

Prologues of stage races give riders a good taste of what’s to come. Some climbs, descents and some trails are thrown in the mixing pot to give riders a chance to see where they sit in the pecking order if they’re going for the overall or just a good short smash to get the body ready for what’s to come and iron out any kinks in the team dynamic. From what we experienced over the 26km prologue, the mix of amazing trails, descents and a tough climb, we’re excited for what’s to come!


Course designer James Williamson aimed to tweak the course from the 2018 edition to make a better riding experience and a better race experience. Having a previous winner of the race in James designing the course for 2019 is a good omen for a great race experience which is pivotal. A good mix of trails, roads, climbs and rolling terrain to give riders a balanced experience over the stages is important in creating a race like this. “We had a good blueprint from the 2018 event to work off, the goal was to make it better. Where we could tweak, make those tweaks to improve the ride experience and improve the course as a race for the riders”, James said of the 2019 course.

Personally, I’ve raced a few prologues around Europe mainly and this one was one of the best. There were some tough and technical sections to keep riders of all abilities on their toes and even the single trail climb had some rough and technical sections that made you really think about the challenge. The epic views of Lake Wakatipu as we made our way over the easy flow trails along the shoreline showed us the ‘find stunning’ tagline wasn’t just a throw away phrase but a true guide of what is to come over the week.


The race for The Pioneer

Although it was only 26km, the prologue was a great fight amongst those going for the overall with a few seconds splitting the top teams. The powerhouse duo of Brendan Johnston and Jon Odams from the Giant Australia Off Road Team took the win 18-seconds from the MAAP Shimano team of Garry Millburn and Chris Aitken. Odams was content with the Giant team’s performance on day one, “I think we rode well and within ourselves. At the start I was looking at the time gaps and we caught them pretty quick on one of the open rocky descents and worked on trying to get away on the single track but it was too tight, you can’t really get away on those sections. We then paced it up the final climb to the finish, that was a good day.” Defending champs, Onya Bike North Otago started their title defence with a third only 24 seconds back.

The Open Women’s went to the defending champions, Kate McIlroy & Amy Hollamby, from the Stonewood Homes team. They put almost 7-minutes into 2017 winners Nina McVicar and Reta Trotman (New World St Martins – Dunedin/Christchurch).

The Mixed pairs race was another close race with only 2.4-seconds splitting the top two teams. Mark Williams and Kate Fluker from the New World-Pivot team took the win from  Joe Skerman and Josie Wilcox “It was almost a tie; we rode most of the way together and had a good time. It is always different racing home trails, you have to race them harder than we would normally, and we almost got caught out on a few of the corners, but that was fun.” Aussie brother and sister pair, Holly and Michael Harris from Sram-Mtoss came in third only 1:37min down.

But what does all this mean for the racing to come? Hard to tell, but it’s pouring at the moment with rain possible for the week to come and some epic stages heading up and over 1000m, a few seconds difference can become minutes very quickly.

The race briefing on Saturday night offered an amazing Haka to get riders in the mood and to ‘find welcome’ which we have definitely experienced so far and even though the weather looks like its turning, it seems riders are ready for the adventure to come.

2019 Pioneer, Fuelled by Nutri-Grain

26km Prologue Results


Open Men

1 Brendan Johnston & Jon Odams, AUS, Giant Australia Off-Road, 1:11:16

2 Garry Milburn & Christopher Aitken, AUS, Maap Shimano, 1:11:34

3 Tim Rush & Michael Vink, NZL, Onya Bike North Otago, 1:11:41


Open Women

1 Kate McIlroy & Amy Hollamby, NZL, Stonewood Homes, 1:25:16

2 Nina McVicar & Reta Trotman, NZL, New World St Martins, 1:32:10

3 Hannah Buchannan & Sarah Gilbert, NZL/USA, Tiki Wine & Vineyards, 1:37:07



1 Mark Williams & Kate Fluker, NZL, New World-Pivot, 1:18:42

2 Joe Skerman & Josie Wilcox, NZL, JoJo, 1:18:44

3 Holly Harris & Michael Harris, AUS, Sram Mtoss, 1:20:19


Masters Men

1 Gene Marsh & Jeremy Furlong, NZL, Off the Chain, 1:18:22

2 Anthony Chapman & Andy Hagan, NZL, Optimal Performance, 1:19:40

3 Gianluca Valsenti & Matthew Webber, NZL, Rivet Racing, 1:22:17


Masters Women

1 Kath Kelly & Peg Leyland, NZL, Earnscleugh Express, 1:35:29

2 Jackie Blay & Sara Prince, NZL, Outlaw Sisters, 1:44:45

3 Kelly Davis & Jo Lawler, NZL, Defend Fire, 1:46:38


Grand Masters Men (50+)

1 Marc Baechil & Daniel Christen, NZL, Terreactive IT, 1:20:41

2 Kent Wilson & Graeme Young, NZL, The Hub Cycle Centre, 1:24:12

3 Allan Killick & Greg Thompson, NZL, Cycleways, 1:25:18


Full race results HERE