Words: Sebastian Jayne                                                                   Photos: Tim Bardsley-Smith

It’s good to have to wait for nice things sometimes. The Pioneer for 2019 has been a little rocky with weather playing havoc on the course and causing the organisers a lot of unneeded grief! Thankfully, they have been up to the task of keeping riders entertained throughout the week with contingency plans for stages at the ready.
 
The big question heading into the final stage would be if the full 70km stage would be run and whether the climb up to the highest public road pass in New Zealand of the Nevis Range would be used. There has been a lack of major alpine backcountry routes due to the change of plans over Stages 3 and 4 so a few riders were itching to get stuck into a stage that is iconic to The Pioneer.
 
When the announcement was made the Stage 5 would be run in full, with the Nevis Rd Climb included, there was a sense of nervous anticipation. Especially given the warning that the weather would be very cold and extremely windy on top of the range. Late the night before the stage and early (the race started at 7:30am) before the stage, marshals and race organisers were out on course to make sure everything was in set for an epic stage.

 

The Pioneer relies on an extremely dedicated and professional team on the ground to deliver the event in the changing conditions that the backcountry of New Zealand offers. Making sure tracks are cleared and signpost are all in place prior to stages is not easy, especially when the ‘roads’ riders raced on are barely able to support a 4WD. The fact the race, from a riders perspective, went so well in terms of finding trail signposts (not always easy in other races) to feed zones being where they should be as a few examples was a testament to the organisers planning and execution on the ground.
 
Back to Stage 5, what an epic day! The climb up Nevis range was bonkers with massive crosswinds blowing riders across the road. Cresting the top and looking down on the Nevis Valley and opposite face that was towering into the clouds and covered in snow was an epic moment. The run through the Nevis Valley was another epic moment with a real backcountry vibe to it. There was no formed trail for some parts, so riders were simply aiming for bunting and course arrows to navigate the course.


 
I found this really cool and with no obvious line it meant you could get creative by using animal tracks to help get yourself and bike along the route. Of course, there was still some big challenges with tough climbs on boggy rutted 4WD tracks that were tough to navigate. To me, this is what mountain biking is. An epic adventure into terrain that only a mountain bike could handle. It might have taken a few days to get something this epic, but it was well worth the wait!
 
The race for The Pioneer
 
After a week of 4ths and lower, Sam Fox and myself finally made our way onto the podium for 2nd! We raced aggressively but controlled and made use of the technical terrain to maintain momentum but the Onya Bike North Otago team of Tim Rush and Michael Vink proved why they are the 2019 Pioneer champions by getting away early on the Nevis range climb. Rush spoke on what the race meant to the team,  “That means a lot, I had a lot of pressure coming and a lot of people wrote us off with the Aussie boys coming over, especially as they have won so many races,” said Rush. “That is good for me and Vinky to get this one in our home nation, it has been amazing. Thanks to all the supporters, marshals and volunteers on course, we tried to thank them all as per my mother’s instructions, but it was tough for me at times breathing through a straw behind Vinky.”

Sam and Seb finishing 2nd

 

We had a great battle with the Giant Australia Team of Jon Odams and Brendan Johnston and the Winger Hamilton riders Ryan Sissons and Sam Osborne through the backcountry with each team showing their strengths in different locations. We finished second with the Giant Australia Team rounding out the stage podium.
 
In the Mixed teams, Aussies Holly and Michael Harris had a stomping ride to win the final stage with 9:55min lead over second place and yellow jersey holders Team JoJo, Joe Skerman and Josie Wilcox. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to make up the deficit to the overall race lead, but it was an epic ride nonetheless!

Holly, Michael and David Harris after an awesome family effort

 

The Pioneer will head north next year to Rotorua which will be a great adventure and a new chapter for The Pioneer. It was great that the final stage, for now, in central Otago was such an epic experience.

Brief results below with the full list HERE

2019 Pioneer, Fuelled by Nutri-Grain

Stage Five Results and final General Classification

Open Men

Stage Five

1 Tim Rush & Michael Vink, NZL, Onya Bike North Otago, 3:45:23

2 Sam Fox & Sebastian Jayne, AUS, Marathon MTB, 3:49:40

3 Brendan Johnston & Jon Odams, AUS, Giant Australia, 3:51:21

 

General Classification, Final

1 Tim Rush & Michael Vink, NZL, Onya Bike North Otago, 17:51:04

2 Brendan Johnston & Jon Odams, AUS, Giant Australia, 18:05:54

3 Ryan Sissons & Sam Osborne, NZL, Winger Hamilton, 18:29:23

 

Open Women

Stage Five

1 Kate McIlroy & Amy Hollamby, NZL, Stonewood Homes, 4:43:46

2 Nina McVicar & Reta Trotman, NZL, New World St Martins, 5:17:13

3 Hannah Buchannan & Sarah Gilbert, NZL/USA, Tiki Wine & Vineyards, 5:24:55

 

General Classification, Final

1 Kate McIlroy & Amy Hollamby, NZL, Stonewood Homes, 21:54:22

2 Nina McVicar & Reta Trotman, NZL, New World St Martins, 24:36:41

3 Hannah Buchannan & Sarah Gilbert, NZL/USA, Tiki Wine & Vineyards, 25:52:00

 

Mixed

Stage Five

1 Holly Harris & Michael Harris, AUS, Sram Mtoss, 4:16:23

2 Joe Skerman & Josie Wilcox, NZL, JoJo, 4:26:18

3 Mark Williams & Kate Fluker, NZL, New World-Pivot, 4:29:10

 

General Classification, Final

1 Joe Skerman & Josie Wilcox, NZL, JoJo, 20:24:57

2 Holly Harris & Michael Harris, AUS, Sram Mtoss, 20:38:54

3 Mark Williams & Kate Fluker, NZL, New World-Pivot, 21:16:30

 

Masters Men

Stage Five

1 Gene Marsh & Jeremy Furlong, NZL, Off the Chain, 4:21:43

2 Hamish Lane & Kris Snow, NZL, Cycle Obsession, 4:23:00

3 Gordon McCauley & Jarrod Harris, NZL, Daikin Thermal Solutions, 4:38:22

 

General Classification, Final

1 Gene Marsh & Jeremy Furlong, NZL, Off the Chain, 20:53:44

2 Hamish Lane & Kris Snow, NZL, Cycle Obsession, 21:09:05

3 Anthony Chapman & Andy Hagan, NZL, Optimal Performance, 21:25:43

 

Masters Women

Stage Five

1 Kath Kelly & Peg Leyland, Earnscleugh Express, 5:40:47

2 Kim Johnston & Christine Wright, NZL, Team Cycleways, 6:06:05

3 Jackie Blay & Sara Prince, NZL, Outlaw Sisters, 6:07:06

 

General Classification, Final

1 Kath Kelly & Peg Leyland, Earnscleugh Express, 25:46:25

2 Jackie Blay & Sara Prince, NZL, Outlaw Sisters, 28:27:58

3 Kim Johnston & Christine Wright, NZL, Team Cycleways, 29:07:42

 

Grand Masters Men (50+)

Stage Five

1 Marc Baechli & Daniel Christen, SUI, Terreactive IT, 2:50:28

2 Kent Wilson & Graeme Young, NZL, The Hub Cycle Centre, 2:52:40

3 Allan Killick & Greg Thompson, NZL, Cycleways, 2:55:56

 

General Classification, Final

1 Marc Baechli & Daniel Christen, SUI, Terre Active IT, 21:12:43

2 Kent Wilson & Graeme Young, NZL, The Hub Cycle Centre, 22:08:21

3 Allan Killick & Greg Thompson, NZL, Cycleways, 22:32:40