The Pioneer is back - and it has a brand new route and format for 2018.
The Pioneer hit the international mountain bike stage race scene in 2016 with a demanding course that commanded epic views as it lead riders down the main alpine mountain chain of New Zealand's South Island, from Christchurch to Queenstown.
In 2016, the course was raw, and the race service was polished. Friendships were forged not only on the trail but in the communal tent after each stage, as riders swapped war stories from that day or from adventures past.
This year, the 2017 route made some key changes, with the first stage in the Christchurch Adventure Park treating riders not only to climbs that left legs searing, but wicked descents on the machine built trails - which have since been lost in wild fires.
The rest of the course remained very similar, and the race was a true testament to the grit and determination required to succeed, or even finish, such demanding events.
On the evening before the final stage of The Pioneer this year, I sat down with Cape Epic founder Kevin Vermaak. With Ironman now owning both The Cape Epic and The Pioneer (and The Swiss Epic, Port to Port, Cape to Cape and Wine to Whales) I was eager to find out about the master plan, for a global series of stage races.
The Pioneer needed a bit of a revamp, and the crew postponed the 2018 race from February to November, in time to rejig the race to make it a better experience for all. And now, they have announced the new route.
Running over 6 days starting on 25th November 2018, The Pioneer will be based out of Queenstown, before moving onto Alexandra and then Bannockburn.
After a 22km prologue at Coronet Peak there are five longer stages to follow, heading south-east to Alexandra and the Clutha River, before returning to the finish line back in Queenstown.
Race Director Bec Williams said the planning behind the changes are to make sure the event is sustainable, and more enjoyable. But not easier.
“Today we provide the mountain bike community with an overview of the 2018 Pioneer, providing information that will allow riders to make decisions about entering the event, and understanding just what it is they are taking on.
“Riders can look forward to a course that will boast plenty of singletrack and will deliver a grand tour of the most stunning backdrops you could ask for. Riders will be sent deep into remote back country New Zealand, where they will really discover what it means to be a Pioneer.”
Many of the trails cross private land and can only be ridden while racing The Pioneer, making the race a once in a lifetime opportunity to gain access to unique New Zealand riding. Big climbs, big views, and big challenges await those who sign up for The Pioneer in 2018.