The Pioneer Mountain Bike Stage Race is part of the global Epic Series, and a good stepping point for when you have mastered Cape to Cape, Port to Port or Reef to Reef. The 2019 event is being held this December, but in 2020 The Pioneer is on the move, with organisers confirming the event will further evolve with a shift to the North Island.

In its fourth year, the 2019 Pioneer, fueled by Nutri-Grain, will be held from Sunday 1st December this year. The event starts and finishes in Queenstown, taking in a prologue and five stages totaling 433 km of riding and 12,540 metres of climbing, with Lake Moke, Alexandra and Bannockburn hosting overnight villages before the event finishes at the Queenstown.

This is a big change for The Pioneer, which has updated its route since the original Christchurch to Queenstown death march adventure. The current route based near Queenstown and in Central Otago is a whole lot of fun - while still remaining a challenge.

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Race founder Dave Beeche says the internationally renowned event has enjoyed every moment in the stunning Central Otago region, but says it is time for the event to continue to live up to one of its pillar statements of ‘Ride Beyond’ and head to new trails for 2020.

“We have always seen the Pioneer as an event that celebrates New Zealand, one that brings international and local riders alike back year after year to enjoy world class riding trails, an epic challenge and get a taste of our legendary hospitality."

“To that end it is time to further evolve an event that is never standing still and always looking for new and innovative ways to engage with our riders and that international community. The Pioneer has already created lifelong memories and taken riders on some amazing trails, from Christchurch, Lake Tekapo, Ben Ohau, Lake Hawea, Snow Farm, Bannockburn and many more. And now in 2020 we will add to that impressive array of New Zealand’s best riding trails and stunning countryside at the yet to be disclosed new North Island location."

“The Queenstown and Central Otago communities have been wonderful hosts these past few years, as was Christchurch for our inaugural Pioneer back in 2016. I have no doubt the event will return to the region again in the future and take riders on another amazing week of riding."

“But our next step will add another chapter to the already storied history of this wonderful event and showcase a new and equally exciting area of the country to our local and international riders. Just as the Cape Epic – the pinnacle event of the Epic Series, is constantly changing and introducing new stages and locations, so too will The Pioneer. Our advantage in that sense is that we have an entire country to choose from, with a host of stunning scenery and a fast growing and amazing array of stage options on the New Zealand cycle trail network.”

Here's why we think you should enter The Pioneer in 2019.

More specific details of the new location will likely be revealed first to the 2019 riders, with an announcement expected at the event’s final dinner and presentations in Queenstown on December 6.

Beeche says the decision to confirm the move now has been made with current and future riders in mind.

“The Pioneer is an event that requires considerable planning by those riding and while we are not yet in a position to confirm the exact details of the new location for 2020, we felt it imperative to let the mountain bike community know of the move now to assist in their planning. That might be short term with a decision to enter the 2019 event in Queenstown, or longer term allowing them to plan for the new location in 2020.”

Beeche was at pains to stress that this is goodbye for now, but not forever to Central Otago.

“This is not the end of the trail for Queenstown and Central Otago, I have no doubt that the region might loom large in our future planning, but for the short term we are committed to an exciting and equally challenging new location, one that will live up to our unique Pioneer experience of Find Stunning, Find Welcome and Find Character over six days of epic riding.”

Moke Lake will be the start of the prologue in 2019.

The 2019 event is now 10 weeks away, and some entries are still available if you want to experience the stunning route in the South Island. With ten weeks preparation time you wouldn't want to approach The Pioneer off the couch, but if you're already a competitive mountain biker you should find a team mate and get yourself organised! There is a final price increase from October 6, so hop to it.

As we have ridden in Rotorua, Craters of the Moon, Wellington and more while visiting the North Island, we're pretty sure that The Pioneer will find a good new home in 2020.

All photos: Tim Bardsley-Smith