The Nutri-Grain Pioneer packs a punch in 2019! They don't give away the finisher's medals but the course for this year means you'll enjoy earning it.
The Pioneer is entering its fourth year, and 2019 sees Nutri-Grain take on the title sponsorship for the Nutri-Grain Pioneer. Whether or not all racers will be fed Ironman food for breakfast remains to be seen, but the event is now taking place in the first week of December, a week later than in 2018.
Otherwise the changes are subtle but worthwhile, and at its core The Pioneer course will take you through the terrain of the Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago regions, starting and ending in Queenstown with race villages hosted in Queenstown, Alexandra and Bannockburn.
The organisers of The Pioneer say you can expect to find stunning, character and welcome as you ride beyond on an epic back-country journey through dozens of private stations on the revamped route for The Pioneer in 2019. The course revamp for 2018 was a huge change from 2016 and 2017, mixing more singletrack and knocking daily distances back a little.
The 2019 Nutri-Grain Pioneer course stays within the same areas traversed in 2018, however five of the six stages will be either completely new or have substantial new terrain and trails added in the mix. The date change – one week later starting December 1st, has meant that the event now has access to some great tracks previously off limits because of lambing.
The Pioneer have added a new Course Manager - James Williamson. If the name sounds familiar it's because he's been at the pointy end a couple of times. James brings his considerable expertise to the event, as the 2017 race winner with Scott Lyttle, but also as a local Central Otago resident and one who knows the many amazing trails of the region.
“My brief was to lift an already stunning event to new levels, combining the challenge of one of the world’s toughest mountain bike stage races with the incredible trails and vistas provided throughout the Central Otago region.
“This is my backyard so I have taken special pride in helping to deliver a course that will ensure a memorable week for all. For those returning to ride again, expect the best edition yet of The Pioneer, for those attending for the first time, be ready for an event that will give you memories and friendships to last a lifetime after a week riding some of the world’s best trails.”
Prologue – 25km and 650m climbing | Moke Lake
65% singletrack, 1% sealed road, 19% gravel road, 11% 4wd/farm track, 4% cycle-trail
The new prologue course is a Queenstown local's favourite, using some of the best singletrack in the area. The anticlockwise loop starting and finishing in the stunning back country location of Moke Lake includes a fast start on some flowing trails along the shores of Moke Lake and Lake Dispute before dropping down a well bermed twisty descent on the Phoenix track and into the singletrack mecca of 7 Mile where some pinchy climbs and tight forested trails will test your bike handling at race pace. From there the drag back up to the race village begins with a long but not overly demanding single-track climb through rocky forest trails before popping out onto the access road for a full gas run into the finish.
Stage 1 – 76km and 2240m climbing | Moke Lake to Arrowtown
37% singletrack, 14% Sealed road, 8% gravel road, 16% 4wd/farm track, 25% cycle-trail
Another new stage for 2019, this point to point ride encompasses some of the Queenstown basin’s amazing cycle trail network, back country trails and the epic singletrack on Coronet Peak.
With a relatively easy start on the Moke Lake road you head towards the Moonlight Trail, with the course using this trail in the opposite direction from last year. The climbs up to the highpoint of the moonlight trail will well and truly stretch the field out!
Once you emerge out of the trail at Arthurs point, the course then hits the banks of the mighty Shotover river for some more singletrack before connecting up with the Queenstown cycle trail to cover some slightly easier terrain prior to the big challenge of the day, the climb to the Coronet Peak ski field. The climb to the top here is a mixture of farm road, singletrack and sealed road and will give you the chance to take in some stunning views of the Queenstown basin.
There is plenty of reward for the hard work on the way up with the last 25km of the stage nearly all singletrack including the famous Rude Rock downhill before rolling along the Coronet water race trail and then dropping down a newly improved Bush Creek Track and into Arrowtown where your well-earned recovery pack awaits! Then it's onto a bus to Alexandra.
Stage 2 – 112km with 2570m climbing | Alexandra
30% singletrack, 5% sealed road, 12% gravel road, 39% 4wd/farm track, 14% cycle-trail
The Queen stage of the race in 2018 will remain similar to last year - although some minor tweaks have been made to make it even better. This is a true mountain bikers’ day with some of the best rocky, dry, dusty singletrack in the country.
The start from race village uses the iconic Otago Central Rail Trail before heading for the thyme encrusted hills out behind the Alexandra clock. Here we hit some new trails newly available on this year’s course due to the lambing closure on the farm having passed. Known locally as MTB heaven, the extent of the singletrack network out in these hills will surprise you and leave you wanting to come back for more, however the course has other places to go and quickly you exit the hills back into the township before shooting along the Clutha River cycle trail down the picturesque Roxburgh Gorge.
This track soon turns into the longest climb of the day, the newly built Sphinx rock trail, a 6km pure singletrack ascent bringing you from the depths of the gorge up to the very top of the Flat Top hill range. The singletrack doesn’t relent here with a loop of the black & blue descent and purple haze climb on the hillside above Butchers Dam.
Finally, we take a break from rock ridden singletrack and cover a large amount of ground (& climbing) over the farm tracks of Earnscleugh Station heading towards the next major challenge of the day at Clyde. The Fraser weir road climb takes you into a remote high-country river gorge before you have to grunt out of it up the steepest climb of the day to get to the top of the Clyde enduro trail. This 3km flowing downhill trail certainly brings your grin back quickly and will make you forget all the hard work in getting there. The final part of the stage brings you back from Clyde to Alexandra along another short section of the Rail trail and through the airport and boot hill trail network.
Stage 3 – 80km and 2100m climbing | Alexandra to Bannockburn
21% singletrack, 23% sealed road, 17% gravel road, 39% 4wd/farm track
Stage 3 will be ridden as intended for the 2018 event. Flooding of the Fraser river put a spanner in the works last year, making the river unsafe to ford and cutting off access to the beautiful private Hawksburn Station.
The stage starts with the ever-popular Alexandra-Clyde Millennium track which winds alongside the Clutha River and brings you out right underneath the massive Clyde Dam.
Once out of Clyde the course crosses the Earnscleugh flats and heads for the first major climb of the day up the Fraser dam road, this climb takes you halfway up the Old Man hill range, and around the back of the Fraser Reservoir, where you cross the river and head into Hawksburn station. Some rolling farm country here leads you into the next big climb of the day to the top of the Cairnmuir range, which is also where we link up with last year’s contingency course.
The Cairnmuir climb has some early steep pinches but opens out to a steady ridge line climb that links up with the D.O.C trail along the tops. The views here are worth taking in as you leave the Alexandra basin, look down on the Cromwell gorge and can see all the way down Lake Dunstan and across to the Remarkables. The descent off of the Cairnmuir ridge will be the first real taste of what back country riding in New Zealand is all about, with obstacles everywhere, these long fast descents require a lot of focus and concentration and while rewarding are often just as demanding as the climbs! Once you hit lake level at the bottom you follow the road around the Bannockburn Peninsula and then a short steady climb leads you back to your new home for the next two nights in the Bannockburn race village.
Stage 4 – 69km and 2700m climbing | Bannockburn
4% singletrack, 27% sealed road, 10% gravel road, 59% 4wd/farm track
The one and only stage that will remain exactly as ridden in the 2018 event. It is the shortest of the main stages, though do not be fooled, the majority of this stage is on back country farm tracks and has some of the biggest climbs of the race. However, the quality of riding and the stunning 360 views atop the ridgelines are the reason it hasn't changed!
The first half of the stage loops up the Hawksburn Road and down the pylon access 4WD track, it is a little more benign and serves as a warm up to the second monstrous loop which includes the climbs of Carricktown and Mt Difficulty. These climbs are where you and your team mate need to work together to establish a sustainable pace for a long duration, the first ascent of Carricktown is nearly one hour long for the fastest riders gaining close to 1000m over 9km. The riding from here on is simply breath-taking in terms of scenery and terrain, at one point you can just about see the final finish line all the way up the Gibbston valley in Arrowtown before the track switches back onto the Cromwell side and sends you up to the dizzy heights of Mt Difficulty, whose name appropriately describes the climb up to its high point. The descent from here back down to the Bannockburn valley is as fast as they get and makes the final kilometres through the historic Bannockburn sluicing’s track nice and enjoyable.
Stage 5 – 79km and 2590m climbing | Bannockburn to Arrowtown
12% sealed road, 23% gravel road, 42% 4wd/farm track, 23% cycle-trail
This is a totally new route on the West side of the Kawarau gorge in previously unaccessible areas. The stage is likened to the best riding that the old format Pioneer offered, remote back country tracks through an isolated area open only for the race to pass through. Consider yourself warned now though, this is no dawdle into the finish, this final stage is amongst the more challenging rides we have encountered and will test you all the way. There will of course be substantial reward for your effort with your Pioneer finisher medal that awaits you at the final event finish in Arrowtown.
The stage starts with a short loop around the Bannockburn roads and farm station behind the campsite in order to warm the legs up before the first climb on the menu over Duffers saddle on the Nevis Road, this stunning climb is a true New Zealand epic and takes you over the highest public road pass in the country, though the only traffic you will ever see up here is a few hardy 4WD'ers, hunters, fishermen and fellow mountain bikers!
The descent down the road into the Nevis valley is like dropping into another world, with a massive valley and wall of mountains in front of you there is not a single sign of civilisation apart from the road you are on. The Nevis valley was once a thriving community of brave gold miners but is now home to a few tiny ghost towns. The exit from the valley is nearly as quick as the descent into it, once you cross the river at the bottom you immediately turn onto a farm track that points in the direction of Arrowtown.
While a short distance as the crow flies the next section of the stage is tough ups and downs on rugged trails through several river valleys and will require all of the energy you have saved up until this point of the race. Home is on the horizon though and from the top of the final climb of coalpit saddle you can just about smell the finish. A fast, long and technical descent to the Gibbston valley highway is followed by a final stretch along the Queenstown cycle trail that previous competitors will be familiar with and somewhat delighted to know that their journey to the finish line is much shorter this time with Arrowtown as the final destination.
Arrive, collapse, exhausted, hugely satisfied, proud and ready to look back on one of the most adventurous and enjoyable weeks of your life!
Entries are still open, and we think The Pioneer offer a world-class mountain bike stage race right here at home - or just a hop across the pond anyway.