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.

Want to know more? Head along to one of The Pioneer info nights!

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.