The Pioneer landed on the international mountain bike stage race scene in 2015 - announcing that it would be offering a world-class stage race experience and challenge right here in Oceania. Australia isn't short of a mountain bike stage race, with The Redback, Port to Port, Cape to Cape (now Reef to Reef as well), Hellfire Cup, Easter in the Alice, The Crocodile Trophy - you get the idea. But the team behind The Pioneer were reaching for the stars. They were launching a full-service, 7 day mountain bike stage race to be completed in pairs. This would be just like the events some riders travel the globe for, notably the Cape Epic, TransAlp, Joberg2c, The Swiss Epic and more.

I raced The Pioneer in 2016 and in 2017, where it had come under the umbrella of the Cape Epic as well, and that race's founder was planning a global series. The race ran from Christchurch to Queestown, starting with a prologue and a bus transfer before 6 long days racing point to point. It was hilly, hard, challenging - and rewarding.

But in 2018, the event team looked to change. Point to point was hard for everyone, and we all hoped to ride more trails, and less farm tracks. The new edition of The Pioneer was born, and while some people wondered if the original challenge would remain, I think the changes were spot on. But you can read about that in our latest issue.

Why you should sign up for The Pioneer

Now I'm biased, I like long mountain bike races. I really liked the first two editions of The Pioneer. But I wouldn't have gone back a third time, if it was the same again. Some events I'll happily do time and again but this one would have been a bit too hard and a bit too much the same to do for a 3rd time. They really had a lot of ground to cover on the point to point route, so changes to take in other trails just wasn't possible. But with the changes in 2018 - I can't wait to go back, and knowing they have the scope to modify the route year on year, it will always offer a mix of favourite trails and fresh routes. So here's why I think you should sign up on 14th Febraury.

1. Early bird pricing is the best value

No doubt about it, The Pioneer is expensive. Like all 5+ day mountain bike races, it's not cheap. But the pricing for the first teams offers a huge saving. Get your team mate sorted, and get your entry in. Pricing starts at $NZD2987 per rider, and goes up to $NZD3795.50 if you sit on your hands too long. Remember though that entry covers your dinners, breakfasts, feed zones, accommodation in the race (yeah, tents but they're good!), and quality amenities. SAve for some lunch and coffee or alcohol costs, there's not much need to pay for much more once you're in the race.

2. Queenstown rocks

Have you been to Queenstown? It's a beautiful setting on the lake with the Remarkables behind, even the airport is breathtaking. And while it's easy to know Queenstown for the MTB park, the reailty is there is so much more trail. Yep, if you lived in Queenstown it would be silly to not own a bigger travel bike - but The Pioneer will take you on a whole range of trails in Queenstown and into Central Otago that suit an XC or light trail bike, without watering things down.

3. Racing with mates is hard to beat

Have you done a paired mountain bike race? It's a fresh challenge for many of us, but one with its own rewards. Yeah, finding the right team mate can be tricky. But if you can find someone who you get along with who has shared goals and a similar outlook on life and fun - you're most of the way there. Doing something that is a big challenge with someone as a team reaps huge rewards, even if it is just for reliving moments of triumph!

4. Go mountain biking in big mountains

It sounds silly, but mountain biking in big mountains is a bit different to where many of us ride. Descents over 15 minutes, and climbs over 45 minutes aren't your typical afternoon sessions. This means bigger views, challenges to your body and equipment, and the option for some pretty high speeds too.

5. There's a huge variety of terrain

That's right. From purpose built gravity trails, hand carved singletrack, multi-use trails, old farm trails, double track you think could only be there for filming access for The Hobbit, old backcountry trails and New Zealand bike path - it's got it all. Some days are more singletrack heavy, others are so remote that even if there was singletrack there - how would people get there to ride it? But on the journey that The Pioneer takes you along, you'll ride just about everything.

6. There's a real sense of pride in finishing

No doubt about it, The Pioneer is still very challenging in its new format. With great challenge comes great reward, and while many events the world over are dialling it back a bit to make things a bit easier - The Pioneer isn't really doing that, and it's unlikely they will. On the whole, it is probably more achievable than it looks on paper. But if it wasn't challenging, the experience would not be the same.

7. This race will only get bigger

The fact is, this style of mountain bike race is popular around the world. Numbers will grow. And that's excellent, but the size the race is now, with about 300 teams, means you have a week where you see a lot of familiar people, and you're not totally lost in the crowd. This is reinforced with the different start waves, based on your prologue performance and then overall general position. You end up riding and racing with similar people each day, and with the tent city, sleeping near the same people at night too as tents are all in race plate order. So while the race stays smaller than a behemouth like the Cape Epic - you should do it.

As it is, the race has plenty of opportunities to get to know just about everyone. Even the farmer who's field you're sleeping in.

There are plenty more reasons to go and take part in The Pioneer, but if you've been on the fence about it, or just waiting to see how it all pans out - sign up for 2019. This is quickly going to become a bucket list mountain bike event for any endurance mountain biker, and one that is run by one of the most professtional outfits in the business, but that are still connected to the riders.

If you need more event details, head to The Pioneer website