Visiting New Zealand to ride is on most mountain bikers’ bucket lists. In January the Kona Endurance team will be ticking it off theirs as Spencer Paxson, Barry Wicks, Kris Sneddon and Cory Wallace head to New Zealand to race in the inaugural Pioneer Stage race. Over a gruelling seven days the two teams will race from Christchurch to Queenstown, covering some of the most awe inspiring and scenic parts of the New Zealand’s South Island, not to mention 546km of trails and over 15057m of climbing!
Between them, four Kona team riders have racked up some pretty amazing podium finishes and will undoubtedly be strong contenders. Cory Wallace, two time Canadian Marathon National Champ, has an incredibly long list of victories including an unprecedented three Mongolia Bike Challenge wins. He swept the Australian Marathon Series in 2014, as well as the Tour of Timor and the Wombat 100. On home soil he has placed 3rd and 4th in the technical and demanding BC Bike Race.
“Having bike toured the South Island in 2010, I can’t wait to return to the laid-back nature and geographical gems which engulf the Island. Racing 500km over seven days through the backroads is going to take us into the heart of the country, which I’m sure will be full of picture-perfect scenes and many inspirational moments,” said Cory Wallace.
Cory’s teammate Spencer Paxson is also a force to be reckoned with, and while his results sheet doesn’t boast as many multi-day stage results as Cory’s, it does show that this young American has what it takes, placing second in the BC Bike race in both 2014 and 2015. 2015 also marked his first full-time year on the World Cup Cross Country circuit where he was consistently one of the top placing American riders, he’s been on the the US World Champs XC team many times and is a member of the US Olympic Long Team for Cross Country. He capped off the 2015 season at the World Championships by passing more than half of the field to finish as the 40th fastest XC rider in the world and 2nd American.
“It would be hard to brew up a more exciting start to the 2016 race season than an adventure with good buddies to the other side of the globe to ride mountain bikes through 500km of the New Zealand Southern Alps,” explained Spencer Paxson A trip like this is right at the heart of Team Kona since we are like agents of adventure – we are most about the enriching experiences worth living for – the racing and competition, and all the coordinated outfits are just the conduit!”
The second Kona pair is again a mix of Canadian and US riders with California local and Kona stalwart Barry Wicks leading the charge. 2015 saw perennial Kona racer Wicks tackling some new adventures. Attending the inaugural Trans-Cascadia Enduro, a 4 day stage race featuring blind racing through the backcountry near Oakridge, Oregon, was a true highlight. Barry was on the podium with stage wins at BCBR, Breck Epic and was 4th at the Downieville XC. After winning the inaugural Giro Grinduro, Barry’s ready to race back on New Zealand soil to kick start his 2016 season.
“I am pumped to join forces with my two-time BC Bike Race winning teammate Kris Sneddon, and along with Spencer Paxson and Cory Wallace get in some awesome early season training while participating in one epic adventure. I’m stoked to finish in Queenstown, and plan on crushing everyone in the Stage 8 Skyline luge race,” said Barry Wicks
Rounding out the Kona contingent descending on the Pioneer, is British Colombian native Kris Sneddon. In Kris’ own mind, he found this season a bit trying results-wise, but that’s only because he is his own toughest critic. He did win the 3 day portion of the Singletrack 6 event in BC and finished 5th in the 2015 edition of the BC Bike Race (he won the solo event in 2014).
Like Barry and Cory, he also has plenty of big days in the saddle under his belt, finishing second behind teammate Cory Wallace in the 2012 Mongolia bike Challenge and 2nd in the 2013 Canadian Marathon Championships.
“New Zealand was actually the first foreign country besides Canada that I ever visited back in 2006 for MTB World Champs in Rotorua. I can’t wait to experience the warm Kiwi spirit once again. With eight host villages along the way, I’m looking forward to making many new friends,” said Paxon.
I’m excited that this race will not only showcase some amazing mountain terrain, but that it will also promote a positive collaboration between the mountain bike community and a wide range of landowners. It’s neat to think that us foreigners and locals alike will be experiencing certain tracks for the first time. A surprise for everyone! It’s a privilege to be a part of such a groundbreaking event for the New Zealand cycling community, and will definitely be a good fitness bump for a big 2016 race season to follow!”