Tomorrow, mountain bikers from around the world will tackle the first edition of The Pioneer, an adventurous seven day mountain bike stage race from Christchurch to Queenstown on New Zealand’s South Island. For many the inaugural Pioneer mountain bike stage race is a step into the unknown, and that includes many of the elite riders who are expected to contest line honours each day and at the end of a grueling week that will see competitors clock up 569km of saddle time with 15,273m of climbing.
The event has attracted some of the world’s elite and most experienced marathon stage racers. The two professional Kona Factory Teams will be the ones to watch, but no doubt the Kiwis will be ensuring the North Americans don’t have it all their own way. And with the unknown across 7 days of racing with the potential for mechanical issues, injury and illness, it is indeed anyone’s race.
The internationals may yet be the ones to watch though, with pro team Kona sending two pairings from North America, both made up of one Canadian and one American, both combinations have considerable experience in this type of stage race.
Cory Wallace has done just about every big stage race out there – and he is teaming up with Spencer Paxson. They will likely share race favouritism with Anton Cooper and Dan McConnell. Long time Kona rider Barry Wicks partners with British Colombian Kris Sneddon in the second Kona team.
For Commonwealth Games gold medalist and Rio Olympics contender Anton Cooper the time spent riding might not be daunting, but the competitive edge to a week of riding is a little different to the usual XCO smash fest he is used to. He is teaming up with Dan McConnell, and their firepower could be decisive, and will have to be their main tool against the experienced stage racing Kona teams.
“I can’t wait for this, it is going to be a massive week and a memorable event to be a part of. This is primarily about laying down a solid foundation of riding for the year but equally we are going to be looking to ride strongly throughout and set a fast pace.”
In the mixed category, Kate Fluker will partner up with fellow Queenstown resident Mark ‘Willy’ Williams and will be amongst those vying for line honours. The Mixed category is really big, and it does make the racing a little more open as you can never be quite sure how partnerships will work out. The Spanish Tride Porte team have ridden many similar events with success, and could be the dark horse mixed team for the race.
The 28 year Kate Fluker has limited experience in this form of racing but didn’t hesitate in signing up. She raced the Alpen Tour Trophy last year in Austria, and had some great success, considering the demands of the hilly courses above Schladming.
“My main goal this year is to focus on the international season and gain selection to race at the Olympics and Willy is racing Godzone so we are both using this as a very decent base training block. We will have the competitive juices flowing but equally I am looking forward to seeing parts of New Zealand that I would not get to see otherwise with other like-minded people and meeting up at the end of each day to chat about the adventure. I am also really looking forward to challenging myself physically and mentally and having a good time doing so with Willy and learning from his experience.”
The Women’s category isn’t huge with just five teams, but Erin Greene is paired with Kath Kelly as the Torpedo7 Team, and Erin brings some good stage racing experience to the race. That said, it’s still seven days of racing and no category is certain.
Masters – strength in numbers
As is often the case, the Masters field is huge. And it’s stacked! Steve Gurney and Simon Callaghan apear to be the picks by the race organisers, but a quick glance at the start lists shows and inform Garry James has partnered with Mike Isreal. They’ve been training together this summer and Mike may well be Garry’s new stage race protege.
Of course, Wayne Dickinson and Michael Faretta will be flying the SXC Racing flag and will bring more form and stage race experience to the race. But another look also show one Nathan ‘Chookman’ Russell has teamed up with Peter Clalyton. Both of these two have plenty of experience, strength and anger in their legs from countless days of racing on road and off. And they haven’t found this sport as master’s age athletes. They’ve been turning pedals for a long time.
But nothing can be predicted in any categories – so keep an eye on our daily reports to see how each category is fairing. The Pioneer is set to be a true adventure along the Southern Alps.