I’d like to know who can line up on a start line with no trepidation. Surely it can only be the over-confident, or misinformed? Starting the inaugural edition of The Pioneer in Christchurch today with a 37km Prologue, I was wondering which one I was.
Lining up with Huw Brassington, a Welsh outdoor athlete, I was racing with someone with really different experiences to me. But, as my team mate succumbed to an injury less than a fortnight ago, this was the next best option so I could still start the paired marathon stage race.
Huw’s managed to get a hire bike for the week, and while I eyed his 26” dually with no lockout with some suspicion, really, it’s still got two wheels, a great gear range and hydraulic disc brakes.
I’ve got a new Norco Revolver FS 9.2, just a loan before my new one arrives in a week. I’ve ridden it once, and it seemed fine… I’m sure we’ll be fine.
After a neutral roll out to the timed start, we watched the super elite take off. The likes of Dan McConnell and Anton Cooper, and then the purple and orange armada of two Kona Endurance Teams. And about 30 teams later, we were meant to go. But we got busy talking to people in the grid and missed our start!
Race Time at The Pioneer
Without much mountain biking background, today was going to be a test to see how Huw would handle the week. The flat road for the first 6km was no drama, but it was a reality check hitting the first climb, especially the switchbacked singletrack climb. That said, many people were off and walking, and it really shows how easy it is too take 15+ years of experience for granted. Huw was a darker shade of red, but he was there.
The next climb saw a few strong masters teams come by. The likes of Garry James and Mike Israel looked to be climbing smoothly.
It was a long climb, and we could see how people took a different approach. Some stopped for photos. Others rode hard, some stopped and started to keep their blood pressure in check. But the higher we got, and the more we climbed above town, the more it was easy to think about the views. We looked across the ocean, and traversed the ridgeline with a mix of singletrack, double track and road. One rocky chute had a lot of people off and running up, and it was great to see some technical climbing in the route, it’s something that can often be missed from large events.
The Flying Nun is a popular descent, and I can see why. With armoured berms, a few line options, and plenty of gravity assistance, it was a barrel of fun. Not so fun was the local guy out in his full face who wanted to ride the trails… with his dog. I hope the dog is ok, as it was just stupid to decide to take your dog for a trail ride on a trail that will have 400 other mountain bikers coming down it.
That aside, it was certainly one of those descents that you don’t always get in a marathon or stage race. After a brief climb the final descent was a lot of fast firetrail, with some sweet off camber old trail thrown in to test your concentration. Hats off to The Pioneer team for so far making some great course choices.
Huw made it up the hills, and back down, and we crossed in about 1hr 30mins, about 33 minutes about Team Danton (Dan McConnell and Anton Cooper) and about 30 minutes behind both Kona teams. So we have our work cut out for us.
Team New World took the Mixed win, and Torpedo 7 stormed to victory in Women’s with about 15 minutes on second place. The Master’s category is pretty hot, with Team iRide finishing in 1:09:27, and the Grand Masters wining team just 12 seconds behind.
The mood in the camp at The Pioneer is really relaxed, and the bus transport to Geraldine was pretty smooth. There’s lots of jandals, singlets and some chilled music playing in the social tent. A football has appeared, and I heard someone’s off to get a cricket bat. It seems like it can’t last, as the 100+km stages start tomorrow, and the clouds might roll in. But right now – that doesn’t seem to matter. The Pioneer is off to a great start.