The inaugural running of The Pioneer in 2016 was a fantastic, sunny week in New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Tracing and then traversing the mountain chain from Christchurch down to Queenstown, the early adopters this year were treated to a warm welcome to the newest marathon stage race in Oceania the Southern Hemisphere.
The course was… well it was tough. Lots of climbing, lots of slow terrain with alpine grasses that hadn’t died back much with a wet early summer, and of course a sun that was pretty warm as well. It was a testing event and that’s what the organisers set out to create – as well as a warm and welcoming event atmosphere.
This second element cannot be scripted. Even with all the right things in place, it comes down to the mood of the racers and event staff and volunteers. It’s very hard to plan interpersonal relationships, but in this case the off-bike atmosphere was one of the best experienced.
Yet, nothing is perfect. Some found the course too reliant on overly steep climbs, and others wanted more trail in it. Marathon stage racing needs to be the right mix of getting through the distance and also making it enjoyable and fun. So routes need to marry firetrail, dirt road, singletrack, views, climbs and descents to get the right mix. Make it a paired race, and it’s more important again to get it right, as the racing dynamic is different to a solo only event. And don’t let me get started on races that mix the two…
“Staying true to the epic nature of this event and ensuring a unique journey through the stunning Southern Alps for every rider, our course development team made certain they always had ‘find stunning’, ‘find character’ and ‘find welcome’ at the heart of their course development for 2017,” the race organisers have announced in their latest release.
“The Pioneer will continue to push riders to their absolute limits and then some, as the course covers 549kms of back country New Zealand, demands a total of 15,824m of climbing across the 7 days, and asks riders to dig deep, both mentally and physically.”
Key changes to The Pioneer course in 2017
The Pioneer team claims that 20% of the course is brand new for 2017.
Stage One: The start line has shifted out of town so there is no more neutral zone, you just get straight into the Port Hills trails. And this includes riding sections of the new Christchurch Adventure Park.
Stage Two: remains the same as the 2016 stage.
Stage Three: sees a new climb up the Albury Range, which while it is longer, it is a more ‘rideable’ ascent. And you will be rewarded – the views from up there are beyond stunning as your ride the ridge line.
Stage Four: some of the longer road sections have been removed which equals more mountain biking, including on a new track, the Rhoboro Track.
Stage Five: the Queen Stage remains untouched – this is where you really dig deep!! However we have extended the cut-off time at the Lindis Pass entrance. Instead of 2:00pm, you now have until 3:00pm to reach this point.
Stage Six: remains the same with the wicked Deans Bank single track, and the stunning climb up to Snow Farm.
Stage Seven: sees an exciting new approach to Queenstown from Snow Farm, and includes a river crossing!
All in all the changes sound good, without changing the face of the event much at all. So if you liked the sound of it in 2016, then you’ll be getting a very similar experience in 2017. Find a team mate, get your entry in, and get training!