The 2017 Pioneer MTB Stage Race was unique in the fact that it was the first race to act as a qualifier for the Cape Epic. And for the first time in its history the 2018 Absa Cape Epic field will include teams who have qualified to take part by completing another event.
A total of 10 teams from New Zealand’s Pioneer mountain bike stage race qualified to take part in the Cape Epic – some who won their categories and other finishers who got in through a lucky draw.
“This is a significant moment in the evolution of the Cape Epic and mountain bike stage racing,” says Kevin Vermaak, Managing Director of the Cape Epic MTB World Series. “It is the first step in building an international series of stage races that will culminate in the Absa Cape Epic.”
Vermaak, who founded the race in 2004, has been charged by new Absa Cape Epic owners IRONMAN with creating a world series of stage races. The pinnacle event of the series will be the Cape Epic.
“Besides The Pioneer, which is also owned by IRONMAN, we will be acquiring more races as part of this series and they will offer Cape Epic qualification opportunities.”
Four of the five category-winning teams in The Pioneer took up the option of a guaranteed entry to the 2018 race – the only ones to defer were in the Grand Masters category, where the entry was passed on to the second-placed team. Winning mixed category racers Kate Fluker and Mark Williams have even announced that they will ride their wave of form and compete in the 2017 Cape Epic!
Another five team entries were drawn from all the finishers of The Pioneer 7-day Epic at prize giving in Queenstown, New Zealand.
In just its second year, The Pioneer again proved to be a world-class event, drawing praise from all who took part. Close to 200 New Zealanders and 154 international riders took on the challenge of the 545km journey from Christchurch to Queenstown and the 15 000 metres plus of vertical gain through the week.
Vermaak was in New Zealand to see the Pioneer first hand and to announce those to earn their opportunity to ride in South Africa next year.
“The Pioneer delivers an adventure travel experience second-to-none for mountain bikers from across the globe. We experienced authentic remote wilderness in the Southern Alps that regular tourists to the South Island (and many locals too, it seems) might only dream of seeing,” Vermaak says.
And he so enjoyed riding two of the stages alongside Dave Beeche, Managing Director of IRONMAN Oceania and the man who thought up the event in the first place, that the South African committed to return and ride the full seven days in 2018.
Category winners to welcome the chance to race the Absa Cape Epic as a result of their efforts at The Pioneer were Overall Men’s winners James Williamson and Scott Lyttle (Watson and Son Manuka Honey, New Zealand); Overall Women’s winners Nina McVicar and Reta Trotman (Hirepool, NZL); Mixed Open winners Mark Williams and Kate Fluker (New World, NZL); Men’s Masters winners Ibon Zugasti and Tomi Misser (Imparables, Spain); and Men’s Grand Masters runner up Aussie/Kiwi pairing of Stephen Davies and Paul Riordan (Sniffer and the Rampant Ferret).
Men’s winners Williamson and Lyttle, both former professional road racers, were delighted to secure a Cape Epic entry.
“This is exciting, something new for us and, as Jimmy said on the finish line, maybe this is the start of something,” said Lyttle. “We have 13 months now to prepare and work out how we will tackle this, riding in The Pioneer this week has taught us so much about mountain bike stage racing, and I am sure will put us in good stead for South Africa next year.”
The lucky draw winners were Robert Shaw (Scotland), Anna Karlsson (Sweden), David Oliver (NZ), Haley van Leeuwen (NZ), and John Cockburn (Canada) all accepted the challenge, with the next step now to confirm their riding partners – with their Pioneer mates perhaps first in that queue!