After postponing the 2018 Pioneer in May 2017, many feared the worst. Had a new, epic marathon stage race landed in the Oceania region to only run for 2 editions? Having raced both editions it was clear – they were hard. The climbing, the surface, the conditions – it was a true challenge to get through.
Justin Morris summed up the 2017 event well here.
We were assured there would be good news to come, and soon enough the event from The Pioneer announced new dates for The Pioneer in 2018, with a 6-day format running from 25-30 November out of Queenstown. A lot of questions remained unanswered.
Would the race be shorter? Easier?
Would The Pioneer still be a pairs race?
Would there be a solo option?
Do I really need to take all that gear each stage?
So what next? We waited.
The grand reveal
All has now been revealed, with a 6 day course running out of Queenstown in New Zealand. This means you start and finish in the one town making logistics easier for racers, supporters and the event crew. It also knocks a day off the total length, and the race is now 430km with 15500m of climbing.
The route is no longer a classic point to point, in fact of the 6 days racing only 2 stages start in one place and finish in another. This means less early mornings packing everything back into your bag. But for the purists it does mean it’s a little bit less of a journey.
Are you scratching your head? Yes, so it’s one day shorter and about 120km less riding – but with the same climbing. Pack your climbing legs, small chainrings, 11-46 cassettes – and don’t forget to train. The 2018 edition of The Pioneer isn’t going to be an easier than before – but it looks to have more variety.
Details of the 2018 course for The Pioneer
The race starts at Coronet Peak with a prologue of 22km with 1500m of climbing. With a climb to start it really is about a long descent and a big climb to finish. A great one for a calculated effort.
Expect huge views from the high parts of the course, and some steep and fast descents to reward the climbing, including the infamous Rude Rock trail. This could be an immense challenge, but we’ll have to wait to see the complete course maps.
Stage 1 is a big loop from Queenstown, and with about 2800m climbed in 66km it will be hilly, and no doubt with some insane views. heading through Ben Lomond station the course uses a lot of grade 3/4 intermediate singletrack, and expect more of the Queenstown Trail thrown in with a couple of huge climbs. There’s a bus transfer to Alexandra that afternoon, for the first of four nights in the race camp. With so many steep climbs don’t forget to cool down before the bus trip.
Stage 2 is a big loop in Alexandra. They have great trails there plus lots of NZ Cycle Trail too. The route might take in some of the Clutha Gold trail, or the trails above Alexandra, or maybe on Flat Top Reserve. We’ll see. with 114km and 2750m of climbing it’s probably the flattest stage of the week! Time to stretch the legs, especially on the closing kilometres on the Otago Central Rail Trail.
Stage 3 starts in Alexandra and heads to Bannockburn. With 76km to climb 2600m it’s another big day but it’s also the first point to point of the race, which in itself will be really unique. The trails over the top of Flat Top Hill should afford stunning vistas to Old Man and Old Woman range, and the fertile farm lands of Central Otago.
Stage 4 is in and out of Bannockburn, and with 83km and 3100m on the cards this will be the one everyone will be waiting to knock off. Expect higher beer sales after this stage as it’s only one to go. That final climb, and quadruple summit will test the nerve of many.
Stage 5 is the second point to point, running from Bannockburn to Arrowtown. The 67km has 2800m of climbing, a perfect reminder that New Zealand and the Southern Alps isn’t flat!
With the major climb taking part in the first 23km of the race, there is still a sting in the tail.
What else is new?
Nothing major. But the event villages are now in towns so if you don’t like the pulled pork burgers (what is wrong with you?) then you can easily head into town for something else.
Whether this will change the event vibe or not is uncertain. One of the best elements of The Pioneer (and the Crocodile Trophy) is the sense of being contained – by wide open spaces. You spend more time interacting with those in the event instead of rushing from one place to another. Everyone at the race has similar interests and when you find the time to sit, relax, share and talk – the chance for plenty of laughter and new friendships arise.
There’s no 3 or 4 day option. You have to play well with others. Part of the challenge of the race is making your team work. The Pioneer in 2017 was the first time my team mate Justin Morris had done a pairs race. They’re different, and it’s about going as fast as the team can, not one rider (that’s one way of saying I was the slower rider). The Pioneer will have a team mate finder on their website and will push it via their Facebook page. Have a good think about what attributes you have, and what you’d want your team mate to have.
There is also the chance to qualify for a 2019 Cape Epic slot too, to save the guess work with the lottery. Expect to see more of this, as now Ironman, who own the Cape Epic and Pioneer, also own the Swiss Epic as well.
All in, it looks set to become an iconic race in and around Queenstown. The changes to the route should make before and after the event easier, but it won’t make the riding any easier. It looks set to have a little more variety, but still expect a mixed variety of terrain. Current estimates are:
36% – 4WD/Farm Track
35% – Cycle Trails / Singletrack
15% – Gravel Road
14% – Sealed Road
Courses won’t be overly technical but they will be physically challenging. If you’re after a monumental challenge for you and your mate in a unique setting – this could be the event you have been looking for.
In time we’ll dig further into the details of the new race – but even with one less day this race will be no less epic.
Keen for more details? Head to the event website. And if you’re keen, book early and take advantage of the generous early bird discounts. Events like The Pioneer aren’t cheap events to run or take part in – but they do create priceless memories and friendships.
Got a question? Drop a comment below.