New Zealand has the terrain to host a variety of mountain bike races, and while The Pioneer is gone (for now?) The Prospector popped up in 2021 as a 3-day mountain bike stage race in the Central Otago region of New Zealand’s South Island.
With a prologue on Friday followed by two stages, the race offers a compact and competitive opportunity for New Zealand’s mountain bikers, and will likely attract riders from further afield when travel restrictions are eased. After three days, 4500m of elevation and 140km of tough technical rocky trails in the Alexandra hills, the NZ Cycling Project – MitoQ team of Ben Oliver (Christchurch) and Josh Burnett (Invercargill) took the overall win. The pair lead throughout the event after taking an early advantage in Fridays Prologue over Team TREK consisting of reigning New Zealand Elite Champion Anton Cooper and up and coming under 19 rider Ethan Rose.
NZ Cycling Project – MitoQ backed up Friday’s performance by taking line honours on Stage 1 after racing for 60kms through the stunning backcountry of Earnsclugh Station, giving them a lead of 1min 55sec heading into the final day of racing. Stage 2, a 58km route that linked up the all the very best singletrack in Matangi station, would be a true test to find NZ’s best stage racing mountain bikers. In what was a nail biting finale and an appropriate end to the close racing the two teams couldn’t be separated, with Team TREK taking the win in a very closely fought sprint finish. However TREK’s stage win was not enough to stop NZ Cycling Project – Mito Q pairing of Oliver and Burnett sealing the overall win and taking home the trophies and leaders jerseys as Prospector champions.
Josh Burnett commented “I am pretty stoked to take out the first ever Prospector with Ben over the weekend. Without a doubt some of the best trails in the country spread across the three days of racing. Ben and I really enjoyed battling it out with Ethan and Anton and [we are] hoping for more of the same in 2022!”
Anton Cooper was generous in his praise of the race and battle with Ben and Josh, commenting “It was a epic few days on the bike at the inaugural Prospector MTB Race. To be able to race over such beautiful high country stations and on singletrack that only Alexandra can provide was a real treat and one that we were all grateful for. This race is a real breath of fresh air for mountain bike events in NZ and caters to the true MTB enthusiast. A close second place finish in the prologue and opening stage finished with a win on the final stage was enough to secure myself and Ethan second place overall by a narrow 1min 55sec and give us some fire in the belly to come back again to challenge for the title. International schedule permitting I’ll be back next year to get my thrills!”
Another exciting battle was found in the very competitive mixed field, with many of New Zealand’s top female mountain bikers linking up with strong male riders making for some formidable pairings. After taking the lead in the Prologue, Team Bonding, mother and son pair, Amy and Noah Hollamby passed the jerseys onto Team New World St Martins (Hefin Price and Sarah Gilbert) who put in a strong ride on Stage 1. However the battle wasn’t won yet, Team Ilabb (Kate McIllroy and Reon Nolan) had been making steady progress through the ranks after mechanical trouble in the Prologue and put in a storming ride on the final stage to snatch the win and wear the final leaders jerseys with a comfortable 10min margin.
Team Chrim (Kim Johnston and & Christine Wright) were never troubled in the women’s category, leading from start to finish and taking the win by nearly 1hr over Team Llamas Pjamas (Georgie Mclean & Rachael Buttar).
Wrapping up The Prospector
In its inaugural edition The Prospector is a race created by Alexandra mountain bikers and businessmen James Williamson and Phil Oliver. It is held on network of trails in the hills surrounding Alexandra, covering 140km of tough off-road riding with over 70km of singletrack and 4000m elevation gain in the three days.
140 riders from all over New Zealand have travelled to Central Otago to take on the Prospector in its first year, including much of New Zealand’s top mountain bike talent. Those riders enjoyed Alexandra’s famous local hospitality and support of sporting events.
The race is comprised of a riders pairing up in teams of two, with categories for Junior (16- 19), Open (20-39), Masters (40-49) and grand masters (50+) in male, female and mixed pairings. The teams with the fastest cumulative time over the three days take home the honours of being the first ever Prospector Champions.
“We couldn’t have been happier with how our inaugural Prospector went, the buzz that the riders were getting from the courses, scenery and event atmosphere was really special. It was incredible to watch world class riders be tested by the course and themselves, producing some very exciting racing. We have big plans to build on the great momentum from our first year to establish this as one of the pinnacle Mountain Bike Stage Races in the Southern Hemisphere” – James Williamson, Race Director & Co-founder
In other Results
Christchurch Elite Rider, Brent Miller held off a big charge from Quintus Vermuelen on the final stage to take home the overall individual category win. Keeping it in the family, Brent’s Wife Hannah Miller won the women’s individual category, winning all three stages along the way.
Full results can be found online.
The event is scheduled to be held annually on a date Mid March – follow the website for updates.