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The Pioneer - 7 Day Stage Race in New Zealand

Chitts's picture

By Chitts - Posted on 16 February 2016

Minter (Warthog) and I have just finished the inaugural Pioneer MTB race in New Zealand. The race is a seven day mountain bike stage race through New Zealand’s Southern Alps starting in Christchurch and ending in Queenstown. The scenery and location must be largely unparalleled anywhere in the world where you can race. Jaw droppingly spectacular!!

We were racing in the Masters 40+ category and went into it really not knowing what the competition would be like given the international field. What we did know is that there were some strong teams coming out from Australia, including Mike Faretta (Blades_Utd) and Wayne Dickinson (Dicko) as well as Gary James and Mike Israel. These are all very competitive teams.

The week was brutal! It was not fun, but was a test of endurance and commitment to one’s team mate and to mental toughness. Minter is clearly the stronger rider by a fair way, so while he was admiring the view, getting a tan, and feasting at the water stations, I was in the hurt box for 7 days….not allowed to stop at the water stations and consistently being told to dig deep and push harder (as if I had been stopping to take photo’s while sipping a Pina Colada). One of the other teams made the comment that if he was in my position he would have punched Minter Smiling. Fortunately, Minter and I have been riding together for years, raced as a team at Joberg2C (9 day stage race in South Africa), and are like an old married couple (I just ignore him while nodding my head while he talks).

On the plus side, by the end of day 2, we were in the leader’s jersey for the Masters 40+ category, a position we managed to hold until the end of the race. We managed to win 3 stages (day 3, 4 and 6) and take the overall win in our old men’s category and place 6th overall, a good achievement given that first place went to the Olympian duo of Dan McConnell and Anton Cooper, followed by the Kona A and Kona B teams out of the USA and Canada, as well as a mixed team featuring Kate Fluker, another NZ Olympian who climbs like a mountain goat on steroids…...very humbling company.

Mike and Dicko had their race end on day 3 when Dicko fell and had to get helicoptered off the mountain and taken to Queenstown hospital. He returned the next day, sling and all. A great pity after all the hard work and training  A big kudos to Mike who finished the race without Dicko, despite having also crashed on day 4 and being covered in scratches, scrapes and bruises.
One of the things that stood out at the race was how supportive and just plain great people were. I won’t forget day 4 coming towards the finish for the stage win and having Dicko running beside me with one arm in the sling screaming and shouting encouragement like a nutter (may have been the pain killers….don’t mix them with alcohol). Another example was after day 5 when after a brutal 7 hours in the saddle (112km and nearly 4,000m of climbing ….into a strong headwind) I just collapsed into bed….broken. I woke up to find that Dicko had (single-handedly….pun intended) cleaned and lubed my bike while Nathan and Pete from Northside Cyclery had checked my bike over, sorted out a rubbing rear brake etc. What a top notch bunch of blokes!!

With respect to equipment, I rode my Specialized Epic and Minter was on his Cannondale Scalpel. Both were perfect bikes for the race.

I have had terrible luck over the past year or so with punctures and sidewall cuts (Convict, Highland Fling, general Sydney trails) and have been running Schwalbe and Maxxis with sidewall protection (not the super-light versions). We decided that we needed to find a safer alternative and a read of a Flow magazine article on the website led us to try out the Mitas Scylla tyres with TEXTRA sidewalls on which they offer a 100 day sidewall guarantee. This appealed to us as they clearly have a lot of faith in the technology and the guarantee is straight forward – if your Textra tyre gets slashed in normal riding conditions, you’re covered. I have thrown away a lot of money on tyres so this makes sense for me. Anyway, after using them for the race, I am a convert and so is Minter (as evidenced by the fact that he is trying to sell his stock of Racing Ralph’s For anyone who is interested, we ordered the tyres from the Mitas website and they were delivered within 2 days. Nice! Minter is also using the more aggressive tyre (the Kratos) on his Stumpjumper, but I recon it would make a great front tyre for the Sydney trails with the Scylla as a rear tyre.

If you are looking for a challenge then I would recommend The Pioneer, with one warning….if you ride a 1x11 then take a 30t chainring.

Dicko's picture

Very humbling blog Ian.

With all respect you guys are the perfect team. The level of pain and commitment that you guys put into winning that race had to be seen to be believed.

I was thankful to be part of witnessing a superb effort by the two of you - and you both deserve all the accolades plus more for what you achieved.

Great work guys !

Brian's picture

Awesome work guys and well done. It looks like a great event and one for the bucket list.

GarethP's picture

Great read - sounds like one for the ever growing list of races I want to do!

Pete B's picture

Well done to you both. I was following a few people's blogs on this and it looks and sounds epic.

This race is going in the diary for next year.

Edit:- Do you have any Strava links? It'd be interesting to see them.

Chitts's picture

.....Incredibly well run. To get the logistics correct in the first year is amazing. I was expecting a number of issues but the event was VERY well run and the staff and volunteers were super-friendly.

bmar560's picture

congrats and well done !
thanks for sharing the experience.

Blades_Utd's picture

Having ridden with both you and Minter for some time now and to see first hand the effort that you went through to be ready for this race I can safely say that no one deserved victory more.
Aside from the mechanical issues on the final stage you rode an almost perfect race and it was fantastic to witness your victory first hand.

Volker's picture

Expecting a blog now from the Epic, Gareth! Should be tremendous this year.

hawkeye's picture

This pairs thing seems to be gaining an extra pair of legs Smiling

Congrats on the win! Sounds like the scenery more than made up for the grovelling and suffering.

Interesting comments on the tyres. I've run them and found them to be robust but a little slow compared to their Schwalbe snakeskin equivalent. These are the Greyline version mentioned in the Flow link.

They do wear very well, and although coming in slightly under the stated size they ride like a bigger tyre. Worth investigating.

I doubt I'd be game to run a Scylla on the front on sandy Sydney trails! Kratos for me.

Fatboy's picture

Great Read and well done. What a massive effort. Can't begin to imagine the training you guys did.

I recently bought the Textra's after a succession of sidewall pin holes on Specialized tyres and from your article it sounds like I've found a solution.

Antsonline's picture

Mate - what an incredible result, and race. Both of you and Minter really nailed it. Its a super impressive outcome and you should be proud.
Well done, a result to be proud of - as I suspect the Pioneer will go on to become a bit of a 'classic' on the scene, and having your name, first on the honour roll of results, is a special thing that no-one will be able to replicate.

Masters winner of the first ever Pioneer. Very cool.

Warthog's picture

Great write up Ian and thanks everyone for your comments.

This race was really tough but could have been harder had the weather not been near perfect for the week. We had a few hot days which impacted some of the teams but snow/rain could have made some of the tough days even tougher. Given the descents involved I doubt brake pads would have lasted had it been wet. Also some of the descents were the hardest I have done - in the wet they would be near unmanageable.

I would rate The Pioneer as tough as the Cape Epic and some days even more difficult - the Cape Epic does not have the long continuous climbs you find in NZ.

Overall a great race, very good organisation, spectacular views and a really good vibe. You are also not forced to sit through long prize giving ceremonies which is a major plus and it is not as serious as the Cape Epic (people are actually there to have fun too!). Btw the food was excellent - I actually picked up weight in a 31hr week of riding.

I echo Ian's comments with regards to Mike and Dicko - thanks for your support guys in what must have been very disappointing outcome. You guys would have taken Stage 2 had it not been for all the mechanicals which could have meant a totally different race outcome.

Stage racing is very much "man plans and God laughs". You never know what is going to hit you next and to finish at the top there is a substantial element of "good fortune i.e. luck" involved.

Nathe and Pete from Cyclery Northside - you boys were great! Thanks for looking over our bikes every evening. It was also comforting sitting on your wheels knowing that nothing unexpected was going to happen whilst there - always a risky move in a big bunch especially with loose gravel around. As an aside: in the A group of riders (top 20 teams i.e. 40 riders) I counted (rough estimate) 3 Cannondale's, 4 Konas, a couple of Treks and the bulk of the remainder Specialized Epics.

Pair racing is how you match up with your team mate and how you click as a team - riding/ability wise but more importantly, personality wise. Luckily for me Ian has a thick skin so everything is like water of a ducks back. He really pulled out all the stops so that we could win this - thanks for "digging deep". I'm hoping some of my "encouragement" helped Smiling.

Ants is on the money with regards to his blog on team racing. We need another level of excitement in local events and adding a team category (and scratching a number of others) should bring some of that back. "We" is more powerful than "I" and just like training, it is more enjoyable to race as a team (at least for most people) than going it solo. I'm sure having more team category events would be an overall positive for the sport with limited downside.

Tristania's picture

When you mentioned that you and Warthog were doing this, I don't think I realized the gravity of its difficulty and your commitment. 1st in Masters and 6th overall! That's fantabulous! Must make HLF and C100 seem easy in comparison!

Thanks for sharing your experiences. Something worth keeping on my bucket list if I ever decide I want to become crazy...

hawkeye's picture

So what are you waiting for? Eye-wink

markleby's picture

You guys absolutely took this to another level. Day after day of hard riding, under constant pressure from the IRide kiddos. More so, what makes this standout is the teamwork and mateship... going through stuff like this together is what makes bike riding mates the best ones.

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