15 November 2019


The 2019 Pioneer, fuelled by Nutri-Grain, will see a return for 2017 women’s champions Nina McVicar and Reta Trotman (Team New World St Martins), but both find themselves taking a very much more relaxed view of the gruelling six-day stage race as both have seen significant life changes since that victory.

Trotman is a first-year teacher and is juggling work, life and training commitments in the build-up to this year’s event while McVicar (who rode last year with Mary Gray) has taken on an even bigger challenge, hitting the brakes big time to retrain, studying medicine at Otago University.

Trotman missed the event in 2018 through illness but was always going to be lured back to the final event in the South Island (the event has announced a move to the North Island in 2020).

“When I think about the 2017 Pioneer I think about the joy of crossing the finish line each day (except for the day into Ohau), the sheer relief to make it to the end, and the respect we had for each other knowing each had given absolutely all they had. And of course, the maunga and the whenua! The landscapes we rode through we so inspiring and the ice-cold lakes were a treat at the end of each stage.”

Trotman is realistic however about their chances in 2019, with those life changes meaning she and McVicar see precious little of each other or their bikes.

“At the moment we are actually joking about how few hours we are managing each week with our jobs/studies and my health. Unfortunately, school and Uni holidays don't align so there won't be a heap of riding together pre-event but our mutual trust in one another to do the best they can to prepare with our current commitments to other life goals is all we need. I will need to ask Nina for a song list so I can learn a few lyrics to back her up on the long climbs though.”

That ill-health Trotman refers to came about after they took up their qualification spot at the Absa Cape Epic in South Africa in 2018, taking on the pinnacle event in mountain bike stage racing.

“We were set to return last year but I had to pull the pin due to ongoing post-viral fatigue issues after some nasty virus attacked my system in Botswana post Cape Epic last year. We are over a year on and my body is still not running on all cylinders, but I am even hungrier for another mountainous adventure with the best teammate in the world. As for planning, hmmmmmm, I plan the riding snacks and leave the rest to Nina!”

It is something of a miracle that Trotman is back on the start line, the 30-year-old thought she might be done after that tough experience in South Africa and her subsequent battle with her health.

“It's fair to say that after the Cape Epic I put my hands up and said; 'no more'. However, once I was back on my bike on the local trails and honing my skills – and trust me there was a lot to be honed, with the Specialized Women’s Ride Group here in Ōtautahi, I felt the lure of another Pioneer adventure.”

Trotman is in her first year of teaching at Te Whānau Ruru, part of the Māori bilingual team at Te Waka Unua School in Ōtautahi, so is likely to bring a different perspective to riding the trails and connecting to the land each day, while also hoping to connect back to her students and maybe inspire them in any way she can.

“My goals are simple, to have and see smiles on the finish line each day and no hyperventilation - we had a few overly breathless moments with unwanted sound effects at Cape Epic. And at least one song each day that we both know the words too.

“As I am now a Kaiako (teacher), I also want to connect with my students each day during the event to help inspire them to pursue their own sporting goals and to keep eating their fruit and vege!”

Her riding partner McVicar shares an equally busy lifestyle, with the engineer having gone back to Uni to retrain as a Doctor. She shares Trotman’s outlook and approach to the 2019 Pioneer however and is looking to bring her trademark smile to every metre of climbing.

“The 2017 Pioneer win was one of my first big results and I have put some pressure on myself because of that,” said McVicar. “This year Reta and I are quite different people to that first time. I am at University studying medicine and I have just found it very hard to train, it has become a bit more about enjoying life and fitting riding around enjoying life rather than before when I had to get the rides done.

“It has made me open my eyes to what other people do. My priorities used to be training and working and now I am trying to squeeze in school during the day, study at night – it gives you an appreciation of people doing the same thing with families, and that is even harder for them, you can’t shut the computer down on the family when you come home!

“I just don’t want to miss out on this event, especially being the last one in our neighbourhood and we are lucky again to have great support from our sponsor New World St Martins. I know how much fun the last ones have been, I would have to remove myself from social media for the week if I wasn’t there because I wouldn’t want to hear about all the fun everyone else was having!”

McVicar and Trotman have enjoyed some great support, especially now one is a student and the other a fledgling primary school teacher in her first year out of studies.

“Hub Cycles in Christchurch and Cycle World in Dunedin have offered great support, but New World St Martins has made it possible for us to return, they have been amazing,” said McVicar.

“Thanks to New World St Martins for their ongoing support and belief in us,” said Trotman. “My partner Scott for always being there and not giving up on my journey back to full health and of course to the Specialized Women’s ride group for the banter, tips and tricks.”

McVicar can’t wait to reconnect with others on The Pioneer, saying she loves how the event brings people of all walks of life and backgrounds on to the same trails.

“The Pioneer is amazing for its ability to connect with so many different people. At Cape Epic we loved the fact we were UCI and got some perks, but the reality is the majority doing the race are not UCI. You appreciate everyone having a story to tell, the grandparents riding, the hip replacement guys – you get to hear about all of those amazing behind the scenes stories.”