14 February 2017


One of the highlights of the recent Pioneer Mountain Bike Stage Race was the newly forged partnership with the world-renowned Absa Cape Epic, widely regarded as the ‘unofficial world championship of mountain bike stage racing’.

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 relished the challenge of the 545km journey from Christchurch to Queenstown and the 15,000 metres plus of climbing throughout the week.

An emotionally charged prize giving suggested they also clearly found ‘welcome’ from organisers and enjoyed a wonderful camaraderie amongst the riders and volunteers over the seven days.

For many though, the lure of an entry to the famous Cape Epic also played a huge part in their week of riding, with four of the five category winners taking up the option of a guaranteed entry to the 2018 race (the only ones to defer were in the Men’s Masters 50+ category).

Riders, supporters and organisers sat transfixed at The Pioneer prize giving on Saturday night in Queenstown as a further five names were then drawn from the entry list in a lucky draw that provided the same option of a guaranteed entry to the Epic in 2018 – the first time that the Cape Epic has offered such an incentive to any other event worldwide.

Kevin Vermaak is the founder of the Cape Epic and now heads up event organiser Ironman’s global mountain bike strategy. He 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 first-ever allocation of qualification slots to the Cape Epic was successfully executed at the Pioneer, and in my view - having been on the event and witnessed it firsthand, there could be no more appropriate race to launch this new Cape Epic development,” said Vermaak.

“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 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 on the night to return and ride the full seven days in 2018.

“The passion and professionalism of the organizers, combined with the very special camaraderie amongst my fellow ‘Pioneers’ made for an unforgettable week in New Zealand. I'm already looking forward to returning next year to ride the 7-day Pioneer Epic.

“The Pioneer reminded me of the early days of the Cape Epic. Without doubt, it has the potential to be an iconic New Zealand event that transcends the sport of mountain biking, and in which all New Zealanders can take pride.”

As Vermaak drew and then called out the names on Saturday evening, you could hear the excitement in the voices of those accepting the challenge of a start in the Epic, and see it in their eyes as they stood on stage.

Overall Pioneer winners James Williamson (Alexandra) and Scott Lyttle (Masterton/now US based) were amongst the category winners to accept the invitation, and hinted that they might have found their calling.

“This is exciting, something new for us and as Jimmy said on the finish line, maybe this is the start of something. 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 riders drawn out of the hat in the lucky draw were equally delighted, and presented a great snap shot of The Pioneer, with three international visitors and two Kiwi riders hearing their names called before racing to the stage.

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!

Category winners to welcome the chance to race the Absa Cape Epic as a result of their efforts at The Pioneer were Open Men’s winners James Williamson and Scott Lyttle (Watson and Son Manuka Honey, NZL); Open Women’s winners Nina McVicar and Reta Trotman (Hirepool, NZL); Mixed Open winners Mark Williams and Kate Fluker (New World, NZL); Men’s Masters 40+ winners Ibon Zugasti and Tomi Misser (Imparables, ESP); and Men’s Masters 50+ runner up Aussie/Kiwi pairing of Stephen Davies and Paul Riordan (Sniffer and the Rampant Ferret).

Details of the 2018 Pioneer will be announced in the coming weeks, with demand expected to be high for the third iteration of what is fast becoming an iconic New Zealand event.


For more information contact:

Andrew Dewhurst, Media Manager, The Pioneer

+64 (0) 21 535501,