The Pioneer starts and finishes in the adventure capital of the world – Queenstown, New Zealand. In-between is six incredible days of riding which link together the best backcountry riding in the South Island.
2019 is the fourth edition of The Pioneer and returning riders will notice changes to the 2018 course on almost every day, but at its core it takes riders through familiar terrain of the Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago regions, starting and ending in Queenstown with race villages hosted in Moke Lake Queenstown, Alexandra and Bannockburn.
The course boasts plenty of single-track and will deliver a grand tour of the most stunning backdrops you could ask for. You will be sent deep into remote backcountry New Zealand, where you will really discover what it means to be a Pioneer.
Many of the trails cross private land and can only be ridden while racing The Pioneer, so it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to gain access to the best riding in New Zealand. Expect big scenery and big climbs as you ascend tussock covered hills, traverse mountain ranges, explore secluded valleys and revive the spirit of the original pioneers.
Terrain will vary each day, but includes a mix of local trails, farm track, NZ Cycle Trails and single-track – so be prepared to really see what you, your teammate and your bike are really made of.
The course is marked, navigation skills are not required, and you will pass several checkpoints and aid stations to keep you on-track and well looked after. Each day’s racing finishes in a race village with local hospitality on offer, ensuring each stage is unique and enjoyable. To cap it all off you will finish back in Queenstown, an amazing place to celebrate achieving something truly epic!
Each stage is between 25.5km - 112km, with between 650 - 2,730m of climbing. The total course is 433km of riding with over 12,000m of climbing. Be ready to experience pure mountain biking heaven in Aotearoa.
MOKE LAKE PROLOGUE
And so your journey begins…
The prologue course is a Queenstown local's favourite, using some of the best single-track in the area.
The anticlockwise loop starting and finishing in the stunning backcountry location of Moke Lake compromises of a fast start on some flowing tracks along the shores of Moke Lake and Lake Dispute before dropping down a well bermed twisty descent on the Phoenix track and into the single-track mecca of 7Mile where some pinchy climbs and tight forested trails will test your bike handling at race pace.
From there the drag back up to the Moke Lake race village begins with a long but not overly demanding single-track climb through rocky forest trails before popping out onto the access road for a full gas run into the finish.
Moke Lake to Arrowtown
A new stage for 2019, this point to point ride encompasses some of the Queenstown basin’s amazing cycle trail network, backcountry trails and the epic single-track on Coronet Peak.
Riders are treated to a relatively easy start on the Moke Lake road towards the Moonlight Trail, with the course using this trail in the opposite direction from 2018. The climbs up to the highpoint of the moonlight trail will well and truly stretch the field out and allow teams to get settled into their race rhythm for the week.
Once you emerge out of the trail at Arthurs point, the course then hits the banks of the mighty Shotover river for some more single-track riding before connecting up with the Queenstown cycle trail to cover some slightly easier terrain prior to the big challenge of the day, the climb to the Coronet Peak Ski field. The climb to the top here is a mixture of farm road, single-track and sealed road and will give competitors the chance to take in some stunning views of the Queenstown basin. There is plenty of reward for the hard work on the way up with the last 25km of the stage nearly all single-track and including the famous Rude Rock downhill before rolling along the coronet water race trail and then dropping down a newly improved Bush Creek Track and into Arrowtown where your well-earned recovery pack awaits! From here riders will be transported to the next race village in Alexandra.
Alexandra to Alexandra
Stage Two unveils the hidden mountain biking gem that is Alexandra. This is a true mountain bikers day with some of the best rocky, dry, dusty single-track in the country. The riding is a real crowd pleaser and although it remains one of the most challenging days you will encounter, the thrill of the trails will leave you smiling all the way to sleep!
The hands-down favourite stage of the 2018 edition of the race, The Queen stage of the race will remain similar, with minor tweaks to make it even better than before.
The thriving and dedicated MTB community has built up some prime tracks in the area and Pioneer riders will get a little taste of them on the Queen’s Stage.
The start from race village uses the iconic Otago Central Rail Trail before heading for the thyme encrusted hills out behind the Alexandra clock. Here we hit some trails newly available for the 2019 course. Known locally as MTB heaven, the extent of the single-track network out in these hills will surprise you and leave you wanting to come back for more, however the course has other places to go and quickly you exit the hills back into the township before shooting along the Clutha River cycle trail down the picturesque Roxburgh Gorge.
This track soon turns into the longest climb of the day, the newly built Sphinx rock trail, a 6km pure single-track ascent bringing you from the depths of the gorge up to the very top of the Flat top hill range. The single-track doesn’t relent here with a loop of the black & blue descent and purple haze climb on the hillside above butchers Dam.
Finally, we take a break from single-track and cover a large amount of ground (& climbing) over the farm tracks of Earnscleugh Station heading towards the next major challenge of the day at Clyde. The Fraser weir road climb takes you into a remote high country river gorge before you have to grunt out of it up the steepest climb of the day to get to the top of the Clyde Enduro Trail. This 3km flowing downhill trail certainly brings your grin back quickly and will make you forget all the hard work in getting there. The final part of the stage brings you back from Clyde to Alexandra along another short section of the Rail Trail and through the airport and boot hill trail network.
Alexandra to Bannockburn
The stage starts with the ever-popular Alexandra-Clyde Millennium track which winds alongside the Clutha River and brings you out right underneath the massive Clyde dam.
Stage 3 will be ridden as intended for the 2018 Pioneer. Flooding of the Fraser river put a spanner in the works, making the river unsafe to ford and cutting off access to the beautiful private Hawksburn Station. This stage is too good not to give it a second shot!
A loop through the streets of historic Clyde and a once in a year opportunity to ride across the top of the dam itself is an early highlight of this stage. Once out of Clyde the course crosses the Earnscleugh flats and heads for the first major climb of the day up to Fraser Dam Road, this climb takes you halfway up the Old Man hill range, and around the back of the Fraser reservoir, where you cross the river and head into Hawksburn Station. Some rolling farm country here leads you into the next big climb of the day to the top of the Cairnmuir range.
The Cairnmuir climb has some early steep pinches and some short sections that riders will likely need to walk but opens out to a steady ridgeline climb that links up with the D.O.C trail along the top. The views here are worth taking in as you leave the Alexandra basin, look down on the Cromwell Gorge and can see all the way down Lake Dunstan and across to the Remarkables.
The descent off of the Cairnmuir ridge will be the first real taste of what backcountry riding in NZ is all about, with obstacles everywhere, these long fast descents require a lot of focus and concentration and while rewarding are often just as demanding as the climbs! Once you hit lake level at the bottom you follow the road around the Bannockburn peninsula and then a short steady climb leads you back to your new home for the next two nights in the Bannockburn race village.
Bannockburn to Bannockburn
The Bannockburn loop is the shortest stage, but do not be fooled, the majority of this stage is on backcountry farm tracks and has some of the biggest climbs of the race so it will be a testing day for the team dynamic. However, despite its brutality, this stage holds up as a 2018 repeat stage because of the quality of riding and the stunning 360 views atop the ridgelines.
The first half of the stage loops up the Hawksburn road and down the pylon access 4WD track, it is a little more benign and serves as a warm up to the second monstrous loop which includes the climbs of Carricktown and Mt Difficulty. These climbs are where you and your teammate need to work together to establish a sustainable pace for a long duration, the first ascent of Carricktown is nearly 1hr long for the fastest riders gaining close to 1000m over 9km.
The riding from here on is simply breath-taking in terms of scenery and terrain, at one point you can just about see the final finish line all the way up the Gibbston valley in Arrowtown before the track switches back onto the Cromwell side and sends you up to the dizzy heights of Mt Difficulty, whose name appropriately describes the climb up to its high point. The descent from here back down to the Bannockburn valley is as fast as they get and makes the final kilometres through the historic Bannockburn sluicings track nice and enjoyable.
Bannockburn to Queenstown
A totally new final stage awaits the riders for 2019. We are very excited to showcase a new route on the West side of the Kawarau gorge in previously inaccessible areas.
The stage is likened to the best riding that the old format Pioneer offered, remote backcountry tracks through an isolated area open only for the race to pass through. Consider yourself warned now though, this is no dawdle into the finish, this final stage is amongst the more challenging rides we have encountered and will test you all the way. There will, of course, be a substantial reward for your effort with your Pioneer finisher medal that awaits you at the final event finish in Frankton, Queenstown.
The stage starts with a 1000m climb up the Nevis Rd. This stunning climb is a true NZ epic and takes you over the highest public road pass in the country, though the only traffic you will ever see up here is a few hardy 4WD'ers, hunters, fishermen and fellow mountain bikers!
The descent down the road into the Nevis Valley is like dropping into another world, with a massive valley and wall of mountains in front of you there is not a single sign of civilisation apart from the road you are on. The Nevis valley was once a thriving community of brave gold miners but is now home to a few tiny ghost towns.
The exit from the valley is nearly as quick as the descent into it, once you cross the river at the bottom you immediately turn onto a farm track that points in the direction of Arrowtown. While a short distance as the crow flies the next section of the stage is tough ups and downs on rugged trails through several river valleys and will require all of the energy you have saved up until this point of the race. Home is on the horizon though and from the top of the final climb of Coalpit Saddle, you can just about smell the finish.
A fast, long and technical descent to the Gibbston valley highway is followed by a final stretch along the Queenstown cycle trail that previous competitors will be familiar with and somewhat delighted to know that their journey to the finish line is much shorter this time with Frankton, Queenstown as our final destination.
Arrive, collapse, exhausted, hugely satisfied, proud and ready to look back on one of the most adventurous and enjoyable weeks of your life!!