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Pioneer Course Set To Take Riders On Stunning New Central Otago Trails

Press Release / Photo : The Pioneer / 01.05.2019

The 2019 Pioneer Course

Organisers today confirmed course details for the 2019 Pioneer fuelled by Nutri-Grain, with the six-day mountain bike stage race set to take riders on a 441km journey with 13,000m of climbing through the stunning Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago region.

The event takes place in the first week of December and is again an out and back course that sees riders start and end their epic journey in Queenstown. Riders will notice subtle changes to the course on almost every day, but at its core it takes riders through familiar terrain of the Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago regions, with race villages hosted in Queenstown (an addition to last year’s event), Alexandra and Bannockburn.

New Course Manager James Williamson brings his considerable expertise to the event, as the 2017 race winner with Scott Lyttle, but also as a local Central Otago resident and one who knows the many amazing trails of the region.

“My brief was to lift an already stunning event to new levels, combining the challenge of one of the world’s toughest mountain bike stage races with the incredible trails and vistas provided throughout the Central Otago region.

“This is my backyard so I have taken special pride in helping to deliver a course that will ensure a memorable week for all. For those returning to ride again, expect the best edition yet of The Pioneer, for those attending for the first time, be ready for an event that will deliver memories and friendships to last a lifetime after a week riding some of the world’s best trails.”

The 2019 course includes a large amount of custom-built mountain bike single-track that will have riders grinning from ear to ear. Expect to come across flowy grade 2-3 forest trails, tight twisty climbs and rugged terrain over the six days of riding.  

As you would expect from The Pioneer fuelled by Nutri-Grain, the course also takes you into the back country of New Zealand’s Southern Alps where riders will be pushed to the limits of their physical endurance, with challenging climbs taking in some of the best vistas in the world.  One of the highlights will see riders crest Mt Difficulty to witness stunning 360 views of trails already conquered and a hint of what is to come on the final day of the race.  

Race Director Danielle Sherman says riders can expect to find plenty of their favourite trails mixed in with a lot of stunning new riding.

“Returning riders will be excited to see four of the six stages are either completely new or have substantial new trails added in to the mix.  Rider favorites such as 7 Mile and Flat Top Hill will remain along with new areas to explore through deep cut gorges and high-country saddles on the journey to becoming a Pioneer.

“We can’t wait to deliver this new course to our riders in December, as always with a Pioneer, it will be tough, challenging and take our riders to their limits, but that is what makes that finish line each day such a special place to experience and the event so rewarding.”  

The event will see riders overnight again in race villages in Alexandra and Bannockburn and have added a third race village venue at Lake Moke in Queenstown, with riders heading there for the night once they have concluded their opening prologue.

Each stage is between 69 - 112km, with between 2,285 – 2,730m climbing. The total course is 441km of riding with 13,000m of climbing – riders should be ready to experience pure mountain biking heaven in Aotearoa.

2019 The Pioneer Fuelled by Nutri-Grain, Overview

  • 441km
  • 13,000m climbing
  • MTB Single Track 22%
  • Cycle Trail 14%
  • 4WD Farm Track 37%
  • Sealed Rd 14%
  • Gravel Rd 13%

Stage by Stage

Prologue - Sunday December 1, 2019

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 7 Mile 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.  

Stage 1 – Monday December 2, 2019

A new stage for 2019, this point to point ride encompasses some of 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.

Stage 2 – Tuesday December 3, 2019

Stage Two unveils the hidden mountain biking gem that is Alexandra. 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 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.

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 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. 

Stage 3 – Wednesday December 4, 2019

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. 

Stage 4 – Thursday December 5, 2019

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.

Stage 5 – Friday December 6, 2019

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 Arrowtown.

 The stage starts with a short loop around the Bannockburn roads and farm station behind the campsite in order to warm the legs up before the first climb on the menu over Duffers saddle on 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 Arrowtown 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!

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