The Pioneer 2019 – the Prologue

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For the 2019 edition of The Pioneer, Sam Fox has teamed up with Sebastian Jayne to race as the MarathonMTB.com Team. Sam will be reporting each day. He’s also the youngest rider in the race at just 19 years of age.

Wow, what a start to The Pioneer 2019! I was a late call up to the event, as team leader Mike Blewit had to pull out, and so after a few weeks recovering from Tour Of Southland (Stage road race in NZ), I drove over to Queenstown pick up my far more experienced teammate Seb Jayne. Having only heard how gruelling and epic the race was, I arrived slightly anxious about my lack of preparation however very quickly I was reassured by the phenomenal organisation of the volunteers and support staff at the race.

For those that don’t know, The Pioneer is a 6 day stage race through New Zealand’s South Island. It covers some epic terrain, racing through the serene environment New Zealand is popular for, as well as the highly variable weather. Almost more importantly however is most of the teams camp, and all the gear is transported between stages by the support staff, with our bags arriving neatly in our tents at the finish. As a rider who is used to being fully self supported, this is a very pleasant surprise, and a luxury I recommend.

The Pioneer Prologue

A very early start (by my standards) of 5:00 AM welcomed us, Seb and I dropped our bikes and bags at the race transport and hopped in a van to head out to the beautiful Moke Lake. The prologue this year was a 26km team time trial, and would be our first ride together as a team. The prologue begins by skirting Moke Lake, and traversing the side of the mountains in the valley, before rapidly dropping down into Queenstown, where sweet flowing single track awaited us, some rock gardens, and finally a grind back up the road/fire trail to the finish line. 

For me, as an XCO racer, this was a perfect distance, and we started hard, we caught two teams in the first fifteen minutes, and began the fast descent into Queenstown. Perhaps slightly too fast, as I got a little “foot out flat out” on a loose gravel fire trail, and sent Seb into a bush, losing our position in front of the other two teams. 

Thankfully Seb (and almost more importantly his bike) were unharmed and we continued with a vengeance. Onto the sweet singletrack we went and with Seb setting the pace we quickly caught the other two teams, and then another two. With our eyes set on the next team up the road we emerged from the trails and began the grind up the hill, full gas over the top and into the final gravel section back to the event village, coming into a provisional 4th place on stage. 

Both of us are buzzing from the first stage, and from all reports it only improves from here, tonight we camp in the stunning valley of Moke Lake, whilst the signature rain of the South Island begins, thankfully we are sitting snug under the tent city surrounded by bean bags, and other riders equally excited by the week to come, as well as the unbelievable natural beauty that we are camping amongst.

The front of The Pioneer

The win was taken by Brendan Johnston and Jon Odams, with cyclocross all-stars Garry Millburn and Chris Aitken on their tails. 3rd were defending champs Tim Rush and Michael Vink.

For the women Amy Hollamby and Kate McIlroy go straight back to yellow from 2018, and Mark Williams and Kate Fluker won Mixed.

Nina McIvar and Reta Trotman were 2nd in women.

Masters Men was won by Marsh and Forlong, while Masters women was won by Kath Kelly and Peg Leyland.

Some say The Pioneer truly starts tomorrow – but the time gains made today still count! Full results are online.

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