Insider: What to pack for The Pioneer

The Pioneer was our first taste of mountain bike stage racing. We flew out of Australia with a heaving amount of spares. Here’s a list what we packed and some items we didn’t – but will next time.

Words: Alex Malone
Photography: Tim Bardsley-Smith and Tristan Cardew

Our Pioneer journey began in late November (2016) with matching bikes and race kit. The rest of the equipment would be sourced individually, but with the idea of not doubling up on unnecessary items like chain breakers, Allen keys or tubeless tyre sealant. You could say team activities really begin well before you arrive at the start line. Scraping in at the airline check-in counter – by a few grams – is just one of the many small hurdles to overcome prior to race day.

Advice from friends, competitors and technical partners was listened to carefully prior to packing our bags. Lists were drawn, items laid out and packed meticulously. We will spare you from the list of items we didn’t use but rather provide only what was necessary. There are also a few we failed to take but will pack next time. The list includes the total number of items carried as a team and those individually carried.

Once you’ve finished checking the list, ensure you read up on the 10 lessons learned during our week-long adventure.

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Bikes

2 x Specialized Epic FSR Expert Carbon World Cup – modified spec.

2 x Shimano XTR Di2 groupsets and XTR 29″M9000 Carbon Tubeless Race Wheels.

We chose a pair of matching Specialized Epic FSR Expert Carbon World Cup fitted with full Shimano XTR Di2 groupsets. The Epic is a renowned platform across the cross country racing scene and we had heard only good things about the latest model. It would be – as a current owner stated – ‘a firm ride, it’s designed for high-level racing after all’. Coming from a road background and with plenty of CX adventure rides in our legs, we were buoyed by the knowledge a firmer ride would suit us better than something more ‘plush’. As it turned out, the Epic was one of the most ridden bikes at The Pioneer.

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Race kit (each rider)

3 x Rapha Pro Team Aero jersey

3 x Rapha Pro Team bib shorts

2 x Oakley sunglasses

4 x Capo Cycling Meryl 200 14cm socks (pairs)

1 x Wahoo ELEMNT

1 x Rapha Pro Team long sleeve jersey

1 x Specialized Prevail II helmet (primary)

1 x Specialized Airnet helmet (spare)

1 x Shimano XC9 S-Phyre shoes plus S-Phyre socks (not yet available for individual sale)

1 x Giant Diversion short sleeve jersey

1 x Santini Guard rain jacket

1 x Rapha Merino arm warmers

1 x Pearl Izumi Elite leg warmers

1 x Pearl Izumi Select glove (short finger)

1 x Sealskinz Ultra Grip Gauntlet gloves (long finger, purchases from LBS Wheelhaus)

1 x Rapha Pro Team winter hat

1 x Rapha Pro Team cap

1 x Attaquer Winter Weight Undershirt

1 x Rapha Pro Team base layer

1 x Pearl Izumi bib tights (part of the mandatory emergency gear, carried only when told. We wore leg warmers on those days anyway)

Having three sets of kit each meant we didn’t need to spend much time hand washing. The only items we hand washed were arm and legs warmers as these were worn across multiple days.

The Pioneer also offer a laundry service, done twice during the week, which is a real treat. Teams who purchased the laundry service were provided with two laundry bags during registration with your individual race number. Simply fill it up, deliver to appropriate location and you’ll see it back within a day freshly washed and more or less dry. Anything other than cycling kit tended to need a little time hung up across the tent to dry completely.

Daily gear (each rider)

2 x tubes (one in SWAT, one in Shimano hydration pack)

2 x tubeless tyre boots (carried by each rider, made from Gorilla tape)

1 x Shimano Unzen 2L pack

1 x Santini Guard jacket (mandatory, carried in Unzen pack)

1 x mini bottle of Squirt lube (supplied by Pioneer, carried in pack)

1 x Specialized SWAT multi-tool (mandatory, hidden near top shock mount)

1 x mini pump (one pump carried in pack, for two riders)

1 x Co2 25g cannister each (hidden in SWAT box)

1 x patch kit (carried by Alex in pack)

1 x chain quick link (hidden in headset top cap)

1 x First Aid kit (mandatory each stage, carried by Alex in pack)

1 x Spot Tracker (mandatory each stage, carried by Mike in pack)

1 x tyre lever (in SWAT box)

1 x chain breaker (mandatory, carried by Alex, hidden in fork steerer)

1 x cycling cap (mandatory, carried in pack)

As you can see there is quite a bit to carry each stage. Each team devised their own way to carry all of the items but we found it easiest to use the hydration pack for every stage, excluding the prologue. This meant minimal time repacking for each stage. If we needed the extra mandatory emergency gear then we stuffed it in, if not, we pulled it out. Our pockets were reserved for nutrition.

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Spares

8 x 750ml Purist bidons

6 x Shimano XTR BR-M9000 metal brake pads with fins (pairs)

6 x Shimano XTR chains

4 x Specialized tubeless tyres

4 x tubes (we accidentally took along four 26″ tubes. Check the box)

2 x XT 11-46 cassettes (XTR available in 40-tooth max)

2 x Specialized Epic rear derailleur hangers (carried inside SWAT box)

2 x Shimano XTR tubeless valves (carried inside SWAT box)

1 x bottle of tubeless sealant

1 x Specialized Epic pivot and bolt kit

The added benefit of matching bikes meant we could take a limited selection of specific Specialized Epic and Shimano XTR parts.

We didn’t take any additional cleaning or degreasing items across due to our heaving bike and luggage bags. The race has a full crew of professional mechanics on hand for anything additional that you can’t sort out. We managed to pick up a few cleaning items to ensure our drivetrains were running smooth across the seven days. We actually replaced our chains and cassettes to install the 11-46 tooth after the second stage.

Tyre selection was an area that some teams failed to get right. We were lucky, perhaps, but a small weight penalty to reduce punctures is highly worthwhile. Tyres were topped up with fresh sealant once during the race.

We tossed up the idea of packing spare shoes but again, with new XC9’s in our kit, we took the gamble and saved around 500g from our luggage. I actually ripped off a BOA dial on Stage 2 but didn’t bother trying to track down a replacement – they all vary slightly. Some Gorilla tape (we took a roll) kept the shoe more than adequately fitted throughout the remaining stages. We’ll pack some specific BOAs next time.

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Nutrition (each team member)

40 x gels/bars/snacks

1 x tub of Endura Rehydration Performance Fuel

10 x Science in Sport REGO sachets (packed in our Race Day bag which was given to us upon crossed the finish line. Consumed immediately after stage)

This provided us with an energy source for every 45 minutes of race time and led to us carrying packing around 40 units in our main luggage bag. We then added about 10 gels/bars just to be safe. We travelled with some of our favourites from Endura and Science in Sport and picked up the remaining bars and food stuffs once in Christchuch. Nutrition supplies are heavy.

It’s worth noting the amount of delicious treats available at each aid station. Our eyes were opened to the taste sensation that is the GU Stroopwafel so by Stage 5 we performed a couple of fly-bys just to collect one or two of these treats.

Both Mike and I raced primarily on water in our hydration packs with the odd bottle of electrolyte consumed during the later part of each stage. Mike tended to fill his bottles with electrolyte from the start while the two found solid foods and Isotonic gels the best way to supply fuel throughout the stage – with the odd banana thrown down. Keep in mind this isn’t suitable for everyone. Your nutrition strategy and needs should be well-versed by the time you arrive.

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Clothing

3 x Cyclist t-shirts

3 x pairs of socks

2 x Rapha Randonnee shorts

1 x pair of boardshorts

1 x pair of jeans

1 x pair of casual shoes

1 x pair of Nike Kawa slides (worn with socks, of course)

1 x warm jumper

1 x pair of tracksuit pants (we slept in these)

1 x Merino thermals longs and top

1 x Katmandu puffer jacket

1 x waterproof jacket

1 x beanie

Each rider is provided with a huge Marmot gear bag that must be used during the race. It has your number on it and is transported between stages. It can be found at the end of each day next to your tent – quite a service. It’s huge and was big enough to carry everything we needed for the week.

Camping kit

1 x lightweight sleeping bag

1 x Katmandu sleeping mat (Alex’s weighed just over 1kg)

1 x pillow (borrowed but will certainly take over next time)

1 x head torch (Alex failed to pack one)

1 x small camp lantern (we didn’t pack this either but ensured all jobs were done and dusted by nightfall. A consideration for next year)

1 x USB battery pack (how else are you going to stay in touch with friends and family throughout the night?)

Your individual tent, numbered for the week, will be waiting for you at the end of each stage. Marmot supplied hundreds of identical tents but yours can be found easily enough due to a simply numbering system. Your teammate will also be next door. They are basic but did the job perfectly. The bottom is not insulated so keep this in mind for your sleeping mat.

Last year participants were treated to high temperatures across nearly every stage. This year however, temperatures varied so much that one night we would be sweating in our tent and another (Snow Farm) we wore nearly all of our warm clothing and still barely slept a wink due to the cold. Finding the right sleeping bag can be tricky but packing thermal garments along with other warms items will allow you to at least layer if the temperature falls during the night.

Extras

2 x USB charging plugs

2 x iPhone charging cables

1 x Wahoo ELEMNT charging cable

1 x Shimano Di2 charging cable (we didn’t need it but it’s always a good one to keep on hand just in case)

1 x laptop

1 x toiletries bag

Charging facilities are available at the end of every stage and this is where you’ll need to go to give your powered devices some juice. Around half the stages have towns a short walk or ride away so if you’ve left anything at home that’s simply must-have, you can pick it up during the race.

Have we left anything out? Feel free to comment below.

We learned a lot over the week. Be sure to check out 10 things we learned from The Pioneer.

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