Held under threatening skies and cool conditions, the fourth edition of The Pioneer kicked off above Queenstown at the stunning location of Moke Lake. As per prior editions, the opening day featured a short and technical Prologue with just 26km and 600-odd metres of climbing starting and finishing at Moke Lake.
Words: Alex Malone
Photography: Tim Bardsley-Smith
Starting off with a fast and smooth loop around Moke Lake, riders soon found welcome as the triple treat of Queenstown favourites were served up. The Phoenix track, two loops through 7 Mile and the final climb up Gold Digger kept riders on their toes (and brakes) before a final ascent back to the start-finish area.
Just over an hour later, the first leader’s were crowned with the unbeatable Australian Epic Series duo of Brendan Johnston and Jon Odams (Giant Australia Off-Road Team) crossing the line to capture the first pair of yellow jerseys.
“I think we rode well and within ourselves,” said Odams at the finish. “At the start I was looking at the time gaps and we caught them [Rush and Vink] pretty quick on one of the open rocky descents and worked on trying to get away on the single track but it was too tight, you can’t really get away on those sections. We then paced it up the final climb to the finish, that was a good day.”
Coming in close behind and in second-place were Team MAAP-Shimano and the CX gurus of Garry Milburn and Chris Aitken. Pre-race favourites and defending champions Michael Vink and Tim Rush (ONYA Bike North Otago) rounded out the podium with the top-three place getters all finishing within a 30-second window. I think it’s fair to say we’re in for quite a thrilling race at the pointy end of the men’s field this year.
Last year’s female pairing of Amy Hollamby and Kate McIlroy (Stonewood Homes) were unstoppable along the technical course and comfortably took the win and did enough for 25th overall on the day with nearly seven minutes in hand over second-place Nina McVicar and Reta Trotman (New World St Martins).
In the highly competitive mixed pairs, two-time winners Kate Fluker and Mark ‘Willy’ Williams (Team New World-Pivot) took out a narrow victory, the first two teams separated by just over two seconds – over last year’s winners Team Jojo’s Joe Skerman and Josie Wilcox.
“It was almost a tie; we rode most of the way together and had a good time. It is always different racing home trails, you have to race them harder than we would normally, and we almost got caught out on a few of the corners, but that was fun,” said Fluker.
The close racing has set a brilliant tone for the week while youngsters Holly Harris and Michael Harris (SRAM MTOSS) will no doubt be looking forward to some of the longer stages to come as they took third sport a little over a minute behind.
Having self-appointed the Captain of team Cyclist/Australia Magazine just minutes before the start, today was about getting through unscathed (unlike yesterday) and finding our groove once again. The two of us have spent countless hours riding together over the last 10 years but when it comes to events like The Pioneer, it’s our longstanding friendship we rely on – rather than pre-race off-road training.
In contrast to last year’s Prologue when Dan blasted out of the gate before I’d even pressed go on my Wahoo, this time around we decided on a more tranquil start to affairs. Around the lake and cleanly down the first ‘triple down arrow’ descent – unlike yesterday where a huge crash from myself nearly ended our partnership before it began – the two of us kept things fast but controlled.
Into 7 Mile and it was my turn to take the front through the twisty singletrack, attempting to keep the Xterra-ITU Triathlon squad of Ryan Sissons and Sam Osborne (Team Winger Hamilton) in close proximity as they blasted by us. The two of us remembered a lot of the course from last year and with a background in MTB, this was really a highlight of the day.
Out the other side and it was time for some proper work as Gold Digger steadily climbed back towards Moke Lake. This section, while relatively short in distance, was one of the most challenging with countless obstacles leaving little rest ahead of the final push up to the finish.
Crossing the line in sixth place and a touch over four minutes down on the day’s winners, the two of us were pleased to get through without any dramas and can’t wait for more of the same – just longer – over the coming five stages. It should also noted that the race within the race, the coveted Media Wars crown is very much up for grabs this year with the youthful and highly experienced MarathonMTB.com team of Sam Fox and Sebastian Jayne coming in a little over two minutes in front.
Prologue – Results
Full results here.
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Prologue – Moke Lake
Strava activity: strava.com/activities/2902748912
Heart rate TSS: 115
Peak Performance: 173bpm (all-time five-minute record. Fresh!)
Wahoo time: 1:15:26
Average speed: 20.4km
Total ascent: 612m
Maximum temperature: 17 degrees Celsius (little cooler compared to the Crocodile Trophy)
Calories burned: 1,261
Average heart rate: 163bpm
Max heart rate: 177bpm
Bottles consumed: 1