About 300 riders start their journey onto an adventurous 7 day stage race from Christchurch to Queenstown. Challenging 545km and more than 15.000m of climb through wild backcountry along the Southern Alps of New Zealand need to be conquered. „The Pioneer“ is on…
It all starts with the prologue in the brand new bikepark of Christchurch. Parts of the trails were finished just a day before prologue. The participants are happy to be the first ones taking their turns into those fast and flowy berms of the bikeparks freshly groomed trails.
After a transit by car the riders start the second stage in Geraldine. Some already fight very hard to finish the 106km stage before cut off time. And its not getting easier on stage 3. On paper stage 3 is shorter but this morning there are only about 2°C in the mountains. So the organization team decided carefully to take a detour and avoid the adverse conditions on Albury Range. However during the day the weather clears up, and besides an introduction to New Zealand wind chill, racers are able enjoy their dinner on Lake Tekapu under a beautiful sunset at moderate 20°C.
The whole Pioneer crew keeps the event running smoothly. The young and motivated crew of volunteers manages to put up a tent city at each destination basically in no time. Being so well looked after allowed riders to focus on their riding through New Zealand’s south island.
Stages 4 to 6 take the riders from one beautiful lake to another. In between the turqouise lakes, scenic ridges covered with characterisic tussock grass had to be climbed. Riders, photographers and filmers are spoilt with vast open views and huge mountains in the backdrop. This is New Zealand at its best. Large parts of the race course lead through private farm land. Land owners are kind enough to open the gates for „The Pioneer“. Not only for racers but also for our volunteering 4 wheel drivers this is a unique chance to see parts of New Zealand which are usually barely accessible. Besides all the beauty of the landscape some riders fight their own battles each day. Some fear cut off times, others have to cope with physical handicaps or struggle with punctures.
Overall the atmosphere is positive and supportive. The marshals along the track cheer the participants up every mountain. After a hard day of riding, the pioneers sit back, relax and enjoy their dinner. That is where stories are told and experiences shared accompanied by impressive footage and pictures capturing the highs, lows and laughs of the day. The reason why the participants take all the strains upon themselves every day varies. One of the riders overcame cancer and is now thankful to be able to sit on his bike and ride The Pioneer with his buddy. Others compete for the win in their category and for a qualification for the legendary Cape Epic race in South Africa.
For us photographers a 7 day stage race is not an easy job. Usually one hour before race start we are off to move to our photo location with 4×4 trucks. As it turns out, navigation through New Zealand’s backcounrty can be quite tricky. Not every street indication on a map is a paved or gravel road. We are thankful to have such experienced and well travelled drivers on our sides. Late at night we are usually the last ones in the media center editing pictures and planing the next day. But we are proud to provide lasting memories to each rider of this great event.
The 7th and last stage takes the riders from Snow Farm at 1.200 meters above Lake Wakatipu basically all downhill to Queenstown. Still the race team managed to put over a 1000m of elevation in this stage. A highlight of stage, which has never seen before, is certainly that riders are crossing the last river on a boat.
After tough 7 days through the wild and scenic landscape of New Zealand all pain and tears are forgotten. The riders eyes are shining when they cross the finish line. Deeply satisfied they fall into the arms of their friends. Job done. No more pedaling.
Everybody is a winner!