Kelly and Gemma Take on The Pioneer 2017

With the support of Miles Continental ŠKODA

Kelly and Gemma take on the Pioneer
Cycling-enthusiasts, Kelly and Gemma took on The Pioneer, an epic 7-day mountain bike stage race through the Southern Alps. Gemma was kind enough to provide a few words and an insight into the experience.

“After numerous months of deliberating, Kelly finally agreed to be my team mate for the 2017 Pioneer mountain bike (MTB) stage race. We roughly knew what we were in for… but we also didn’t know what we were in for! 548kms, 15,508m climbing (the equivalent elevation of Mt Everest twice!), sleeping in little orange tents and all in 7 days.

With the support of James and Steve from Miles Continental ŠKODA, Grant, Darrell and Bronnie from Cycle Surgery, and Tina and Nina from Body Wise Health, we put our entry in!

The Pioneer MTB stage race was to take us from Christchurch to Queenstown over the 7 days, more precisely along the Southern Alps. To train for an event like this without riding on the course, we went searching for some tough terrain around Canterbury. We built up our climbing fitness and strength, we got out on our bikes day after day, we completed long 8+ hour training days, completed rides with nearly 4000m climbing intervals, hill reps and nasty cold windy rides all to try prepare us for what we could face.

Hills of The Pioneer

Come race week, we were ready to tackle this challenge!

  • Stage 1 was the Christchurch prologue within the newly built Adventure Park. This shorter prologue was 20.5kms with 1,260m elevation on some of the best tracks on the Port Hills which set us up for our timing zones for the start of Stage 2. We had an interesting road transit between Christchurch and Geraldine where our bus broke down! This was the only road transit of the week. From Geraldine (Stage 2) we biked every single kilometre to the finish line in Queenstown.
  • Stage 2 was Geraldine to Farlie 106kms, 2,480m elevation.
  • Stage 3 was Farlie to Lake Tekapo 72kms, 2,747m elevation. This course was changed to the contingency plan due to the weather we faced this day.
  • Stage 4 was Lake Tekapo to Ohau 104kms, 1,915m elevation.
  • Stage 5 was the ‘Queen stage’, Ohau to Hawea 112kms, 3,578m elevation.
  • Stage 6 was Hawea to Snow Farm 64kms, 2,077m elevation.
  • Stage 7 was Snow Farm to Queenstown 69kms, 1,451m elevation.

Each stage took us through the most amazing scenery within New Zealand. We managed small glimpses of this when we weren’t hanging onto our bikes on a side of a scree slope, trying to keep the wheels straight. A lot of the terrain was brutal. We had cliffs on either side, steep 4WD tracks (climbing and descending), river crossings, sharp rocks, mud bogs, never-ending long wet grass, gravel roads and then a couple of sealed roads that felt like heaven.

Pioneer Forest Cycling

Every day we had a routine of getting up at 6am, eating, packing, setting bikes up and more eating before we made it to the start lines. Once we completed the stage we washed our bikes (mandatory every day), ate some food, showered, got gear ready for the next day. Some days we were able to rest a bit before dinner at 6pm, then daily awards and briefing were at 7pm, bikes were then checked again, then we climbed into our little orange tents to consume more food before bed. Nutrition was a huge part of this week, if we didn’t eat enough we knew we wouldn’t have enough energy the next day.

We were both shattered by Stage 7 as our bodies were starting to get slow, heavy and only just hanging on but we were so determined to finish, and we did! What a feeling! With some very tough competition in the Open Women’s section (Olympic and Commonwealth games riders) we aimed to do our best to hang on as the finish line was our only goal. Our overall time was 40 hours 16 minutes and 10 seconds which placed us 5th in the Open Women’s category.

The Pioneer Finish Line

After completing different endurance events previously we can both say this was one of the hardest events we have competed in, along with being one of the most rewarding ones. The Pioneer’s slogan is to “Find Stunning, Find Character and Ride Beyond”. We ‘found stunning’ while taking moments to enjoy the views, our particular favourites were looking down on Wanaka township as we climbed towards Snow Farm on Stage 6, as well as finally looking down to Lake Hawea after two hours of constant climbing on Stage 5. We ‘found character’ amongst our competitors, within our team and within ourselves. We definitely ‘rode beyond’ too, beyond what we thought our limits were and beyond any technical trail we have ridden before.

We had amazing people to share stories with while recovering, met some lovely people along the journey and we were surrounded by so much support and messages from back home. We set up our Facebook page for family and friends to follow us along this journey but also to share with everyone the support we had from our sponsors. Entering an event like this was made a lot easier with the support from Miles Continental ŠKODA, Cycle Surgery, Body Wise Health and all our friends and family. Thank you to all.

The Pioneer is event that we would recommend to other endurance mountain bikers seeking a challenge.”

A big congratulations to Kelly and Gemma for completing The Pioneer, what an epic effort with such a good result too! It was out pleasure to be able to help out.

If you think that you’d like to “Find Stunning, Find Character and Ride Beyond” and tackle The Pioneer 2018, you can find out more below.

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