15 Aug Pioneer Race Report
The Pioneer is a team’s race of pairs covering 424 kilometres but has a vertical elevation accumulation of a staggering 15,000 metres. I had a lot of nervous anticipation leading into the event with a less than ideal long range forecast of snow and rain all was shaping up to be a very difficult week. Some really unfortunate bad luck in a MTB race in the few weeks prior had seen my original partner Darren break his leg meaning that riding a race of this calibre simply out of the question. But young gun Mick Harris from Armidale took the position and we were all set for an adventure.
The MTOSS Team had a total of 6 riders competing across the categories in this year’s race. Pete Selkrig and Soren Lind Wenck in the Grandparen… I mean Grand Masters category, Pete Lister and Linc Carolan in the Masters and Mick Harris and myself in the Opens. All 3 of our teams proudly representing and bringing exposure to not only MTOSS Racing but also A21. A21 is a not-for-profit NGO operating for the eradication of human slavery and trafficking.
The prologue stage was set at Coronet Peak just outside of Queenstown. The snow resort definitely still had its wintery feel even in the late November as there had been a cold front bringing 2ft of snow only a week or so prior. The race day was cloudy, foggy and a light drizzle was constantly falling. The prologue was arranged so that each team would set off in 30 second intervals. The 20km course was slippery and muddy and with an elevation gain of nearly 1000m was enough to hurt the legs of anyone. The earlier team were in the starting order had the advantage of a clearer track which turned into a muddy slalom very quickly as more teams came through.
Stage 1. A 69km loop starting and finishing in Queenstown with a mix of terrain from the Queenstown trail to the rugged Moonlight track – there was something here for everyone. Mick and I had a reasonable day coming in 14th. If this was what we to expect over the next few days, then we were in for a tough but spectacular time.
Stage 2. The Queen stage, 101km and 2500m of climbing. Today was tough. The first major climb of the day I realised that I was not in good shape. There are some days racing where the body just doesn’t want to co-operate no matter what you feed it. I don’t really know what the issue was but I do know for nearly 6 hours I suffered bad. This would be a theme for the next few days.
Stage 3. Today on paper didn’t look to be too bad. It even could be described as being the “easier” looking days. This was very wrong. With heavy fatigue and a ligament pain in my knee this was another looong day in the saddle. 77km and 2500m of climbing was still a solid day by anyone’s standards and I felt every single kilometre. Fortunately for me Mick was feeling great and literally pushed me up the hills and played the loyal teammate and never gave up on me. I am super grateful.
Stage 4 was the day that everyone was nervous of. 73km but a staggering 3500m of climbing was not something to take lightly. Speaking of lightly, this was a day that we had to carry ALL of our mandatory gear which, if you have never done a stage race like this means carrying about 4-5kg of extra clothing and equipment in case of bad weather. Lucky for us the weather turned out to be fine and we raced on. I actually started to feel slightly better today but the huge climbs still took their toll and I found myself grovelling in the 30-50 gearing hoping and praying for flat ground.
Stage 5. The final day. Today was incredible. It had all the postcard shots of New Zealand riding – a lung busting climb of Mt Michael which was the longest and highest of the whole race nearly killed me but the descent off the top was definitely one of the most spectacular I have ever seen. The snow-capped mountains and deep gorges were amazing as we plummeted down losing all the elevation in a few minutes that had taken hours to climb. Mick and I raced, I suffered, he pushed, and we even had a quick Jetboat ride to cross the river. The final run into town was back along the Queenstown trail and I left nothing in the tank (and that was following Mick’s wheel). And that was a wrap for the whole event.
The week of racing was definitely one of the best experiences of racing I have ever had. From amazing highs to incredible lows, I know I found out a lot about myself. The experience could not have happened without the help and support of many people. I have to thank Nancy who came over to feed us and pick us up each day. You washed our clothes and kept our bellies full and fulfilled the role of team mum to us all. Really from the bottom of my heart thank you. This trip could not of been made possible without the support of Darren Covington. I cannot find the words to describe how grateful I am to have been given the opportunity, thank you so much. Of course thank you Mick for being my race partner. Your loyalty and patience got me to the end and I can’t thank you enough.