Usually when I sit down to pen a race report and organise my thoughts, I’m relying on the memories and moments that have become history to help guide me. However, this time is different, this time I can still very much feel the physical effects of the events in question, lingering many days after all the laundry has been done and haphazardly packed bags have been randomly spewed all over the floor. I could possibly list off all the various ailments that make up my physical and mental state, but I think it’s easier to simply cut straight to the chase here: I feel totally cunted.
Before I commence the storytelling process behind that feeling, I first need to try and piece it all back together. Currently it feels like the MTB version of ‘Memento’, as I try and make sense of 6 days of next level suffering from various flashbacks that I keep mixing up. Where was that climb? Which day? Was that before the climb where I was crying on the inside? Which valley of death did I vomit that gel back up into my mouth on? Was that after that switchback techy climb which looked like a molehill on the profile but turned out to be a mountain for our legs? Was that the climb I finally conceded we’d done irreparable perineum damage? Was that the valley I had a Hangry tantrum in? The fact it’s blurry (no machinery pun intended there) feels ironic given I’ve also never had to concentrate so hard in a race, or for so long.
I may end up jumping around a bit as I try like a snake that’s eaten a donkey to regurgitate this race report, but suffice to say the Pioneer was not only a monster, but it exceeded some very high expectations in terms of what a total mission it promised to be. Probably worth spending some time investing in context then innit?
Some random scene setting
To start with, for the Dirty Rivets, T Bone and I, this was absolutely not our scene – And as I will elaborate, I mean that from multiple angles. However, purely from a physical standpoint given our approx 75kg’s chassis set-up combined with my penchant for ENDURO and his love of flat TT’s, turning up to a marathon XC stage race with perhaps some of the most prolific climbing in the world was possibly begging for a flogging before we’d even got the bikes out of the bags.
Allegedly 15,500m of climbing was waiting out in them there hills ready to unleash a fisting that would make the German volleyball team blush. Fuck, let’s call it basically two Everests shall we?
I was also reminded early on that ‘culturally’ it wasn’t really a scene I was overly compatible with either, and as a result, I suspect my story telling may offend some, but that’s the price we need to pay in order to ensure authenticity, so prepare your faux outrage now. With an average age across the 550 odd riders of 45 years old, and more Specialized Epic’s than you can throw a Merida factory at (yes guys, you’re essentially riding a Merida, happy face), this very much had the vibe of Middle Management on some kind of ‘Team Building’ exercise gone horribly wrong. Inevitably this will get me labelled a cycling snob, happy to own that, but I just can’t quite fit in with the canned humour and fast flowing cliche’s of the mainstream XC crowd, so I may as well declare that now as it forms part of the dirty tapestry of this mental mission. If you wanted happy clappy, unfortunately you’ve landed on the wrong web page.
Given our race somehow ended up fitting neatly into 3 parts, that’s exactly how I will attempt to carve up this monster, with some detours along the way and a good old fashioned gear wank at the end, as well as some tips on what to think about if you want to subject yourself to high-octane hardship in 2019. And on that point, as it will be an annoyingly persistent theme…
A foreword on the Suffering
Not to sound like a group of soccer moms, but comparing hardness is always contentious. For those that have followed for a little while, I have documented some ‘hard’ days over the last 5 years, but I’ve never had to contend with anything quite like this, or for this long… Which is beginning to sound like some amateur porn right there.
The Pioneer threw up a completely different genre of suffering and pain. The race has the catch phrase ‘Ride Beyond’, and every single day I felt like that’s exactly what we did. To look at it another way, you simply don’t ride your bike like this under normal amateur cycling circumstances. You may go out and ride big weeks or miles, but racing this parcours and piling on all the joys of camping to go with it is not normal as fuck.
As you can imagine there were therefore some very dark times, I’m talking the kind of dark times when you accidentally share an Uber home from a Christmas party with Harvey Weinstein, a Trump child and Kevin Spacey. Yup, I’m talking unabomber dark shit that went down out there on those stages.
Hell yes, it was even medieval as fuck now and again, but I will do my best to bring you race reports that aren’t just “Oh, and then there was another climb and my legs hurt and I wanted to vomit as gels ate the lining of my stomach and blood from my saddle sores ran down my legs while I questioned my very basis for existence“, but only on the basis that you agree now that you fully sign up to the fact that this muthafucka was insanely hard. If you ignore the Terms & Conditions and just click YES now like a good Apple consumer then I will happily get on with the show and try to keep my weeping and soft sobbing to the absolute minimum. Slowly mouth after me:
“Yes cunt, we get it, it was really really fucking hard”
Massive respect if you said that out loud at work and a coworker winked at you and licked their lips. Right then, kicking off in Queenstown for the Prologue and Day 2/Stage 1, it was pleasing to T Bone and I that we would be able to hit some sensational singletrack and get reamed the fuck out by the worlds most expensive Christmas Shopping all the in space of a few KM’s, such is the enigma that is qTown:
Because we hadn’t spent enough cash already getting to this point
With the worlds most painful race briefing behind us, it was time to savour the last few nights in beds and get ready to kick off an adventure with a girth we knew would be Mandingo level eye-watering, but it was finally time to get the most insane ENDURO pre-season training camp underway.
Day 1 – The Prologue: Coronet Peak 21km’s & 980m of climbing
Or should that be the Snowlogue? qTown had been royally fingerbanged by a solid dose of Pow the week prior and by the time we had rolled into town, there was still plenty of evidence that the race had dodged a major bullet by a few days. However, that didn’t stop our shit being mildly fucked up, with a late course change and an even later start time re-jig the morning of the event throwing a few banana peels our way before a crank had been turned in rage. I dealt with it by pissing on some concrete blocks.
Embracing the age of no privacy
4 Degrees or so in the carpark wasn’t exactly what I had envisaged for race start, but if you want to hold a major MTB rice in NZ in November then clearly you like to roll the dice and don’t mind Russian mobsters cutting a few fingers off, because you’re bound to take a face job at some stage. In theory the forecast was for a lot worse than this, but right at the front of the zero fucks given queue was the Bone rocking his preferred garment for such an occasion.
T Bone searches through the CP gloom to try and find an excuse for that number board placement…
So… we had a pretty conservative plan for the prologue in terms of big picture; “Ride for the week, not for the day“, and given the conditions there was significantly more to lose than gain on this first foray. As the prologue was self-seeding, we had put in what we thought was a realistic time for completion. As it turned out, a lot of teams had wild egos, which to take us back to the 80’s for a moment, had written some sizeable cheques that their bandito skills could not cash come a slippery race day:
Technically a prologue is less than 8km’s… Details
As such, we started so far back that we struck traffic right at the start of Rude Rock in the form of some middle manager trying to, no I’m not making this up, walk down a part of the trail that was not only 500% rideable, but was actually one of the fun bits. As my mind raced straight to where I keep all my swear words and desperately tried to spew them out, the Specialized drone pilot tripped awkwardly and started to jack knife over the top of his bike as he tried to run down something that was harder to portage than it was to ride. In that instant I could see my whole Pioneer flash before my eyes as I tried to avoid what would have been the worst way to get taken out of a race in cycling history.
My face is frozen in shock after witnessing excellent trail getting massacred by a crazed horde of Banditos
After that unbelievably odd opening scare, Bone and I got our freak on and start to machine muthafuckas like a couple of pie hungry Pac men. Unlike a normal Bandit munching scenario however, as this is a teams gig, you got two for the price of one every time you hit traffic. I think we hoovered up about 20 people in the space of Rude Rock alone, but that was just the entree… And yes, it did feel slightly perverse starting a race with 15,500m of climbing with one of the most iconic DH’s in NZ.
Rude Rock behind us, kicking into the first climb of the week
We really started to hit some major traffic on Pack Track, including a clump of 6 or so dudes all walking one section, so we main lined it through them like Trump through Democratic values on a Friday night after 6 cheeseburgers and a couple of bareback porn star hits. Why were we soaring while many trudged through the stage like it was the Somme? In a word? Forekasters. I don’t often froth about tires as I have trouble telling the difference, but holy fuck these things were absolutely sensational. They don’t look like much, but neither does Jet Li and that muthafucka kicks ass. Whilst others floundered, the Maxxis Forekasters
made it feel like it was a dry day.
Other than hoovering up or dodging flailing banditos, the prologue was turning out to be a pretty straightforward affair as we stuck to our plan to be consistent and not lose our shit on the first date. Given the high doses of Labrador DNA in Bone’s make up, there was one off script moment on a cunty little uphill which was unrideable where he got the fever and ran, and even the dudes we were passing looked at me like “WTF is this shit” with horror in their eyes as T Bone looked like a CX Pro coming off a brand new blood bag.
As evidence that we were riding to, what I thought at the time was a tranquilo pace, I present one of the most ego stroking parts of the Pioneer – the on course photography. I lost count of how many squids they had out on course, but I did end up with 92 photos from the week, which is more than enough to get your inner narcissist pole dancing with joy. Although, having said that, this one not only makes me look like a crazed serial killer (mild connection to how I passed some bandito’s down pack track), but in retrospect throwing the horns seems somewhat out of place given it’s 5 degs and we’re in winter attire.
Just another couple of Chinese tourists stoked to be heading back to the LV store
The Blur 3 had it’s own agenda however and was encouraging me to unleash my inner Bandito heading upwards, as evidenced in the data from the stage: 9 minutes quicker up Skippers road (4.7km’s @ 8%) and only 25 seconds slower than an ENDURO bike mounted PR down the legendary Zoot indicated that this first real outing on it’s beautiful glossy hide was a foreshadowing of it’s performances to come. As I will elaborate on later, that lock out was getting a bit of a work out as we walked the tightrope between blowing our prologue loads, but ensuring we weren’t in full tortoise mode.
Basically the MTB version of CHIPS
As we hoovered up more fellow racers during the final climb to the finish, I was stuck in a paradox of feeling fresh after a slack as fuck taper, but also extremely mindful that I may have actually been a boiling frog not realising what damage I may have been doing to myself, a weird feeling to have given it was fucking freezing, so much so that the ice cold coke I had promised Bone was luke warm.
1 Coke down, 5 to go
The only thing not cold on the mountain was this glossy rocket ripper, and I’m going to struggle to find enough superlatives to get through this mini-series without reuse as I describe how the Blur 3 rides. Given this was my first proper outing on it other than 2 shake down rides, it wasn’t so much it’s climbing ability that I wanted to froth about (given I’m the limiting factor there), but it’s descending was the aspect that blew my frozen part-time bandito mind:
Who knew the tightest VPP linkage I’ve ever seen could be so much ridiculous fun?
And herein lies the conundrum with the Prologue – Given it determines your GC position for Stage 1/Day 2, which then determines your start group, do you want to chill and save energy but possibly end up in a lower group with pack fodder? Or do you want to make some of your biscuits sticky in order to roll into Group A or B for when the real shots are fired? Hold onto that thought for Part 2 and 3.
Turns out the Masters winners were essentially some PRO muthafuckas, who not only won every day, but <<spoiler alert>> won the whole screaming match by over an hour? As such it makes them perfect for the usual unrealistic results comparison. Add to the mix the other Rivet team of GV and Mr Cycling and we have some perfect reference points to confirm the fact that M40 is still the killing fields:
- Masters Winners – 1.23 and 8th on overall GC
- Rivet Racers – 1.28, 2nd Masters and 14th overall GC
- Dirty Rivets – 1.43, 14th Masters and 60th overall GC
And yes, I’ve just used half an hour of your time to describe 20km’s of riding, so let’s move on to what I thought was the first real day on the Pioneer, but retrospectively as I sit here a week later still feeling finger banged, I realise it wasn’t.
Day 2 – Stage 1: Queenstown to Queenstown 65km’s & 1600m of climbing
Right then, foreplay had been ticked off on Coronet, it was very much time to commence serious bandito fornication, which came in the form of a solid looking and allegedly 69km’s and 2,245m of climbing. Those that actually read will realise this is somewhat incongruent to the numbers in the header row, and therefore I welcome you to one of the vagaries of the week of Pioneer.
The elevation data was never on point. I think one of the days it got close, but we quickly became aware that there was a heavy discount on the vert numbers. Pump your fucking brakes if you think I’m complaining, hell no – I was the first one to rub myself in peanut butter and release the hounds when it became clear the numbers were under, but it did strike me as slightly odd you’d fuck those data points up. Mapping software is fairly shit when it comes to elevation, so why not send out some poor fucker on an eBike to actually GPS that shit? To be continued…
The Phoney War is over
I said to Bone the morning of stage one as I made him eat artisanal porridge like a scene from Roam: “today appears to be the easiest day, so let’s chill and save matches for Tuesday which is 101kms”, it took about 2 mins into the stage to make me look like a total cunt with that call. Group B wasn’t interested in having a mellow week thanks:
Group B getting excited about sticking a fork into a live toaster
Yes, with 550 people or so, you’re sorted into waves of around 70 riders, so in theory given you’re racing everyone you actually spend your entire day in a weird two-up TT zone, as the people around you may not necessarily be the ones that pose a direct threat to you down track, but naturally if you’re in a higher group then in theory you’ll get pulled along by stronger riders… But then perhaps you’ll get milked dry as well. Holy fuck, wrap my genitalia up in a conundrum taco.
This was our first Group B start, and I was more than slightly alarmed when muthafuckas rolled out of the start and proceeded to treat it like a one day race instead of Day 2 of 6. This was based on some cunts who had the MTB equivalent of status anxiety at not being in Group A, plus some super sharp athletes who were here to do business.
Exhibit A being Kate McIlroy, always handy to have an Olympian in your group, who went straight to the front flapping her pegging equipment about, instantly the fear of getting chicked drove an insane pace by many of the Group B males who failed to realise that fighting inevitability was only going to end one way. That crazy pace not only gave me horror flash backs to Asian road racing, but according to Strava the opening salvo’s on the qTown bike paths were faster than Group A, so WTF sandwiches being munched on.
In the pre-race briefing they had repeated to the point of nagging about the bollards along the bike path… Mostly because if there are two things that are insanely incompatible with a bike race it would be cones and bollards. I’m always the first to give people the advice that if shit is going to be crazy you want to be “At the front, but not on the front…“, so you can imagine my horror when my own words came back at me and I could almost feel the dull thud of their foreskin on my head as I watched an Aussie, I assume a Wallaby fan, hit one of the early bollards, even though 50 people had screamed “Fucking bollard!!” as we approached it like a pack of rabid beavers on meth.
And just like that, a split ensued and it was FULL GAS in a vain attempt to chase back on, I could feel matches I’d carefully saved up for the week ahead being flicked off into the lake as if I was an arsonist excitedly making my way around Hunan province in China on a Fireworks tourism package. We then realized that we were in the second bunch and as we chewed on stems, handlebars and the bitter taste of blood, we had our first encounter with some skinny Polish competitor (actually, she was South African, but goes to show my mind was mashed) who may have looked pro, but behaved like a roadie who had just collected their MTB in the starting pen.
As an opening salvo she cut me up first while I was happily on the Bone’s wheel, then proceeded to directly drop the wheel 30 seconds later, causing a sprint around her to get back on. Not content with fingering one of us, she waited until the next Singletrack climb to cut Bone up, only to then promptly unclip on the first sign of a switchback turn which required the handlebar to be moved slightly. Not to be accused of casual misogyny here, but the highlight of my day was when he decided to pass her back on an uphill singletrack berm and with the red mist descended yelled the very clear passing instruction of “I’m coming inside you!” to her… ever the gentleman announcing his cream pie intentions, while I bathed in the glorious innuendo of the whole scenario in a brief respite from a race pace that felt waaaaay too fast for a week long event.
Our feud with the Springboks continued when sometime later she took advantage of her 60kg chassis to pass us on a 20% climb and Bone quipped “You don’t seem to go around corners”, to which she replied without missing a beat “You don’t seem to go up hills”, touché muthafucka, touché.
Into the Moonlight Track, a trail I hadn’t experienced before in qTown, and the climbing started to hit in a relatively mammoth fashion, followed by DH’s that were rammed with Bandits shitting their mismatched kit and walking stuff that was perfectly shredable. My favorite moment was coming across 2 dudes trying to walk around a giant wet off camber Rock slab, to which I cut through an inside rock line and carved the slab right past them, with Bone following the A line like a fucking Enduro legend… When you’re under the hammer on the climbs, you need to take these small wins.
After some seriously steep climbing, I’m talking perineum destroying shit here, we ended up in some Lord of the Rings type valley where I tried to do a Gordon McCauley style piss on the bike, something I had witnessed a few weeks earlier in a race and felt sure I could mimic in combat. Memo: I’m not Gordon McCauley. I watched with growing panic as my momentum started to drop faster than urine wanted to pass, and with the risk of my shoes getting a golden shower of Fat Donny proportions, I was left in the mega awkward position of having to implement an emergency stop without committing a Bobbit style dismemberment.
This then triggered a series of events which led to my first real dark period/tantrum of the race. First I proceeded to fuck up my feeding, then with a mouth full of the driest bar I could find in my pocket I tried to chase a group to draft and generally made a cunt of myself while Bone looked at me like I was having some sort of ADHD child melt down moment… He later reflected that my ‘tell’ that things weren’t going well was when I called myself a ‘cunt’ in a crazy person voice out loud.
As Dark Times had arrived, and we had to Warren G “Regulate” that shit given we were only halfway. I took a moment to look up and realised that based on the scenery we were essentially in a Lord of The Rings movie, except crossed with a snuff film where the victim was our legs and lower backs.
Heading steadily towards the first mini melt down
My saviour from total melt down arrived when we finally hit some singletrack, only to end up behind some fucking nerds who were allergic to fun mountain biking and getting out of the way. People say “Fuck the haters
“, but no, actually, fuck people who treat singletrack like it’s herpes. I shall repeat this in part 2 & 3, but it’s worth noting that perhaps many people in this genre of the sport would benefit greatly from a few less 6 hour training rides and instead spending some time with the Rodfather
getting some skills coaching. That way, they might not treat excellent singletrack as an inconvenience between the climbs. *Outside chance that at this point in the story I hadn’t yet surrendered to the shared experience ‘We’re in this together’ vibe of the event.
When we did get some clear air, I was relishing the accelerated bonding process the Blur 3
and I were enjoying following our shotgun wedding the week prior. I’m not sure what would happen if a shaved rabbit snorted a kilo of charlie up it’s tiny soft nose, but it would probably respond like the Blur in pristine Queenstown trail and rail the fuck out of everything presented to it:
“Holy shit, your rear end is so tight and responsive…”
We were heading into 7 Mile, which is old school qTown MTB goodness, but alarmingly we were surrounded by people who hated singletrack, so I briefed Bone that we needed to smite down these muthafuckas prior to entry – but to our delight they all stopped at the feed station like the amateur scum they were. Bone and I laughed maniacally and choked as we then tried to feed on uphill sTrack while keeping a horde of muppets behind us until the GOOD shit kicked in.
Radness arrived and we ate that shit up like it was the first sex post prison, dragging our stoke all the way out to the main road. As it turned out getting a Gnar Inoculation brought me back to life after a few hours of solid bandit flogging on terrain which didn’t suit my echo chamber one iota.
But I had sensed that we were being slowly and meticulously hunted down and as Bone and I took the opportunity to shove our faces with cashew nuts, we were passed by one of the leading women’s teams and I shit you not dear reader, the second woman’s name was… seriously: Peg. Perhaps only long-term readers will appreciate the irony of such a situation, but the innuendo element was not lost on Bone and I as we compared notes:
“Bro, we can’t let the boys know about this…”
Last climb up to the Bike park was seriously WTF, as based on the looks we were exchanging it was clear we were both feeling rather cunted by this stage and then had to contend with a younger team attempting to serenade the Bone with actual singing (real talk – there is nothing more annoying than someone actually singing while you just want to stop pedalling) as we ground our way slowly towards the delicious prospect of finishing with a real DH.
But on the cusp of that, we then came across our Polish/South African nemesis from the morning, who had crashed riding uphill where where most people had elected to walk and had a suspected dislocated shoulder… bone knelt down and gently whispered “Karma is Bone hard” to her as she looked on in horror. Well, #fakenews, he didn’t, but he should have and he did in my fantasy… It was all getting a bit, blurry?
Almost made it through part 1 without a Blur pun. Fuck
We were now in the Bike Park and grinding up Hammies, which was as weird as it was apt as my hammies were cunted. And then, as trumpets sounded and the glory of the final climb finishing as I thumbed through the gears, the eagerly anticipated moment arrived as we tipped into the entrance of Thundergoat and I went fucking mental, given I’ve ridden endless laps of this glorious piece of trail gift… Actively egged on by the Blur who went bipolar on it and thought it was a Nomad 4 at the first sight of a bike park trail.
After undertaking a couple of Aussies into berms in the process it occurred to me that I was that cunt who had left the Bone behind, so a regroup was in order and then we shredded to the weirdly low key finish which was randomly in the middle of nowhere with two flags? Odd… It didn’t occur to us until we reached the gondi base that the day was done, to much bromance stoke:
While we bask in the glory of another day in the bag, I make a mental note about Bone’s mild lack of professionalism with the jersey zip
Ultimately it turned out to be a much harder day than excepted and as we sat in the bus transferring to Alexandra, we commenced shitting our lycra about 101kms for Day 3. I was busy chastising myself for saying it was the easy day, which went hand in hand with realising there was no such concept on this race. I also had the slightly odd feeling that we hadn’t really yet experienced the real Pioneer, but yet just sucked on the tip of a rather large and angry iceberg.
- Masters Winners – 3.29 and 8th on overall GC
- Rivet Racers – 3.51, 6th Masters and 27th overall GC
- Dirty Rivets – 4.13, 14th Masters and 60th overall GC
To be that close to our Rivet Racing team mates was an indicator that perhaps while we thought we’d been rolling Tranquilo, we’d actually been thigh arsonists instead. We’d had a good day and they’d had a bit of an off day, but it was still an alarming data point.
Naturally the best thing about finishing a race/rectal examination in qTown is the fact you can declare a Jihad on the Ferg-empire, which in turn will fight back by assaulting your credit card while you stuff your face with the thinly veiled cover story that it’s ‘recovery’. Alarmingly I already looked 50 years old after 2 days:
2 cokes down, 4 to go
They say that the golden period for recovery is the first 30 mins post event, so we didn’t leave anything to chance and there may be a slight chance there was a couple of Ferg’s cream filled donuts in that bag. Possibly a good analogy for how we were feeling at that point as we went into denial about how much energy we’d expended in part 1 of this whole caper.
Bone displaying his mild horror that I interrupted Pie Time for anti-social media purposes
As we left qTown with two Top 15 finishes in the bag and 14th overall on GC, I was as stoked and surprised as I was mildly terrified. As Admiral Yamamoto allegedly said after Pearl Harbour “I fear all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with terrible resolve“, I had a similar foreboding that the Pioneer was going to get us away from the Ferg empire and really fuck our shit up… Little did I know these were the calmest waters of the week:
Also, to be noted, an excellent ice bath recovery option
A massive thanks to DNGC local Queenstown affiliate Bobby for hooking the Bone and I up with outstanding Accom, with a view of Coronet Peak no less, plus making logistics supremely easy for us. Gave us more of a boost than a Ritchie power shake to get the race rolling.
Stay tuned for Part 2 and the dawn of the realisation of what the Pioneer really had in store for us.