Multisport: Gurney headlines The Pioneer field

Steve Gurney's done it all - well very nearly all. He's been a professional multisport and triathlon athlete, competing in events all around the world. He's been poisoned by bat dung while racing in Borneo jungles and nearly died, and of course he's won the Coast to Coast a record nine times.

Now, Gurney's decided to give The Pioneer a crack - a world-class 7-day mountain bike event taking riders from Christchurch to Queenstown over the Southern Alps.

"I've had mates who have done these other Swiss and Canadian alpine races like this and I've had it on my bucket list for a while to travel over and do those so I was overjoyed when I saw that one was coming right on my very own back doorstep, so it was a no-brainer to do it," Gurney says.

The Pioneer will take place from Sunday January 31 to Saturday February 6, taking riders though outstanding terrain, with great climbs and descents on New Zealand Cycle Trails, farm tracks, DOC trails and along world class single tracks between Christchurch and Queenstown, traversing the stunning Southern Alps.

Gurney - who resides in Queenstown, is no stranger to long distance adventure races, having done the Xerox Challenge in 1990 and the Mizone Endurazone in 2001. They were both multisport events (kayaking, biking and running) and they were 22 days and 28 days long respectively, going the length of the country.

"Having done those longer races in the past I know what to expect and The Pioneer certainly doesn't phase me at all, in the fact that there is an endurance aspect.

What attracts me the most is it's not like a short sprint event where it's over and done with and if something goes a little bit wrong you're stuffed, so you've got the chance with these long races to recover and make up for any mistakes that you've made or things that have gone wrong.

"Lets face it, these races that are in the mountains are truly adventure races and things will go wrong. I think it's very naïve of competitors to enter these events expecting it all to go to plan. Let's turn the coin over and I'd say that that's what attracts most of us is that there is an element of risk and adventure that you have to manage and to able to recover from so it's a thinking person's race."

The 52-year old will team up with Simon Callaghan in the 7-day race. However, he doesn't actually know Callaghan at all.

"I was looking for someone who is my age group, who I could be team mates with so I looked through the results of some of the other mountain bike races I've done and I was looking through to see who's my age group who's beaten me. I tracked him down through Facebook and asked if he wanted to do it with me and he was very keen to help."

What Gurney didn't realise is that Simon has done the British Columbia race twice (7-day mountain bike stage race from Victoria to Whistler, Canada), so he knows how to train for events like The Pioneer and what to expect. The Coast to Coast legend feels a bit nervous that he may not live up to his teammate's skill level.

"Simon's pretty fast and a very good rider so I've been training really hard to lift my fitness level up. I'm pretty happy so far, I think I'm the fittest I've been for probably a decade on the bike so things have gone pretty well."

For Gurney it's all about having fun, but of course his competitive nature won't go astray either. He wants to be able to enjoy himself and doesn't want to feel like he's totally under pressure every day.

"I want to feel like I can sit and check out the views at the top of the peak and take a couple of seconds to take in the beauty of the wilderness we've been through. We've certainly had that in training, my goodness some of the places. We went back country on a bit of an adventure bike last weekend and we had to stop and take photos, it was stunning."

Gurney insists he won't be stopping to take photos in the race but in his head he will be, taking a snap shot in his brain.

And from someone who knows a lot about endurance and adventure racing, Gurney has some words of wisdom for those taking part in the Pioneer.

"One of the things about these long races is there will be high spots and low spots and there will be times where you are feeling really knackered and you are perhaps not enjoying it for a while and that's part of it you see you need that contrast - it's like you need darkness to give definition to light so you need the tough times to give definition to the good times and that's what these long races offer for those that are open to that state of mind."

- NZ Herald

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