The inaugural Pioneer 7-Day stage mountain bike race set off today, with the opening stage a prologue in the Port Hills of Christchurch before riders and gear were transported to Geraldine for the first overnight stop before stage two takes riders 107km to Fairlie on Monday.
Close to 300 7-Day epic riders took to the opening 37km prologue stage and while short in distance, the legs were still tested with a series of single track climbs (including C2 and Crocodile Trail) to 478m, before descending through the likes of the famous Flying Nun back to the finish line at Bowenvale.
Commonwealth Games gold medallist Anton Cooper (NZL) and his Aussie team mate Dan McConnell (bronze in Glasgow) were the quickest on a stage that favoured the riders more used to a shorter, sharper course, finishing in 57:22, almost four minutes clear of their closest rivals in Kona Factory Team A (Cory Wallace USA and Spencer Paxson CAN), with Kona Factory Team B (Barry Wicks USA and Kris Sneddon CAN) third.
Cooper and McConnell were not getting carried away with today's result, knowing that there are much longer days and tougher rides in prospect.
"Today was wicked, the track was running really good, it was a tough climb up and we were trying to figure out what pace is best on the first day, especially with a partner involved - this is all new to us but we were happy with a wicked descent," said Cooper.
"This style of riding and racing over multiple days and longer distance is new for both of us and is a different style of racing, today is more typical of what we normally do in terms of distance. We will see what the rest of the week brings and see if we are still smiling."
Steve Gurney and partner Simon Callaghan posted the 11th quickest time on the stage, the multisport legend loved day one and was just happy to be under way after months of build-up and expectation.
"That might be a little stage but it was steep. At the start everyone is quite hyped and has been training for months and the gun goes and they want to hammer it. To be honest for me it is a relief to hear that start gun, it kind of washes over you that you are under way, it is nice."
For Gurney, a man who has made his reputation and career in multisport and adventure racing, he is looking forward to day two and the first real sightings of the Southern Alps.
"It is nice to know that once we are in Geraldine tonight we are in the foothills of the mountains and this is truly a mountain event. I am really looking forward to the Alps and all the unpredictability, from the weather to the tracks and in particular to some of the scenery we will ride through. Going over so much private property as we are, this is the only chance to get up into these areas and I can't wait, it is going to be stunning."
The feedback from competitors in the 7-Day epic riders was consistent as they completed day one of a week's worth of riding - some in racing mode but plenty of others in 'just get there in one piece' mode. All enjoyed the start to the event and the chance to shake a few nerves and test out the machinery before sleeping for the first time tonight in the event tent village at Geraldine.
The Pioneer also hosted one-day riders over 53km and 37km distances (including neutral non-timed zones), with over 100 riders heading out into the Port Hills and back to North Hagley Park on a day that became increasingly hot with the early cloud cover burning off.
Stage Two of The Pioneer starts at 8am on Monday and takes riders from Geraldine to Fairlie, with the first endurance test thrown at competitors over 106km of riding that climbs to a high point of 978m at the 67km point in the stage. Riders head into the high-country and the Orari Gorge with four wheel drive roads leading to the ascent from Meikleburn Saddle where the climbing beings with stunning 360 degree views along the top of the ridge.