After just one edition The Pioneer's reputation as one of the world's leading mountain bike races has been further underlined in a new partnership effective for the second instalment in February.
Riders in the 2017 edition of the race through the Southern Alps from Christchurch to Queenstown have received a massive boost with a formal relationship with the greatest mountain bike stage race of them all, the ABSA Cape Epic in South Africa.
A total of 10 entries to Cape Epic (March 2018) have been set aside for The Pioneer riders, with five going to category winners and a further five being awarded in a draw, giving all entrants in The Pioneer a shot at the amazing Cape Epic, an event that sells out (literally in seconds) every year, leaving many around the world having to rely on a draw to gain a start.
"The Cape Epic is undoubtedly the pinnacle of mountain bike stage racing in the world, and to be able to offer our Pioneer riders the opportunity to qualify for a race that is extremely difficult to get into, adds prestige and ups the stakes for The Pioneer that will appeal to many riders", said Dave Beeche, who created The Pioneer and oversaw the first event in February this year. "To be able to offer a draw as well with much better odds than the world wide draw makes this opportunity accessible for all levels of rider."
Kevin Vermaak, founder of the Cape Epic, added: "This is the first, small step in creating a global mountain bike series of stage races that culminate in the Cape Epic."
In the event of any of the winning combinations (the 7-day Pioneer is raced in pairs) not taking up their entry to Cape Epic, the slot will roll down in that category until the slot is taken.
"The Pioneer is an event that lends itself to teams being as competitive as they wish to be and for some that is not a priority at all as they choose to race the event at their own pace throughout a tough week in stunning surroundings", Beeche said.
"But for those who are chasing a podium finish or indeed a category title, this adds real spice to an already challenging week and will see teams keeping a close eye on their competition. Suddenly the general classification at the end of each stage will take on a little more meaning. The prize of an entry to the Cape Epic will reverberate through the mountain bike community."
The Pioneer takes play from February 5-11. It's raced over 549km and take on 15,824m of climbing through the Southern Alps.
Herald sports journalist Michael Brown and Herald photographer Greg Bowker will be tackling next year's Pioneer. For Michael's story about his mid-life crisis, click here.