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Life after “The Pioneer” by Claire Sykes


Another glance over my handlebars at a steep, muddy and very skinny downward track….I was fighting to control myself, not only physically on the bike but mentally also.

The big race starts in the morning and I am questioning myself why I even entered! This is not a difficult track…slippery yes! But I feel like a complete novice. Ok stop it, put aside all the negative stuff and concentrate on the basics, “I can do this”, my usually confident head has taken a sound knock…testing, testing…

Over following week I came to realise just why I was excited about this race… To be fair we had entered only 3 weeks ago, I was fit, but not done the technical preparation that was key, to this event.

Six days of mountain biking… doing between 70 and 100 km each day of premium riding all around Queenstown and Central Otago. Off road, single track, 4WD, bike trails and parks, farm stations and private land. Each day ended with a kind of glamping experience with tents which were erected for us each night. Fully catered food trucks, hot showers, massage available and bike mechanics who worked on fixing and sometimes completely rebuilding several hundred bikes through each night and had them ready to pick up in the morning. 278 teams of two… you can imagine how vast and busy the little tent city looked!  

Nine countries’ represented by some top riders and plenty of New Zealand’s own provided plenty of competition for us. I was surprised, excited and thrilled to be a part of such an event.

Our main sponsor was Talley’s from Motueka, also Paul, who is Greg’s Uncle, an amazing supporter who came with his campervan and would surprise us from various points around the course shouting “Go the Mussel people!”

Greg and I are big fans of Vitality™ New Zealand Muscle Performance capsules and each morning before racing and in the afternoon smoothie we would consume an undisclosed amount of these…we figured we were putting maximum energy output and our bodies were responding well. I will say loudly that I had very little, or next to no muscle soreness during, or even at the end of the race…some might say I wasn’t going “hard” enough but I know if your body is in good condition and the training has been done and you put in the good stuff you will feel a fantastic result.     

There were mass starts each morning with pumping music and a countdown, my tongue firmly stuck to the roof of my mouth as we were set off in big “waves” of riders graded A through to F, leaving a few mins apart. The first day Talleys Pure Mussel were put in C wave, based on my very nervous “prologue seeded” race…after the second day we graduated to B wave which was much more serious with much less chit chat and fun…but we made friends during the days and much friendly banter was had, among the seriousness and competitive nature of racing.

Central Otago has spectacular scenery of which we were in awe of each corner we looked around…Alexandra, Cromwell, Bannockburn …and what seemed like we covered ALL of the surrounding mountain ranges and country. Station country ranges as high as 1000 m, dropping down through yellow prickly spaniard plants, then golden tussock lands with and bright, glorious flowers. Iconic apricot and cherry orchards were laden with fruit, just starting to ripen. Crumbly schist rock formations and shady river trails… 3,500 m of climbing in just one of the days…phew!

As Greg and I chatted in the afternoons relaxing in the shade we would relive the day’s highlights and low times as well. This was important as there were many hours each day which were focused solely on the riding only… it was good to talk about difficulties, of course strategies and how they worked, other riders around us, how we were placed in the daily results and have a laugh at ourselves to. It was a positive time as we had no personal issues or major gear failure, it was hard work, but we were enjoying ourselves!

As a result… after the week of epic riding, we were pretty pleased to come placed in the top 10 out of all the mixed teams riding against all age categories.

Life after the Pioneer…I have had some magic time off in a special place and I will look forward to some more riding, both in the hills and the roads, making the most of the warmth, and the  swims in my local river and beaches

Have a happy new year everyone!