2018 Tour of Southland winner Michael Vink and ONYA Bike team mate Tim Rush and Amy Hollamby and 2018 Commonwealth Games road cyclist Kate McIlroy (Wellington Airport) topped their respective categories across the 20km course.
“It is hard to know what to read into it," a somewhat surprised Vink said. "You never know what to expect and it is only the prologue so we won’t read too much into it but certainly it is a nice gap to have."
“Tim and I have not been able to ride most of that course before, but we got through really smooth and in a fast time without taking too many risks so that was a perfect first outing for us.”
Before the event, Vink talked of growing up on a mountain bike and loving this style of racing despite the mud.
“A wet day on a mountain bike is better than a good day at work," he said.
Vojomag’s Sebastien Carabin (Belgium) and Ismael Sanchez (Spain) sit over four minutes behind the ONYA Bike pairing, with defending champions Jimmy Williamson and Scott Lyttle (Willbike – MortgageMe Queenstown) a further minute back.
But Lyttle was happy with their day.
“I don’t think we have lost too much time, you can’t win the Pioneer today, but you can lose it, it is good to get through safe and sound," he said.
“I learned something today though, that is good. The drop post lever is close to the bike lock switch and when you push it in too far it locks the bike out, so I rode Rude Rock with the suspension locked out, thinking the headset was loose or something, but you live and learn!”
In the open women's category, the lead for Amy Hollamby and Kate McIlory is not quite as comfy. They picked up just a 12.5 second advantage over Nina McVicar and Mary Gray (New World St Martins) with Erin Greene and Hannah Miller (Madison NZ) just under another 20 seconds behind McVicar and Gray.
“That was definitely hard," Hollamby said. "We were a bit apprehensive coming in with the amount of mud out there given we are primarily roadies, we were outside our comfort zone, but we had a plan and stuck to it and it went well."
McIlroy was honest about her nervy start to the six-stage race.
“That was a little out of my depth on that descent," she said. "I just followed Amy’s wheel and I am pleased the prologue is done and dusted but I know there are five days to come with some pretty gnarly trails, so I am just hoping to keep it rubber side down.”
A tight tussle is also expected in the mixed category this week with event newcomers team JoJoe - Josie Wilcox and Joe Skerman - edging just in front of two-time defending champions Mark Williams and Kate Fluker (team New World).
Wilcox has only been riding MTB for two years.
“We just came off Whaka and rode well there, we have been riding a lot and feeling in great shape, so we are pleased with that start today,” said Wilcox.
12-time IRONMAN New Zealand champion Cameron Brown came home safely in team Vital All in One with team mate and good friend Andrew Smith riding in the Masters (40+) category.
Stage One brings the riders down from the lofty heights of Coronet Peak for 69km of riding including a challenging 2245m of climbing, on an out and back route at the Queenstown Ice Arena.
The event then shifts to an overnight camp in Alexandra (Molyneaux Park) as The Pioneer moves into Central Otago for three stages before heading back to Queenstown and the finish line on Friday.
Provisional Prologue Results
1 ONYA Bike, Tim Rush & Michael Vink (NZL), 1:11:42
2 Vojomag ESMTB, Sebastien Carabin (BEL) & Ismael Sanchez (ESP), 1:15:56
3 Willbike MortgageMe Queenstown, Jimmy Williamson & Scott Lyttle (NZL), 1:16:57
1 Wellington Airport, Amy Hollamby & Kate McIlroy (NZL), 1:39:19
2 New World St Martins, Nina McVicar & Mary Gray (NZL), 1:39:32
3 Madison NZ, Erin Greene & Hannah Miller (NZL), 1:39:53
1 JoJoe, Josie Wilcox & Joe Skerman (NZL), 1:28:37
2 New World, Mark Williams & Kate Fluker (NZL), 1:29:51
3 Niner Bikes/Kappius Components, Jean-Francois Bossler & Fanny Bourdon (FRA/CZE), 1:34:38
Masters (Both riders 40+)
1 SRAM, Anthony Shippard & David Evans, (AUS), 1:23:52
2 Rivet Racing, Gianluca Valsenti & Matthew Webber (NZL), 1:28:10
3 A21 Linc’n’Lister, Lincoln Carolan & Peter Lister (AUS), 1:28:47
Grand Masters (both riders 50+)
1 Stutho & Sutho Protocol, Blair Stuthridge & Neil Sutherland (NZL), 1:25:39
2 2 Old Men, Shaun Portegys & Tim O’Leary, NZL), 1:25:51
3 Crankit Cycles Specialized, Peter O’Sullivan & Trevor Woodward (NZL), 1:31:22