With Day 3 split into two stages overnight, for logistical reasons, the fields had two chances to win a stage on Friday and for Kashi Leuchs and Marcus Roy, the technical Stage 4 played right into their hands at the 2010 Alpine Epic in New Zealand.
The Team Yeti NZ pairing of Leuchs, of Dunedin, and Roy, of Invercargill, won the 32km technical stage from Lake Opuha to Burkes Pass in a time of 1:45:32, 2mins30secs ahead of second – Team R&R Sport's Mark Williams, of Queenstown, and Tony Hogg, of Dunedin, who are the overall race leaders.
"We had fresh legs after yesterday's nice cruise in the mountains," Leuchs states.
"Marcus put down the hammer quite early in the river section and I just followed. We had one rider from each of the other teams with us after the river and Marcus just led the way."
"It was a fun stage – we liked the gully and real mountain biking terrain of this stage," he said.
Two punctures kept the Property Syndication team of Ollie Whalley and Brent Miller, both of Dunedin, out of the front running in Stage 4, finishing almost 20 minutes adrift of the leaders.
Team R&R Whippets, Erin Greene and Kath Kelly, both of Dunedin, extended their lead winning the women's Stage 4 race from Athena Girls, Bec Rae and Jo Turnbull, both of Christchurch, and Team Outside Sports, Floortje Draisma and Jo Williams, both of Wanaka.
The women continue to keep the intensity in the race – finishing within five minutes of each other in Stage 4, despite Draisma and Williams suffering mechanical problems in the stage.
Stage 5 saw competitors leave Burkes Pass on a 43km route that finished in Windy Ridges, 20km southwest of Tekapo and included a series of climbs above Burkes Pass and a desert traverse through a section of the Mackenzie Basin.
Williams and Hogg controlled the race after Whalley and Miller flatted twice. Roy and Leuchs punctured after a climb early in the stage and never rejoined the front teams.
"Ollie and Brent were going pretty hard and so we went with them and then they punctured," Williams said.
"Some of the views today were magnificent. Mt Cook looked stunning and clear – as if you could touch it," he said.
Williams said the desert crossing was a tough one because of the rough ground.
Team R&R Sport won the stage in 2:17:03 with the Property Syndication team chasing hard to close the gap to just nine minutes.
"We had four punctures today – two in each stage," Whalley said.
But he admits he enjoyed the variety of the day.
"The desert stage was surreal – you were just riding forever and it was tough going with lots of small bumps," he said.
"We were trying very hard to catch up – we were smashing it, but couldn't claw the leaders back."
In the women's race in Stage 5 Rae and Turnbull turned up the intensity and led the women's race from early on. Draisma and Williams found their form, but were unable to rejoin the leading girls who won the stage in 2:46:41 – making up valuable time in the overall standings.
"We felt good after the break between stages and just pushed hard up a couple of hills, but the R&R girls were right on us," Rae explained.
"We didn't talk as much today so maybe that helped."
"I found the desert really hard – my hardtail wasn't the ideal bike for that," she said.
"But we are happy we won today – we can't let the R&R girls win every stage."
R&R Whippets made a navigation error in Stage 5 that saw them ride 3km down the wrong trail turning their 43km stage into a 49km struggle and relinquishing 18 minutes to the leaders of the stage.
As the race draws into its final day, Williams and Hogg have a comfortable lead sitting on 13:36:05 going into the final 70km stage with almost an hour buffer from Whalley and Miller.
Greene and Kelly are also in a commanding position in the women's at 17:16:34 – 30 minutes ahead of Draisma and Williams and 34 minutes up on Rae and Turnbull.
"We'd like to try to sneak our way into second, but we are still paying for our nine flat tyres on day one," Rae said.
Embarking on the 2010 Alpine Epic are two riders from San Luis Obisto, Calfornia, who have used the race as a catalyst to relocate their lives to New Zealand.
Sarah Hedger and Zeph Wadsworth have embraced the ride and been wowed by the scenery.
"We heard about the great trails here and the New Zealand way of life is a better alignment to our values – it's a better quality of life for us here," Hedger said.
"We booked onto the race and used it as a deadline to get us here – a set event that we had to be at," Wadsworth said.
They sold their belongings and jumped on a plane with four bikes and all their possessions.
"We are just going to travel around and see the country and figure out where we want to be,"
"The race has been much harder than we thought with bigger hills than we expected and crossing the rivers is like something out of Lord of the Rings," Hedger said.
The couple has clocked up 23:19:14 in their first three days on the event.
Saturday's final leg will traverse the mountain tops to the west of Lake Tekapo before finishing in the Tekapo township.