More than 100 cyclists took on the massive Rimutaka Hill today in the first stage of the Trust House Cycle Classic.
It was defending champion, Peter McDonald of the Australian Drapac Porsche team who showed his strength in the hills and managed to take the yellow jersey.
The 121km stage started in Upper Hutt, climbed the Rimutaka Hill before travelling through Featherston, Martinborough and Gladstone to Masterton.
It was a day of steep climbs and fast descents that split the field, and sorted the climbers out from the rest.
The excitement started with an early break of seven riders making their move before the first climb. This break featured some of the top Australian riders, as well as national time trial champion Subway-Avanti's Gordon McCauley. This group was soon joined by a chase group of 11 riders. The 18 riders managed a two and a half minute lead.
Rimutaka hill, closed to the traffic, posed a challenge to the riders, with the field staggering over the steep hill. However the fast descent and following flat kilometres allowed for most of the peloton to regroup.
It was on the second big climb, Te Wharau Hill that the peloton caught the lead bunch. This climb again separated the field, with many riders losing touch with the bunch. Australian McDonald attacked on the climb, taking with him teammate Lachlan Norris. They managed a substantial lead over the diminishing bunch.
Just short of the 100km mark, the race was stopped due to a flock of sheep on the road. While the time gap between McDonald, Norris and the bunch was observed, the gap between the bunch and the stragglers was not. This gave some of the riders dropped on the climb the chance to rejoin the bunch, and the other riders the chance to refuel.
The decisive move of the race came on the final climb, 110km into the race where McDonald rode away from Norris, opening up an ample lead.
The bunch engulfed Norris and then set their sights on chasing McDonald. In the last 10km with the finish line looming, the bunch managed to shut down most of McDonald's lead. The bunch had McDonald in their sights as he crossed the lined to take the familiar yellow jersey. McDonald crossed seconds before the bunch sprinted across. It was Michael Matthews from Jayco which was the best of the bunch to take second.
Tomorrow's 125km stage finishes atop Admiral Hill, a pivotal stage in the tour.