Three women's teams stole the show during Stage 3 of the 2010 Alpine Epic Mountain Bike Stage race held between Rangitata River and Lake Opuha, near Fairlie, on Thursday.
Led by the R&R Whippets team of Erin Greene and Kath Kelly, both of Dunedin, a trio of women's teams reached the Coal Hill ridgeline within whispering distance of each other after an arduous morning climb.
"It was a very tough day – I think we did 3400m of climbing in about 83km," Kelly said.
Greene and Kelly were the fourth team to arrive overall and were closely followed by Team Outside Sports' Jo Williams and Floortje Draisma, both of Wanaka and Athena Girls riders Becs Rae and Jo Turnbull, both of Christchurch.
"We were tussling with Jo and Floortje," Kelly said.
"They caught us on the ridgeline and were very fast on the descent," Greene said.
"We had girls in front and girls behind us at the top of Coal Hill and we could hear them chatting away – it was a bit of a battle," Williams laughed.
"We got to the descent first, but lost a bit of time on the gravel at the bottom."
The top three women's teams traded the lead across the ridgeline and held the race intensity right to the end of the six and a-half hour stage. Greene and Kelly finished in fourth overall and won the women's stage in 6:27:48 with Williams and Floortje arriving at camp in sixth place overall in a time of 6:34:50 and Rae and Turnbull finishing in ninth overall in 6:42:43 for third in the women.
"I think this is one of the toughest races I have done and that's including the Goldrush and Coast to Coast," Kelly said.
"We didn't expect to finish fourth overall," Greene admitted.
"I was surprised that we were so close to Marcus and Kashi."
Williams and Draisma got lost in a bog near Lake Opuha that cost them about 20 minutes they said.
Team R&R Sports riders Mark Williams, of Queenstown, and Tony Hogg, of Dunedin, won the men's stage on a gruelling route across the top of Coal Hill and down into the Hewson River in a time of 5:15:20.
But their race was not without hardship – Williams crashed hard on the first big descent grazing his shoulder, smashing a spoke and ripping the bottom jockey wheel off his rear deraileur.
"That made things a bit interesting for the rest of the race – every now and then the chain would get stuck in between the cassette and the spokes, but it wasn't major," Williams laughed.
"We were fortunate to get through the final half of the day with that kind of mechanical," he conceded.
With them the whole way were the Property Syndication team members, Ollie Whalley and Brent Miller, both of Christchurch after dropping the third member of the front group – Team Yeti NZ's Kashi Leuchs and Marcus Roy on the first climb of the day.
"Brent was battling a bit today – he only had three bottles of water for five and a quarter hours – he suffered from a bit of dehydration," Whalley said of his team member.
"We used lots of tactics today – we had to get between Tony and Willy [Williams] up the hills and slow them down a bit and on the downhills we had to try to slow them up so Brent could stay in touch."
Kashi was just cruising today – he was just out to enjoy a good day in the mountains, Whalley said.
After more than 80km the two lead teams got lost in the final run into camp at Lake Opuha, and finished within seconds of each other.
Team Yeti NZ riders Leuchs and Roy finished in third place more than an hour later with a time of 6:19:49 after what they described as "a fun day in the mountains".