Wellington to Auckland Cycle Challenge tour leader Gordon McCauley was content to coast into Wanganui yesterday in fourth place for stage 6 and retain the yellow jersey.
The Auckland rider is technically the only professional in the 148-strong field and a former New Zealand representative and Commonwealth and Olympic Games competitor. The 40-year-old, who still races competitively at national level, was expected to be too strong for this year's line up and win the annual event.
McCauley has won three of the six stages so far, including yesterday morning's Palmerston North to Hunterville leg. In the afternoon session stage 6 (61km) started from Hunterville 15 minutes later than scheduled to allow stragglers from the morning session to catch their breath.
The field is divided into three sections with group one riders - the more serious competitors, group two - the masters and age group riders and group three - the more social athletes.
Youthful Northland rider Matthew Markby, now living in Auckland, was first across the line in Eastown Rd yesterday to win stage 6 in Wanganui, while top rider Sheldon Gorter from Hamilton came second, last year's winner Steven Stannard from Palmerston North third and McCauley fourth. However, after six stages McCauley still has a two-minute break on the field.
This year's event aims to raise funds for Think, the head injury network for Kiwis, with McCauley its flagship rider.
"I competed in this event back in 1991 and 1992 when it was the NZ Post Challenge and finished last both times," McCauley reflected yesterday.
"I was asked to step in for Think this year after their original fundraising guy was injured and I was more than happy to do it. I felt great on the ride today winning stage 5 this morning and then was happy just to keep the other guys in my sight in stage 6. I didn't need to do much today and have still got the yellow jersey," McCauley said yesterday.
The competitor list includes two from Wanganui, David Luff racing in the 60-69 age group in group one and David Collins in the 40-49 age group in group two. They were both racing well.
The field also includes Beryl Billington from Cambridge who celebrated her 69th birthday on Monday.
Think spokeswoman Elizabeth Charleston said it was great to have someone of McCauley's stature on board, although nine or 10 other riders were also helping to raise funds through sponsorship.
Stage 7 began this morning from the velodrome in staggered starts to Kakatahi, while stage 8 sets off in the afternoon to Ohakune via Fields Track.
On this leg former Kiwi Olympian Stephen Cox has dusted off his bike after 20-odd years to help raise funds. Part of that fundraising exercise will include having his legs shaved for charity.
Charleston said funds raised so far were nearing the $10,000 mark and a fundraising evening was planned in Ohakune tonight.
The Challenge ends with stage 13 between Glen Murray and Pukekohe on Saturday afternoon.