Absolute Wilderness, the adventure racing team based in Marlborough and Nelson, are proving one of the surprise packages of the third GodZone race which began in Kaikoura on Saturday.
Late yesterday the unheralded team of Jeremy McKenzie, Dan Moore, Dan Busch and Naomi Whitehead were sitting comfortably among the top four teams having nearly completed stage four, the major trekking stage of the event over Mount Tapaeu-o-Uenuku, overnight.
As expected Team Seagate, the reigning champions, led from the start and had forged a handy lead prior to beginning stage five, a 151km mountainbike ride through the Molesworth.
Seagate made their intentions clear from the outset when the teams entered the choppy waters off Kaikoura's main beach at 1pm on Saturday for stage one.
''The teams had quite a challenging situation to deal with as they split up and the runners headed around the Kaikoura peninsula while the kayakers tackled dumping waves. There were a few casualties and a couple of broken rudders but they all got through that first stage admirably,'' said race director Warren Bates.
Team Seagate were the first complete team into transition but, in second place and just a few minutes behind, were Team Absolute Wilderness who put their local knowledge of the area to good use.
''We loved the paddle around the bay and even saw some seals who gave us a bit of a bark.
It's good to be getting onto stage two and putting some distance between all the teams as we head into the end of the day,'' said Whitehead.
Taking just 35 minutes to cover the second stage kayak, Absolute Wilderness were well placed going into the third stage, a 53km mountainbike, which they completed in five hours 29 minutes.
Overnight they began the trek up Mount Tapaeu-o-Uenuku placed second behind Seagate who had forged a clear lead, hitting the top checkpoint at 7.25am yesterday and exiting the stage around 3pm.
On arrival at the transition Seagate were in high spirits with Chris Forne saying, ''We are loving this course'' especially the trek stage. ''
The course wasn't quite wild enough for me but this year is definitely delivering and there's plenty more wild to come, so we are loving it.''
Bates says Seagate's impressive performance was indicative of their racing style. Since the GodZone started in downtown Kaikoura the top team had travelled over 122km in 25 hours and 51 minutes.
''The trade off for two days racing without sleep for these guys is that it's progressively harder for the other teams to catch them.''
Bates was unsure whether Absolute Wilderness could continue their hot pace in pursuit of Seagate.
''What an interesting package these guys are,'' he said. ''
They slipped under the radar and surprised us all - the question is can they continue racing this fast over four to five days.''
Christchurch team Vida de Aventura, led by renown female racer Sia Svendsen with Brent Edwards, Mark Rayward and Charlie Murray, have moved into third place.
The team profiled in Friday's Express, Team Checkpoint Zero including Marlborough's Paul Humpreys, lay in 16th position late yesterday.
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- The Marlborough Express