Today's massive 180km stage from Te Anau to the seven switchbacks of the Crown Range climb shapes as the pivotal point of this year's Tour of Southland.
After four days and four stages the race sits finely balanced, although tour leader Mike Northey did become the first rider this week to enjoy the yellow jersey in his hotel room for a second straight night.
The Node4-Subaru rider has an 8sec lead over United States rider Carter Jones (Bissell Pro Cycling) and 27sec on under-23 leader Taylor Gunman.
But that's not the whole race - not even close.
Gordon McCauley has climbed his way into fourth place and Roman van Uden, Heath Blackgrove, Michael Vink and Hayden Roulston - if he can get his bike sorted out - are all still well and truly within striking distance.
"[Today's] going to be a big day," Northey confirmed.
"I've done the climb before but not in this layout.
"I kind of know what to expect and the guys . . . it's a stage for them, it's their style of riding, they are all strong diesels."
World Tour rider Clinton Avery powered his sizeable frame to victory in yesterday's 100km fourth stage from Tuatapere to Te Anau.
With some excellent positioning from his Ascot Park-Kia Motors-NZ Bike Mag team-mates, Avery won a furious finishing chute sprint from green jersey holder Sam Witmitz and Daniel Barry, with Southland's Tom Scully just missing out on the podium.
Early in the stage a breakaway took their chance on the way to the Blackmount but dwindled to Alexandra's James Williamson (PureBlack), Tom Hubbard (Henderson Construction) and Sam Lindsay (Share the Road) after the climb.
Williamson, the national elite road champion, attempted a solo attack to the line but was swallowed up by the peloton with 2000m to go.
"I wanted to have a nudge on this stage.
"I haven't had a lot of luck with a couple of crashes but my form is good," Williamson said.
"It's just a matter of taking chances when you get them.
"There was an opportunity there today but we never really got the gap that we needed and there was obviously some pretty strong teams chasing behind.
"I gave it all I had but got caught in the last couple of kilometres."
Witmitz, the likeable Aussie with the big grin, admits he's "living the dream" at the moment.
Having ridden in the United States and Canada, the 27-year-old was the leadout man for Luke Davison in an Australian domestic team this season and was contemplating heading back to the "real world" next year, probably as a physical education teacher.
Instead, he has signed on with a British continental team and is making his third Tour of Southland a memorable one as he grabs the limelight himself rather than setting up someone else for it.
"[Luke] is an amazing rider and it's a fantastic feeling knowing you are doing a great job for a really talented rider.
"To come to Southland and have the opportunity to sprint for myself is pretty exciting as well, so I'm really making the most of that," Witmitz said.
He never intended making a career out of cycling, seeing it instead as a way to gain life experience and to do something he loved.
Riding for Share the Road was a neat fit for him, he said, because he believed strongly in the road safety message and had worked to promote it in Australia.
He will look to shore up a big lead in the sprint ace standings over the next couple of days before perhaps pushing for a stage win in the final leg on Saturday.
In yesterday's morning stage, Bissell Pro Cycling's Paddy Bevin won the sprint up the main street of Tuatapere after a 48km stage from Riverton to Tuatapere, which he described as the most difficult of the tour so far.
Bevin, who also won the stage to Lumsden on Monday, beat out Avery with Alex Ray finishing third as all the major players got into a 25-strong breakaway.
A headwind did its best to fend off the riders as they made their way along the southern coast.
It was hard for everybody but even harder for some.
Eight-time winner Brian Fowler was ruled out of the race after the morning stage, one of five riders who were not able to finish inside the time limit.
- © Fairfax NZ News