In his final race of the year, Alexander Ray is hunting a hat-trick of titles at the Maunga Cycle Challenge in Te Awamutu tomorrow.
The 22-year-old Aucklander has won the 100km race in his two previous rides - last year by one second in two hours, 23 minutes and 51 seconds and in 2010 by less than a second in 2hr 27min 29sec.
Ray has had half a year of racing in Belgium and finished 25th in the Tour of Southland last weekend.
"That was my fifth Tour of Southland. I definitely found that to be the easier of the five. Obviously it was still a challenge," said Ray, who recorded third, fourth and fifth stage placings.
He returned home in October after his six-month stint in Belgium, where he rode with the Bianchi Lotto NHT team in an attempt to further his abilities.
"I guess it was stepping up from having raced in New Zealand," Ray said. "You look to more of a challenge and to further a career in pro cycling you have to. I was in Australia the last few years doing some races and then I decided to go to Europe to step up. It's just going overseas to get the experience and the season of racing that you can't get in New Zealand.
"The first few months were quite a struggle but the last few months of my time in Belgium I began to find the races a lot easier and picked up several podiums."
Ray is now looking to finish his big season on a good note with a another title on a course which has been favourable to him.
He said there were a few reasons he kept coming back to this race, which starts and finishes beside Albert Park - the chance to get a result, the relaxed atmosphere, the competition and the nature of the course.
He's "not entirely sure" what he'll take on next year: "I guess you'd say there's a few options I'm looking at but I don't really have anything confirmed."
The open 100km race, which has a record winning time of 2.20.47 by Peter Latham in 2008, begins at 10am. There is also a women's and under-17s race over the 100km distance. Entries are still open until tomorrow morning.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Can the Chiefs make it three in a row in 2014?Related story: (See story)