Mountain bikers young and old began a week-long inaugural international event this morning.

Bikers gathered at The Strand at 7.30am to begin the first Kiwi Crusade, a seven-day race involving teams of two riding about 680km from Tauranga, through the Western Bay region and up the Coromandel Peninsula, finishing back at Tauranga.

The race involves more than 100 riders and $100,000 prize money and is expected to end on Sunday.

Read more: Mountain Biking: World-class endurance


Eighty-eight competitors had registered for the event, including two-time Canadian Marathon National Champ Cory Wallace, three competitors from South Africa and one each from the United Kingdom and Thailand.

The first of the seven stages was a prologue which involved a "fast and fun" 15km ride through McLaren Falls Park. Riders will then head over the Kaimai Range and stay in Thames for their first night.

Mr Gove, a former competitive athlete from South Africa, said all the money from the event would be spent locally.

Mr Gove said two local charities had come on board, Homes of Hope and Good Neighbour, which were supplying volunteers to assist with the logistics in and around the race.

Both charities would also be given the chance to market themselves and raise funds throughout the event as they saw fit, he said.

Kiwi Crusade:

* What: A fully supported mountain bike stage race.

* Includes overnight camping at each stage at riders' villages

* When: February 28-March5

* Where: Tauranga to the Coromandel

* Who: Open for men, women, mixed and Kiwi teams of all levels of ability

* Registration information visit