Many in Whangarei were in shock yesterday, mourning the sudden death of city businessman Michael Springford, who died from a heart attack while competing in the Wellington-to-Auckland Cycle Challenge.
Mr Springford, 63, owner of LJ Hooker Whangarei, was among six Northlanders taking part in the 820km, seven-day race.
Another of the six, London Paralympic Games bronze medal cyclist Fiona Southorn of Waipu, said he was in a jovial mood before the race started in the capital on Sunday.
Tragedy struck when the cyclists were between Featherston and Masterton on their first day.
His colleagues at LJ Hooker Whangarei, the company he took to international prominence in 2002 by winning the Sir Lesley Hooker Award - the top honour for the 640 offices in the LJ Hooker network - said it was too early to talk to the Advocate.
But on Facebook they said: "It is with extreme sadness that we have to confirm the loss of our great leader and company owner. RIP dear friend."
Former Whangarei MP, Cabinet minister and now Act MP John Banks was obviously stifling tears as he described in a telephone interview how Mr Springford had phoned him before the bike ride started on Sunday.
"I'm heartbroken. It's incomprehensible to lose someone like Mike. He seemed indestructible," Mr Banks said yesterday.
"This morning was the first morning in my life where I thought for a moment I was going to stay in bed all day. Then someone said to me - it would have been Mike - 'Get up you old bugger, we're going for a run', and I did."
The two men were jogging companions for many years while the MP lived in Whangarei and the pair had collaborated in helping families financially and in other philanthropic projects.
Mr Banks said his "remarkable" friend was "generous to a fault", and had a forgiving nature and zeal for life.
Athletics legend Ian Babe also praised Mr Springford's generosity, describing how he had contributed about $100,000 to the Athletics Whangarei Club over the past 25 years.
"He's always been special and involved in this community. He's been caring, he's listened, he's shown an interest in people," Mr Babe said.
"We're going to miss him."