It was thrilling and exciting on the streets of Taupo's CBD last night as the annual Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge Criterium got underway.

The event fostered plenty of enthusiasm in the build-up to today's main event, which got underway early this morning, with more than 6000 cyclists taking up a range of on and off-road challenges around the Lake Taupo district.

Seventeen youngsters who planned to ride in the Kids Heart Ride today took part in the event's first-ever Kids' Criterium, which led nicely into the more serious Criterium with elite female and male riders, racing the streets for prize money. The annual NZ Defence Force race, which has the Air Force and Navy take on NZ Army to cycle it out for bragging rights, saw NZ Army finish first overall and Air Force second.

The Women's Criterium was won by Sharlotte Lucas, with Ellesse Andrews second and Matilda Raynolds third.

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Sam Gaze was first across the line in the men's Criterium with Luke Mudgway second and Alexander Ray third.

Taking an even longer way around Lake Taupo, the four-lap Maxi Enduro's took off at 10.30am on their 640km journey. The field includes last years two-lap enduro winner and recent Tour of Southland yellow jersey stage winner Roman Van Uden, as well as UMCA six-hour World Champ, Andy Jackson, all the way from the UK.

The top three finishers in the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge Women's Criterium, Ellesse Andrews (left), Sharlotte Lucas and Matilda Raynolds. Photo / Supplied
The top three finishers in the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge Women's Criterium, Ellesse Andrews (left), Sharlotte Lucas and Matilda Raynolds. Photo / Supplied

"It's always a thrill to see Taupo bulging with excited people, their bikes and supporters," said event director Aaron Carter.

"There's around 17,000 extra people in town and it creates a fabulous festive feel and almost doubles our population."

While cyclists are participating in the many levels of road and mountain bike challenges, supporters are well looked after at the Event Village with live music, activities for children, food and beverages, as well as Taupo's wide range of boutique retail, scenic and adventure tourist attractions.

There's an outstanding list of major and minor spot prizes with an all-new Holden Trax car valued at $32,990, as well as two ten day Taillite campervan holiday rentals up for grabs.

"The Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge is a celebration. It's an incredible, unique opportunity for thousands of like-minded people to spend time together to connect and share what they love, which seems to be getting off the couch and onto their bikes in one of NZ's truly great regions, Lake Taupo," Carter said.