It was business as usual at the front of The Pioneer with the leaders in all main categories extending their general classification margins on the 74km Stage Three from Fairlie to Lake Tekapo, raced once again in sweltering conditions under picture postcard blue skies.
Dan McConnell (AUS) and Anton Cooper (NZL) just edged Kona Factory team Corey Wallace (CAN) and Spencer Paxson (USA) in the open men's, Mark Williams (NZL) and Kate Fluker (NZL) put a further 40 minutes on Team Goozie - Susie Wood (NZL) and Gary Milbanke (NZL) in the mixed category, while Erin Greene and Kath Kelly are in complete control of the women's race as they increased their already considerable lead to almost two hours.
Greene (Queenstown) and Kelly (Roxburgh) have ridden plenty of hours and events together, including at the famous Cape Epic ride in South Africa, a similar multi-day stage race that attracts worldwide attention. And if the thoughts of the Kiwi pairing are anything to go by, it won't be long before The Pioneer is placed on a similar level to the Cape Epic and other iconic rides around the world.
"This is just so well organized, everything is being done so well, everyone is doing an awesome job from the food, the marshalling, the directions, this is just great, you really can't complain about anything," said Kelly. "And of course the riding is just stunning, today was really hot again, but an amazing place to ride."
Greene was bordering on masochistic with her description of today's stage, one that included climbing to 1307m over the Albury Range and a second 972 climb within sight of the finish.
"That was much better today, much better than yesterday - that was a great course today. Bugger all flat, bugger all gravel road, plenty of hills where you have to pick a line and think about your riding. I wasn't close to getting off at any point, it was all good."
Kelly spoke of the chemistry between the two riders, with rules stating they must not be more than two minutes apart, you have to know each other's strengths and weaknesses.
"We have done a lot of riding together so we know each other pretty well and to be honest we don't need to speak that much, our communication can be as simple as a look or recognizing how the other is feeling from the pace we are riding. I tend to be good on the flat and Erin is great on the climbing so we work well together."
Greene echoed those sentiments.
"We never get out of sight of each other really, if I feel I am starting to open a gap on a hill I will stop on the flat and get a gel, get one for Kath and wait. But I do so knowing that she is going to be powering on the flat and my heart rate will soon be on the increase."
The Kona Factory team of Cory Wallace and Spencer Paxson showed that they might be building nicely into the week, finishing just 4 seconds behind leaders Cooper and McConnell in the Open Male category, with the deficit 21 minutes on general classification.
"We are just hanging on to these boys, they are cross country riders so who knows how they will be feeling on day four and five? We are doing all we can to stay close right now and give ourselves a chance," said Wallace.
Sumner resident Laurence Mote was highlighted before The Pioneer for his own journey recovering from a near death experience in 2013 after he went into anaphylactic shock after being stung, lost consciousness and was effectively brought back to life before beginning a long journey of recovery.
Mote (Christchurch) has been left legally blind and was nervous at the outset of The Pioneer but he and partner Huw Kingston are riding their own race.
"It has been quite the journey so far, quite an epic few days of riding. This is a total test of endurance, you just have to pick your own pace, I had a swim today which was fantastic, no one else was swimming but that was the thing I had to do today. We pick our own pace, Huw is a machine on the flat stuff so I just get in behind him and then encourage him to go a little faster up the hills."
And Mote is not letting his limited eyesight hold him back.
"So far so good for me, I have had a few rocks clang under my wheels and hit the frame, but no big surprises, I am just taking it slowly when I need to. Today we rode up this little valley beside Burkes Pass - it almost mirrors the main road so it was really cool to see some different country, it was definitely the long way from Fairlie to Tekapo, but worth it."
It is a race amongst the Aussies in the Male Masters 40+ with Ian Chitterer and Minter Barnard (Leave Pass 2) just 11 minutes ahead of Mike Israel and Garry James (GM Specialized). Steve Gurney and partner Simon Callaghan (Masters of Mud Plugging Mayhem) continue to lead the Male Masters 50+ category. In the Female Masters 40+ Leigh Cockerill and Sue Clark (Fuse Creative) rode strongly again today to further increase their lead.