An ongoing battle developed for second and third position on day three of GODZone as the 666km race headed into backcountry southeast of Taupō, and there's a well-known face in the running.
GODZone is an eight-day adventure race that includes roughly 365km of mountain biking, 140km of paddling and 190km of trekking.
Participants race day and night around the Bay of Plenty course.
Richie McCaw, who placed sixth in GODZone in Fiordland in 2018, is in a fight for second place with his team isport.
The former All Black and teammates Simone Maier, Dougal Allan, and Theo Wordsworth regained the second position overnight on Saturday after bush bashing their way around a 21km Rogaine and trek section through the Whirinaki bush. Queenstown's team Tiki Tour consisting of Tom and George Lucas, Mike Kelly, and Kym Skerman are a close third.
"Theo is an excellent navigator, and he nailed a lot of the Rogaine controls similar to what Chris Forne of lead team Avaya did," GODZone event director Warren Bates said.
"This has kept isport on target and holding second place through the next stage - a 70km mountain bike ride through the Kaingaroa forest. They arrived at TA5 at Clements Clearing near Taupō late this morning and, despite saying they felt the cold overnight, were all in relatively good spirits and managed an hour of sleep before setting off again."
He said Team Tiki Tour were solid performers, having won GODZone back in 2017, and would work hard to hang on to their third position.
Meanwhile, at the very front of the expedition race, adventure racing world champions Nathan Fa'aave, Sophie Hart, Chris Forne, and Stu Lynch of team Avaya have pushed their lead by four to five hours. They are about to arrive at the Mohaka River for the next pack-rafting section.
"This is where GODZone starts to get real," Bates said.
"Firstly, teams are lugging their heavy pack rafts up the Te Iringa Track and then down to paddle the stunning Mohaka River - a distance of some 54km. The river is dark zoned, so no paddling at night.
"These top three teams should make it on to the Mohaka before the dark zone kicks in tonight, but they will all end up camping on the side of the river and then have to restart at 7am. We expect this stage to take the fastest teams 13 hours and the slowest teams 20 hours, and it will be the make or break for many of the mid-pack following behind."
GODZone teams are carrying GPS tracking systems and can be followed live.