The first round of the 2018 Winter MTB Series has produced one of the closest finishes in the event's history.
In the men's Long Course race, just five seconds split the top four riders, who thrilled the crowd with a sprint to the finish line after 36km of racing.
In 1h 48m 52s, it was Whakatane's Brad Jones who took the win ahead of Auckland's Cosmo Bloor (1h 48m 56s), Rotorua's Lewis Ryan (1h 48m 56s) and Whanganui's Glen Haden (1h 48m 57s).
Jones said it was during the climbs that he won the race.
"I felt good on the climbs but the descending skills weren't quite there today, but I managed to win. It was real close, it was me and Glen for most of the way but then two or three others nearly caught us at the end so it got pretty scary," Jones said.
He said second place finishes in the past drove him to push for the win this year.
"I've come second so many times and since it's the last year I just really wanted to win."
Bloor said it was a "pretty tough" race.
"A bit of luck played in my favour, definitely, with the guys out front getting pulled in a bit, so it worked well for me. I felt pretty confident [coming into the final stretch], I knew if I got the last corner right I was fine with the sprint.
"There was about 5km before that where there were about five of us going head-to-head," Bloor said.
Ryan could not keep the smile off his face while speaking after the race.
"It was such a fun race, there were some of my favourite trails in the whole forest and five guys all within five to 10 seconds of each other to the finish, it was awesome racing.
"It can come down to so many things, today we saw Brad, who won the race, was a lot stronger on one of the climbs near the end, but everyone goes through patches.
"In terms of coming into the sprint at the end, I came in a bit wide and Cosmo got the inside. It's super tight racing but it's kind of what you pay for, it's a good battle," Ryan said.
In the women's Long Course run, Palmerston North's Josie Wilcox maintained her recent dominance of Rotorua-based events, winning the race in 2h 6m 4s, ahead of Dunedin's Mary Gray (2h 21m 1s) and Manawatu's Sarah Haddon (2h 23m 13s).
Wilcox was the overall winner in last year's Winter Series and has also picked up wins in the Whaka 100 and the Huka XL 85km - part of the Taupo Cycle Challenge - in the last year.
She said she loved the race.
"It was good, it was awesome. A cool course. I'm really happy [to get the win], it was kind of a tempo ride for me today, I've still got a lot of work to do, but I'm happy. There were a couple of challenging trails but it flowed as well," Wilcox said.
For full results go to wintermtb.co.nz.