ALEX Hunt and Stephen Matthews have firmed as strong favourites to win the Blue Dragon Mountain Bike Challenge after a commanding day-1 performance in the hills of the North-East.
The pair will take a 10-minute lead into today's final 48-kilometre leg and, barring a mishap on the hills of Weldborough, are expected to finish ahead of second-placed Ken Allen and Daniel De Groot, and third-placed Phillip Madsen and Torben Portridge-Madsen.
Race spokesman Ben Maher said Hunt and Matthews were almost unstoppable during the gruelling 52km loop of Derby.
``I think at one point they got a flat tyre,'' Maher said. ``But that didn't really slow them down too much.''
About 200 teams are entered in the challenge, in age categories spanning ``whipper-snappers'' to ``dinosaurs''.
BLUE DRAGON MOUNTAIN BIKE CHALLENGE
THE TOP SIX - DAY 1
Alex Hunt and Stephen Matthews (whipper-snapper age group): 2:32.45, 1;
Ken Allen and Daniel De Groot (midway vets male): 2:42.02, 2;
Phillip Madsen and Torben Portridge-Madsen (young guns male): 2:43.58, 3;
Todd Stanton and Callum Fagg (young guns male): 2:46.59, 4;
Ross Farrell and Michael Smith (midway vets male): 2:48.01, 5;
Richard Wilkinson and Michael Berry (golden oldies male): 2:49.52, 6.