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The four-day 261km, race to Molyneux Bay, near Balclutha, had been scheduled to take place in January, but was delayed because of dangerously high river levels - the same problem that put last year's inaugural event back several months.
Race director Adam Fairmaid said this year's delay resulted in seven two-person teams from Australia withdrawing from the event, leaving just 10 New Zealand pairs on yesterday morning's start line below the Albert Town bridge. Last year 26 teams took part.
Many entrants liked to use the event as training for the Godzone adventure race, but that was held last month.
''So there's less incentive to come now,'' Mr Fairmaid said.
The revised dates had also clashed with other events, including the Contact Epic mountain bike race at Lake Hawea and the Absolute Wilderness Adventure Race at Murchison.
''There's a lot of people spread very thinly ... But for the competitors who committed to it, we were still very keen to run the race and give them an enjoyable challenge.''
Wild Descent was a ''long, hard race'', which involved ''mind games'' between competitors.
''It's really a game of chess out there because it's very hard to get away from a team of equal ability, so ... there's a lot of tactics going on at the front of the field. It might not look obvious to the casual observer but there's a real battle going on.''
It was a sprint finish in the first leg through to Clyde yesterday, winners Sean Murphy and Andrew Mewick, of Auckland, coming in just 5sec ahead of Christchurch pair Ian Huntsman and Wendy Riach in a time of 6hr 7min.
The race continues on to Roxburgh today, then to Clydevale tomorrow and to the finish line at Molyneux Bay on Sunday. A prizegiving will be held at Kaka Point.
Last year's winners were the Australian-Kiwi team of Matt Blundell and Michael Snell, who are not competing this year.