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The PowerNet rider finished safely in the bunch at the end of a pacey 170km stage from Invercargill to Lumsden yesterday, which averaged speeds of 44.5kmh and finished over 30 minutes ahead of schedule.
His New Zealand endurance track team-mate Campbell Stewart kicked clear to win the stage from Ethan Batt and Joshua Kench.
Strong holds a 10sec advantage over defending champion Michael Vink, with 2013 winner James Oram at 16sec, Ollie Jones at 20sec and 2016 winner Aaron Gate at 33sec.
"It was a hard first couple of hours to start the race and it was really aggressive racing," Strong said.
"We were looking forward to that and then once the break went it calmed down a lot and we had the answers for all the questions that were answered today.
"[Today] it’s going to be a hell of a showdown, and anyone in the top five can win this race and fingers crossed that’s me."
Stewart was part of a nine-strong breakaway which enjoyed plenty of freedom as the tour made its way through central and western Southland under clear skies and a gentle breeze, a far cry from the heavyweight crosswinds which can bare their teeth on this stage.
There was no change in the jersey classifications with James Fouche and Paul Wright holding the Sprint Ace and King of the Mountain categories respectively.
Paul Odlin remains the leading over-35 rider, while Strong is also the highest ranked under-23 rider and Black Spoke Pro Cycling Academy leads the teams classification.
Today’s features a 13km time trial in Winton, a stage Vink has dominated in the past, followed by a 77km stage into the finish line in Invercargill.
Strong, the world points race champion, was well aware he will need to produce one of the rides of his short but illustrious career if he is to hold off the challengers and become the first Southlander to win a home tour since Doug Bath in 1994.
"I think everyone has prepared really well for this race. It’s been on everyone’s mind since coronavirus shut down all the racing. I think that’s the reason there are five riders within 30sec going into the final day and I think it’s going to be very interesting."