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Gavin Mason surprised a lot of people with his efforts in the Coast to Coast two years ago but, really, they should have seen him coming.
Mason, of Wanaka, is never far from the spotlight. He has competed in multisport and adventure events in snow and surf, on mountain bike tracks and skifields, on flat terrain and in the hills.
In 2011, he was an 11th-hour replacement for Brian Weddon in the two-day team section of the Coast to Coast, with Dunedin's Shannon Edgar.
Mason left the field for dust on the 55km cycle stage between Kumara and Deception, with live feeds of the race transmitted from the course unable to identify the mystery rider who had opened up almost 5min on the peloton.
At the Deception transition, Mason was swamped with inquiries. Who was he? What was his background?The spotlight shifted from Mason a couple of hours later when Edgar had to be airlifted from Goat Pass after falling and breaking an ankle.
Mason (32), a Department of Conservation ranger, returned to race the Longest Day last year, finishing 12th in 13hr 24min 47sec, and will aim for a top-10 finish next month.
''I finished feeling that I still had a bit more to give,'' he said of last year's performance.
Mason began to step up his training at the beginning of November after competing in the 62.9km Anaconda Adventure Race in Perth. He finished seventh in a field of 2000, and placed second as a member of the New Zealand team alongside Braden Currie (Wanaka) and Nic Leary (Rotorua).
Combining training with a full-time job and volunteer work for St John is not easy.
''Getting the hours up is probably the hardest part,'' Mason said.
His fitness base has increased over the past four to six weeks, the only hindrance being a rolled ankle received on Goat Pass when training over the alpine section in early December.
There is no doubt Mason will be in the mix throughout the 243km Coast to Coast on February 9. Besides a top-10 place, his aim will be to ''finish strong and well''. Given any opportunity, his strength on the bike will be a major factor on the 70km final stage between Gorge Bridge and Sumner.
''When you finish in the top 10, you get to stand up on stage at the prizegiving. It's the pinnacle of multisport.
''If I crack that, I'll reassess from there as to whether to commit a lot more time towards training to try and crack the top five.''
Mason has occasionally trained with Longest Day champions-in-waiting Currie and Dougal Allan.
Their ability to drag him along, particularly on the bike, paid off when he took line honours in last year's Motutapu 47km mountain bike race in a spectacular finish with Mark Williams (Queenstown).
After leaving Dunedin, where he was involved with the St Clair Surf Life Saving Club, five years ago, Mason ''morphed'' into a multisporter, with the ability to get out on the hills and paddle some good rivers around Wanaka.
His latest code is cyclocross, in which he won the Queenstown leg of the national series for a ticket to the national finals in Napier, where he finished eighth.
Mason has a hunger to feature again on the cyclocross stage when the national championships are held in Queenstown as part of the Winter Games.
''The Coast to Coast is base training for the cyclocross,'' he said, smiling.
In recent years, Mason has been on the podium in Gold Rush and Peak to Peak events, as well as several other Central Otago races.