Cambridge rider Sam Gaze has won his second under-23 men’s cross-country title at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Cairns. Gaze, who won the under-23 championship in the Czech Republic last year, emerged from a tight tussle late in the race to win in 1:17:46 which was 11 seconds clear of South Africa’s Alan Hatherly with Germany’s Maximilian Brandl 51 seconds back in third.
It was an outstanding day for New Zealand riders, with North Canterbury’s Ben Oliver enjoying an excellent race to finish inside the top-10 in ninth place, 2:12 down on the winner. His brother Craig was 37th with both part of the Subway Mountain Bike National Performance Hub.
Gaze was with a strong group including Ben Oliver from the start before making his move on the penultimate lap when he attacked up the main climb on the dusty course in hot conditions in the tropical rain forest. The Specialized Factory rider opened up a 13 second gap on lap five and was able to hold off the South African on the sixth and final lap and even enjoy a finish line celebration. “It is a phenomenal feeling. It is what we dream of. I went into it instead of thinking about defending it but earning a new one. In this sport there’s no such thing as defence,” said Gaze. “To win this title once is a dream come true. To make it twice is something else.”
Gaze pushed hard on the climbs but did not feel he had a significant advantage uphill in a powerful field. “I don’t feel like I was one of the strongest on the climbs. I had to focus on where my strengths on the course were. On the second to last lap I put in a really good nudge near the top of the climb and managed to get away. I just had to maintain that gap up the final climb and was pretty fortunate to get it done.
“It was a hard race and a lot of the boys rode really well today. I didn’t have it my own way and had to adjust my plan during the race and make it happen.”
Gaze has had a mercurial year with successes intertwined with failures mostly relating to bouts of migraine headaches. “I am very happy to have a result that I am really proud of this year. It has been a challenging year to say the least,” he said. “It hasn’t been a bad year because if you win it is good for the CV but when you lose it’s great for the head for learning. It has been one of those seasons for me for sure but I don’t regret it because out of this I will better myself.”
It is his final year in under-23 and will step up to elite racing alongside Anton Cooper next year.
“I am looking forward to next year already and putting on my big boys’ shoes and get out there.”
The National performance Hub coach Sam Thompson said he was thrilled with the efforts of North Canterbury’s Oliver brothers, particularly Ben who “was absolutely outstanding today to push into the top-10.”
Tomorrow will see Australian-based Wellington rider Samara Sheppard compete in the elite women’s race starting at 2pm (NZ time) before Cooper, the former Under-19 and under-23 world champion, competes in the elite men’s race starting at 4.30pm. Both races are live on Sky Channel 56.
Under-23 Men Cross-Country: Sam Gaze (NZL) 1:17:46, 1; Alan Hatherly (ZAF) at 11s, 2; Maximilian Brandl (GER) at 51s, 3. Also NZers: Ben Oliver at 2:12, 9; Craig Oliver at 6:13, 37; Jack Compton dnf.