Kiwi rider Sam Gaze held off a storming sprint by world champion Nino Schurter to win the opening round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in South Africa today. The 22-year-old Specialized team professional became the first New Zealander to win an elite World Cup mountain bike title after the thrilling finish in Stellenbosch.
Compatriot Anton Cooper, from Trek Factory Racing, finished an impressive sixth place, while Subway National Performance Hub rider, Ben Oliver was runner-up in the elite under-23 race.
The trio will all represent New Zealand at next month’s Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
Gaze and Cooper were part of a six-strong team to pull clear of the pack on the first lap of the elite’s men’s cross-country race. Schurter and Gaze then established a gap on the third lap and from that point swapped the lead in a see-saw battle.
The Kiwi made his move midway through the final lap and withstood a number of attacks from the six-time world champion before edging him in a sprint finish to claim a remarkable victory, and a place in New Zealand mountain bike history. Cooper finished sixth, two minutes behind the winner in a solid first-up effort.
North Canterbury’s Oliver, fourth in the elite race at the recent Oceania Championships, started strongly in the under- 23 race to lead after two laps. Norway’s Petter Faberhaug put in a blistering third lap to assume control but the young New Zealand had an impressive ride to finish a minute down on the winner, and nearly one-minute clear of third. It was his first podium at a World Cup Under- 23 race.
Unfortunately, New Zealand and Oceania champion Samara Sheppard did not finish in the women’s elite race, withdrawing after one lap, although the cause is unknown.
The riders return to New Zealand to prepare for next month’s Commonwealth Games.
Results, UCI Mountain Bike World Cup, cross-country, round 1, Stellenbosch, South Africa:
Elite Men: Sam Gaze (Specialized, New Zealand) 1:30:14, 1; Nino Schurter (Switzerland) 1:30:15, 2; Maxime Marotte (France) 1:30:16, 3; Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) 1:31:24, 4; Titouan Carod (France) 1:31:41, 5; Anton Cooper (Trek Factory, New Zealand) 1:32:16, 6.
Under-23: Petter Fagerhaug (NOR) 1:18:23, 1; Ben Oliver (NZL) 1:19:23, 2; Neilo Perrin Ganier (FRA) 1:20:17, 3. Also: Jack Compton 1:27:06, 38.
Elite Women: Annika Langvad (Denmark) 1:33:14, 1; Pauline Prevot Ferrand (France) 1:33:27, 2; Anne Tauber (Netherlands) 1:33:48, 3. Also: Samara Sheppard dnf