The New Zealand cross-country team has finished eighth in the team relay that flagged the start of the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Cairns today. The team relay has in the past been a more light-hearted affair, but with plans to increase its status and with a new five-strong team format, it provided a high profile start to the championships.
The New Zealand team were anchored with stunning efforts from current under-23 world champion Sam Gaze, who had the fastest first leg time, while current world ranked No 7 elite Anton Cooper was the joint fastest overall. The Trek Factory professional clocked 11:59 for the final lap, the same time as world champion Nino Schurter as the only two riders under the 12 minute barrier.
The New Zealand team drifted back to 12th mid-race but forged up to eighth overall, 2:23 behind winners Switzerland. The team with Gaze, juniors Eden Cruise and Jessica Manchester, women’s elite Samara Sheppard and Cooper, beat home hosts Australia by more than two minutes.
The championship-proper begins tomorrow with Cruise and Manchester to compete in the junior elite cross-country races. Cruise, from Wellington, will have to force his way through the field from 33rd on the grid for the three-lap race, and had a good blow-out in the relay today.
“That was probably the hardest race I’ve ever ridden in my life,” said Cruise. ““I’ve been here for two weeks acclimatising but it was so hot out there.
“I’m proud of our New Zealand team and look forward to a good world champs ride tomorrow.”
Manchester, who performed well on the international circuit this year, is ranked fourth and will start on the front row, with the benefit of a hitout today in the team relay.
“My focus is the race tomorrow so my goal for today was to pace myself and hit all the lines,” said Manchester. “I had a tough race with elite woman in my group and now I can’t wait to get out there tomorrow and race my hardest.”
Both riders are part of Cycling New Zealand’s Subway Mountain Bike National Performance Hub.
Racing continues until Sunday (local time).
Photo: Cameron McKenzie