He’s the man in the rainbow jersey but as far as Sam Gaze is concerned the job is far from over; Rio beckons.  After winning the U23 Cross Country title at the UCI World Championships in the Czech Republic; the Waikato 2o-year old reflected on his massive achievement.

It’s been one of two monumental fixtures on the calendar in 2016, and now it’s ticked off.  Anton Cooper did it last year, but this year it was Sam Gaze’s turn to don the rainbow jersey and be able to put those words on his CV; ‘world mountain bike champion’.  “It’s a phenomenal feeling.  This race I’ve been eyeing for months and months, so to finally get the result that I wanted and to do my team proud and my family proud; it’s a great feeling,” Sam said afterwards.  “I look forward to doing the stripes proud for the rest of the year and to the next world championships.”

Going into the race Gaze knew what he wanted to do, an attack at a specific spot on the course and he would be in with a shot at victory.  After being aggressive from early on he finally took off from a select group with just over a lap to go.  “I knew I had that spot thought out in training and I thought that would be the big place I can go.  It’s quite a steep climb and then it flattens off but it’s not quite over; it carries on dragging right up,” Sam said, explaining the location of his winning move.  “So I decided to make my move there with 1.5 laps to go; and I had it in my head to relax and it was quite hard to hold myself back but I managed to do it.  And when the moment came I just 100% committed and gave it everything I had.”

The world title is a continuation of what has already been a fantastically successful season so far that has included a World Cup win and trips to the podium already this year.  “It’s been a great season so far, a lot of hard work’s gone in from my coach [Sauser] and I and we’re doing great things.”  Gaze has high praise for the way Coach Sauser has helped and supported him to his success, saluting his mentor and role model with great admiration.  “The guy’s a legend, I look up to him every day and he’s looked after me so well from World Champs last year.  He’s had a great plan from months and months ago.”

Sam Gaze heads for glory in the World Championships in the Czech Republic, photo Michal Cerveny/Specialized
Sam Gaze heads for glory in the World Championships in the Czech Republic, photo Michal Cerveny/Specialized

Having won the world title, Sam’s attention is quickly turning to his next major goal as he gets ready to represent New Zealand at the Rio Olympic Games.  Although the rainbow jersey is in the bag, Sam has the maturity to keep his feet grounded and his eyes focussed.  “It’s a major goal which has been achieved, from here on out the hard work doesn’t stop, I’ve got other racing to focus on this year.  So I’m just going to try and focus as hard as I can and build from this,” he said.

And what about the Olympic prospects from here?  The entire field, U23 and elite must take notic of Sam now and recognise that he is unquestionably one of the favourites for a medal.  But for Sam whatever could happen in the biggest sporting event on the planet is marked by a big unknown.  “Who’s to say [what will happen], it’s Olympic Games, anything can happen.  All I can tell you is that I’m going to go 100% for it, mentally and physically and see what the Kiwi can do.”

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