Eighteen year old Waikato rider Sam Gaze upset pundits to claim the BikeNZ national mountain bike cross-country honours in Rotorua today.
The Te Awamutu rider out-sprinted defending champion and former Junior World Champion Anton Cooper to claim the title in a thrilling race.
Meanwhile 26 year old Kate Fluker from Queenstown withstood the charge from London Olympian and defending champion Karen Hanlen to take on the elite women’s honours on a testing course in the stunning Whakarewarewa Forest.
The cross-country championship kick-started the 10-day Rotorua Bike Festival that features a plethora of events including mountain bike, BMX and road cycling.
The elite men’s race was expected to be dominated by super-talented young riders led by Cooper, 19, Rotorua’s Dirk Peters, 22 and Gaze. Cooper, the Cannondale professional, pushed hard from the start with a withering 14min 25sec opening lap of the 5.6km circuit as the trio stretched the elastic to the rest of the field on the first of six laps.
By lap four Peters has lost touch as Cooper and Gaze pushed on, with the Te Awamutu rider, last year’s Oceania junior champion, holding on and then managing to out-sprint Cooper to the final corner and hold on for the victory with the pair given the same time.
“It’s unbelieveable. It’s my first year out of Under-19s and so I didn’t know what to expect,” Gaze said. “As the race went on I felt stronger and could not believe I was able to match it with Anton. “The result is incredible and really exciting. Anton and Dirk are world class riders and that helps get the best out of me.
“This has given me real confidence now for my first big campaign on to the World Cup and I really want to push for a spot in the Commonwealth Games team.”
Cooper, building for a big season in Europe with his eye on the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games, pushed from the front to break his challengers. “I just don’t think I had the legs today. It was a tough, tough race, Cooper said. “I just couldn’t quite drop them. I was putting little gaps into them on some of the climbs, but they’d just sneak it back. I let Sam lead down the final straight hoping I’d come round him. I almost got it but he closed me out and full credit to him.”
Fluker, who enjoyed a strong first season on the World Cup circuit last year, made an emphatic start to the women’s race, opening up a telling lead of more than a minute on the field.
Hanlen, who had considered retiring after today’s race, re-found her form to push through the field, closing the gap to seconds going into the final lap. However Fluker held on to claim her first national elite title, as the relative newcomer eyes this is a confidence boost towards her international aspirations.
“I am so excited for my first national title. I’m so new to the sport that I know I have a lot more to give,” Fluker said. “This has given me confidence as I look to head to the World Cup circuit. I’d love to make the team for the Commonwealth Games. The key will be to find enough back to get to Europe for the World Cup to get the results I need.”
Hanlen was far from disappointed with second place, and will now reconsider retirement plans to chase a birth for Glasgow. “For two years now I’ve been plagued with being unable to get on the pace in the first lap. Just this week it’s been finally diagnosed that I have asthma and already with a few days medication I felt so much better.
“Good luck for Kate, she was fantastic today and deserved to win. But this has given me the boost to stay in the sport and give it everything – that means the Oceania Championships, World Cup and hopefully Commonwealth Games.”
Peters and Palmerston North’s Fiona Macdermid rounded out the podium for the men and women respectively, while North Canterbury’s Ben Oliver and Auckland’s Harriet Beaven took out the under-19 titles.
Tomorrow is the turn of the gravity riders in the downhill championships on the famed Taniwha National course.
Elite: Sam Gaze (Te Awamutu) 1:32:30, 1; Anton Cooper (North Canterbury, Cannondale Factory Team) same time, 2; Dirk Peters (Rotorua) 1:33:29 3; Carl Jones (Rotorua) 1:36:35, 4; Sam Shaw (Rotorua) 1:38:39, 5.
Under 19: Ben Oliver (North Canterbury) 1:21:16, 1; Gareth Cannon (Woodville) 1:22:06, 2; David Ashby-Coventry (Timaru) 1:22:22, 3; Nathan Johnston (Rotorua) 1:24:42, 4; Jack Compton (Porirua) 1:25:34, 5.
Under-17: Eden Cruise (Porirua) 1:06:13, 1; Robert Stannard (Palmerston North) 1:08:05, 2; Paul Wright (Wanaka) 1:09:20, 3; Lewis Ryan (Rotorua) 1:10:27, 4; Harry Phipps (Rotorua) 1:11:39, 5.
Under-15: Connor Johnston (Rotorua) 54:54, 1; Julius Staufenberg (Wanaka) 1:01.34, 2; Dylan Simpson (Palmerston North) 1:02:44, 3; Flynn Fierro (Taupo) 1:04:37, 4; Lachlan Haycock (Tauranga) 1:08:40, 5.
Master 1: Ben Robson (Rotorua) 1:10:02, 1; Gavin McCarthy (Upper Hutt) 1:11:13, 2; Darryl Stevens (New Plymouth) 1:13:28, 3; Mansour Youssef (Wellington) 1:15:31, 4; Ben Somerton (Palmerston North) 1:17:55, 5.
Masters 2: Chris Gaze (Te Awamutu) 1:12:33, 1; Carl Johnson (Fairlie) 1:14:00, 2; Mike Metz (Rotorua) 1:16:06, 3; Ray Hope (Dunedin) 1:18:43, 4; Brendon Trower (Napier) 1:23:17, 5.
Masters 3: Ian Paintin (Wellington) 1:15:47, 1; Peter Calnan (Rotorua) 1:18:32, 2; Paul McDowell (Rotorua) 1:19:03, 3; Gary Moller (Wellington) 1:19:04, 4; Anthony Bradshaw (Wellington) 1:19:14, 5.
Elite: Kate Fluker (Queenstown) 1:31:56, 1; Karen Hanlen (Whakatane) 1:32:38, 2; Fiona Macdermid (Palmerston North) 1:36:11, 3; Katherine O’Neill (Rotorua) 1:37:52, 4; Amber Johnston (Rotorua) 1:38:41, 5.
Under-19: Harriet Beaven (Auckland) 1:20:11, 1; Jemma Manchester (Auckland) 1:23:10, 2; Shannon Hope (Dunedin) 1:26:34, 3; Olivia Miller (Nelson) 1:27:29, 4; Charlotte Rayner (Auckland) 1:28:36, 5.
Under-15: Phoebe Young (Wanaka) 46:19, 1; Paige Weir (Auckland) 53:40, 2; Ruby Ryan (Rotorua) 57:57, 3; Quinn Robinson (Otorohanga) 1:04:38, 4; Georgia Skelton (Auckland) 1:08:33, 5.
Under-17: Kaylee Mudgway (Tauranga) 1:127:50, 1; Aleisha Ferguson (Hamilton) 1:17:52, 2.
Masters 1: Philippa Rostan (Australia) 1:07:39, 1; Bex Houston (Upper Hutt) 1:13:08, 2; Sarah Natac (Auckland) 1:18:25, 3.
Masters 2: Greta Donaldson (Taupo) 1:05:19, 1.
Masters 3: Sarah Beadel (Rotorua) 1:11:24, 1.