Rio-bound New Zealand mountain biker Sam Gaze has made it a Kiwi double when he took out the under-23 cross-country title at the UCI World Championships in the Czech Republic overnight.
The20-year-old from Cambridge, who rides professionally for Specialized Factory Team, cleared out on the final two laps to win emphatically at Nove Mesto na Morave.
He follows in the footsteps of compatriot Anton Cooper who won the title last year but was unable to defend after succumbing to illness that has sidelined him for much of the season.
Gaze produced the perfect ride to the perfect plan set by his coach Christoph Sauser, a former Olympic medallist.
Four riders put a gap on the 104-strong field after the first lap, comprising Gaze, top seed Victor Koretzky (France), World Cup winner Titouan Carod (France) and Switzerland’s Marcel Guerrini.
Gaze waited until the major climb on the penultimate lap of the 23km race to make his move, opening up a 10 second advantage mid-lap, stretching to 24 seconds at the bell and riding out front to win emphatically in 1:17.57. He finished 50 seconds clear of Koretzky with over a minute to Guerrini in third.
“I had it thought out in training as the place to go,” said Gaze. “It is the start of a nice steep climb. It was quite hard to hold myself back but I managed to do it and when the moment came with a lap and a half to go, I was 100 per cent committed and gave it everything I had.”
“One of the best feelings of all is to have had a plan and to then execute it so well.
“To win this is a phenomenal feeling. I’ve been eying this race for months and months with my coach and so to finally get the result I wanted and to do my team proud, my country proud and my family proud – it’s a great feeling.”
Gaze came into the championships on the back of two wins and a third placing in his three World Cup races this season, which followed a brutal off-season training block in South Africa with coach Sauser.
“The guy is a legend and he’s been like a dad to me. He has looked after me so well since last year’s world champs. He’s had a great plan from months ago.”
All four New Zealand riders finished on the same lap as Gaze with North Canterbury’s Ben Oliver 35th after a consistently strong ride; Wellington’s Jack Compton was four spots further back after an excellent start to move up the field while Craig Oliver held his place to finish 69th.
The New Zealand riders have little chance to draw breath with the next round of the World Cup next weekend in Switzerland, with Gaze now fully focussed on the Rio Olympics where he is the sole Kiwi mountain bike representative.
“We have a good plan already in place from here to Rio and I look forward to trying to do what I did today,” Gaze said.
Results, Men Under-23: Sam Gaze (New Zealand) 1:17.57, 1; Victor Koretzky (France) at 50s, 2; Marcel Guerrini (Switzerland) at 1:04, 3. Also New Zealanders: Ben Oliver @ 7:47, 35; Jack Compton at 8:11, 39; Craig Oliver at 14:48, 69.