Cycling: Kiwi Sam Gaze scores sixth-place finish in cross country mountain bike World Championships in Italy

  • 29/08/2021

Sam Gaze was the best of the New Zealand mountain bikers in the cross country event at the World Championships in Italy, finishing sixth.

The 25-year-old climbed over 80 spots after starting from 87th, to lead home the New Zealand riders on a tight and demanding Val di Sole course.

North Canterbury's Ben Oliver impressed in jumping 30 places to finish 29th although it proved a bridge too far for recent Tokyo Olympic star Anton Cooper, who got caught in the fencing on the opening loop and ran out of legs to finish 48th.

"I had it stacked against me with the start number so I had to just chip away. I got lucky in the start loop and made a big pass and after the second lap I just kept chipping away," says Gaze.

"The rankings were dated back to March 2020 when I was in the pits from my injury. It meant I did not get a competitive start position, so today was about getting the best ride that I could.

"It's not so much about the result today as how I rode that was so pleasing. And from where I have been, I am back."

Gaze, who rides for the Alpecin-Fenix professional team, took advantage as a hole opened through the maze to pass more than 50 riders in the short opening loop to move to 34th and by mid-race, he had climbed into the top-20.

The former under-23 world champion picked off a handful of riders each lap before a sprint finish earned him sixth place, 2min 30sec down on the winner.

Cooper was hesitant about his prospects after a challenging three weeks of recovery following his sixth placing in the Olympic race in Izu, Japan.

The Kiwi says he felt compelled as a top-10 ranked rider to compete in the inaugural short track qualifier and final held over two days during the week.

After winning the qualifier, the Trek Factory rider placed 13th in the final, but hoped his body would bounce back for the cross-country race.

Starting off the second row, he got himself entwined in barrier tape and dropped back and from that point did not have any fizz on a course where he has ridden strongly before.

He dropped back to 40th on the start loop and from there struggled to finish 48th, some eight minutes down on the winner.

"After the horror starting loop I just have really heavy legs and there was nothing there for the first few laps. This is definitely the low point of the season," Cooper says.

"My other races have all been at the sharp end so to be this far back is disappointing.

"The week started well, winning the short track qualifying. I've been on the knife-edge with health since Tokyo and had to take quite a few days off so training has not been ideal.

"The speed is there if I am fresh but all the races this week have taken it out of me. I have to stay mentally strong and believe in myself to take some positives to finish the season on."

Swiss superstar Nino Schurter, who was questioning his future after finishing fourth at the Tokyo Olympics, bounced back to claim his ninth elite men's title after out-sprinting compatriot Mathias Flueckiger, with a minute back to Frenchman Victor Koretzky in third.

There is little respite for riders with the final two rounds of the Mercedes-Benz Mountain Bike World Cup next weekend in Switzerland before crossing the Atlantic to West Virginia the following weekend.