Sam Gaze produced one of the great New Zealand sports performances to edge out fellow New Zealander Anton Cooper to win the Commonwealth Games men’s mountain bike cross-country gold medal today.
Gaze atoned for his silver medal effort four years ago at Glasgow, when Cooper pipped him at the finish. The third New Zealander in the race, Ben Oliver, came fourth, almost producing the first gold-silver-bronze finish by New Zealanders in Commonwealth Games history.
Gaze’s victory was anything but easily won.
He and Cooper set a ferocious pace and swapped the lead through the first five laps.
Heading into the last lap he was forced to stop for what seemed like the best part of half a minute to have a puncture attended to. In that time, he was passed by South African Alan Hatherly and pushed back into third place and lost a vast amount of time on Cooper, who seemed sure to be steaming towards his second successive Games gold medal.
But back on his bike, Gaze, 22, set about his task with ferocious determination, tearing into the corners and riding up the fearsome hills as if he was on a gentle incline. This is a young man who when he was in the under-17 grade rode a national mountain bike race with two broken arms so a puncture at a critical time was hardly going to deter him.
He swallowed up the gap on Hatherly, passed him and set about hunting down Cooper.
It was clear Gaze was closing the gap, but would the finish come to soon. Eventually he caught Cooper with perhaps 600 metres remaining. He got in nice and tight, then swept past.
Cooper, 23, fought like a champion to reclaim his lead, but this was Gaze’s day and he won in 1h 17min 36s just a couple of metres ahead of Cooper, who was given the same time. Hatherly was third in 1h 17min 56s and Oliver, only 21, fourth a further 45 seconds behind. Gaze’s last 4.5km lap of 10min 38s was the fastest of the day by some margin.
A grinning Gaze said afterwards he could not believe he had won gold.
“The feeling is just unimaginable. There was lots of bad luck going around with people having stacks [crashes] and punctures, so I'm really happy with today’s result.”
He said he lost about 15 seconds because of his puncture before the last lap.
“I was lucky to get it back on that last lap. I just had to believe in myself and keep telling myself I could do it.
“I knew I needed to close that gap quickly because if I didn't, I wouldn't win, although at that stage, all that was on my mind was just getting back on my bike as quickly as I could. I'm really grateful that I got the job done.”
He said he was determined to win, though he wasn’t necessarily expecting to get the gold.
“I’m proud of myself and how I was able to overcome the hard times in that race, and the flat rim [puncture].
“It’s not a race unless you have fun, and that’s what I was aiming to do. I had one goal and one goal only, and that was just to ride my best race.”
Gaze said that though Cooper was his toughest competition, he had great respect for him.
“He's the only reason I'm on the podium today. It was a bit of a shame having to overtake him, but that’s racing.”
Gold Coast 2018 Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games Samuel Gaze Anton Cooper Ben Oliver Cycling - Mountain Bike