Kiwis go 1-2 in mountain biking

Ben Oliver (left) and Sam Gaze celebrate their 1-2 finish in the mountain biking. Photo: Getty...
Ben Oliver (left) and Sam Gaze celebrate their 1-2 finish in the mountain biking. Photo: Getty Images
Four years after seizing gold with a snarl, Sam Gaze claimed his second with a smile.

The Kiwi mountain biker today blew away the field to win the men's cross country race at Cannock Chase Forest, with only compatriot Ben Oliver capable of following his commanding lead.

Gaze earned his third Commonwealth Games medal in a time of 1:34:19, finishing 31 seconds ahead of Oliver in second after dropping his teammate with a blistering attack on the sixth of eight laps.

It was the third straight Games in which New Zealand recorded a 1-2 in the event, after Anton Cooper pipped Gaze in Glasgow before that outcome was acrimoniously reversed on the Gold Coast.

The Birmingham edition came with slightly less drama, owing to a combination of Cooper's absence through Covid and Gaze's dominance on the bike.

Having been caught out by a Cooper attack near the finish line in 2014, Gaze later said he had "felt a bit robbed" by the result.

Those simmering feelings would boil over in 2018, when Gaze outsprinted Cooper for gold, accused his compatriot of poor sportsmanship and showed him a middle finger.

Gaze would be the one fined for unsportsmanlike behaviour and he expressed remorse over his actions, but the only thing better than time to heal those wounds would have been another gold medal.

Particularly one secured with Cooper watching from an isolation hotel, his ill-timed illness denying today's race some intrigue but doing nothing to lessen the Kiwi stranglehold on the event.

"It's been very challenging - the last four years have been pretty turbulent," Gaze said. "I'm very grateful for it, in hindsight. It's made me who I am today and to come back this year, I like to think as a version of myself I'm proud of, is very special.

"To perform in the way I did and have Ben here with me is very special."

Gaze immediately hit the front as the field started to string out through the picturesque setting outside of Birmingham, with Oliver right on his shoulder in a front group of 11.

That group didn't last long, although chief podium contenders Charlie Aldridge of Scotland and Cameron Orr of Northern Ireland had at least remained on the Kiwis' wheel at the first time check.

But by the end of the first of eight laps, with Gaze stopping the clock at 12:26, he and Oliver had already opened a six-second lead, one that would only grow.

A quarter of the way through the race, with their advantage at 23 seconds, Gaze for the first time allowed Oliver to lead the way, having exchanged a word and a glance while crossing the finish line.

Gaze took the opportunity for a long look over his shoulder on one straight, but he needn't have worried. England's Joe Blackmore had bridged the gap to make it a chase trio, but they were surely racing only for the minor placings.

Halfway through the race, crossing at 47:23 and having extended their advantage over the British trio to almost a minute, only calamity could prevent another Kiwi 1-2.

The pair exchanged in further discussion as they rode together across the line, no doubt knowing their teamwork had locked up the top two steps of the podium.

Midway through the sixth lap, though, that teamwork came to a sudden end. On the hilly Twin Peaks section of the course, Gaze seized his chance to attack and Oliver could muster no response.

"He's a hard man to follow on a hill like that," Oliver said. "I kept the same speed and Sam just got quicker. I kept hard on the pedals all the way to the line to see if Sam was going to fade, which he obviously didn't."

Clearly the strongest rider in the field, Gaze was now racing towards a second straight gold medal.

The 26-year-old completed the sixth lap in a time of 1:10:45, with his compatriot 25 seconds back. And with Oliver holding a one-minute edge over the pursuing pair of Orr and Blackmore, silver was still firmly in his grasp, eventually coasting in 90 seconds ahead of Namibia's Alex Miller who mounted a final-lap surge for bronze.

Gaze's lead at the end of the seventh lap had grown to 42 seconds, leaving his final ride around the circuit little more than a procession, one that soon ended in triumph for both Kiwis.

"It's special to race with your teammate at this event, especially Ben," Gaze said. "I've known him since he was 14 years old, and he's a great guy.

"We had a plan going into it that I wasn't wanting to shake him straight away - we wanted to help each other out and secure the first two medals."

Local trusted journalism matters - now more than ever

As the Covid-19 pandemic brings the world into uncharted waters, Star Media journalists and photographers continue to report local stories that matter everyday - yours.

For more than 152 years our journalists have provided Cantabrians with local news that can be trusted. It’s more important now than ever to keep Cantabrians connected.

As our advertising has fallen during the pandemic, support from you our reader is crucial.

You can help us continue to provide local news you can trust simply by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter