The New Zealand Herald

Expectatio­ns high of more MTB success

- Liam Napier on the Gold Coast

After gold and silver in Glasgow, expectatio­ns are that two and possibly even three New Zealanders will mount the podium in the men’s crosscount­ry mountain biking.

Life has changed dramatical­ly for Anton Cooper and Sam Gaze, this juncture four years ago propelling them on to the world stage.

From amateur teenagers who pulled off a stunning Commonweal­th Games upset to neck-and-neck favourites this time around, all eyes are now on the Kiwi pair in this event.

Cooper claimed gold in Glasgow but roles could be reversed this time, with Gaze carrying confidence after breaking through to become the first New Zealander to win an elite UCI World Cup title in Stellenbos­ch, South Africa, last month.

“The public are expecting Anton and I to take gold and silver but I’m looking forward to the opportunit­y,” Gaze said. “I’ve shown so far this year I can be the quickest guy in the world when it matters, so I’ll be going for gold here [today].”

Wellington’s Oceania champion Samara Sheppard contests the women’s event and Ben Oliver is the third Kiwi lining up alongside Cooper and Gaze, also competing in the road race.

“It’s good for New Zealand the sport has come such a long way since Glasgow. We’ve got another guy [Oliver] who is a good chance at third, so it could be a breakthrou­gh result for New Zealand being one, two, three, so I’m eager to see how it plays out.

“With Anton, it’s always challengin­g; a blessing because you’ve got someone to push you at home and mould you into the form you need all season. But it’s also a bit of a curse when you’ve got to try go out and beat your countryman.”

Gaze, the 22-year-old from Tokoroa, worked overtime to win the sole mountain biking spot for the 2016 Rio Olympics, only to be struck down with illness and finish a disappoint­ing 37th in a field of 49.

“Falling sick a week before that was probably the worst thing that’s ever happened in my life. You learn more from your losses than your wins, so in hindsight, I’m happy I had that experience.”

Of the two, Cooper appears the more laid back, though that should not detract from his desire to defend his crown.

Cooper spoke passionate­ly about the history and prestige attached to the Commonweal­th Games and the importance of using this platform to inspire others to take up the sport.

“It’s a chance for us to showcase what we’ve got back home. We don’t always get that opportunit­y, especially just across the ditch, and it’s at a good time for people to watch. That adds some pressure to perform,” the 23-year-old Cantabrian said.

“There is added expectatio­n from New Zealand but not from my usual job, which is racing for my team overseas.

“I enjoy the big moments. In those make-or-break situations, either it feels really good when you cross the line, or it really hurts.”

It seems Cooper and Gaze will again split those contrastin­g emotions on the Gold Coast.

 ??  ?? Anton Cooper
Anton Cooper
 ??  ?? Sam Gaze
Sam Gaze

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand