Sam Gaze Stellenbosch World Cup

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It was a thrilling, head-to-head battle for the win in South Africa, it just wasn’t the matchup everyone was expecting. Going into the opening round of World Cup racing, everyone was talking about who out of the rising generation of cross country racers would finally challenge the unprecedented dominance of Nino Schurter. Dutch cyclocross star, Mathieu van der Poel was the crowd favourite to dethrone the Swiss star, having committed to race XC for a second year, and a trio of young French riders looked poised to topple the king of cross country after strong results last year. In the end, it was young New Zealander, Sam Gaze that finally brought Schurters year long undefeated streak to an end, in a wild sprint finish in South Africa.

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How the race unfolded

Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool

New Zealand national champion, Anton Cooper (Trek Factory Racing) claimed the holeshot sprint, with Schurter (Scott-SRAM) and Gaze (Specialized) following behind. Starting well back in the field, with race number 47, van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) used his cyclocross experience to quickly move up through the pack to 16th by the first time check. Canadian Olympian Léandre Bouchard (KMC-Ekoi-SR Suntour) had a strong start as well, moving up to 23rd.

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At the end of the first lap, van der Poel looked on track to fulfill the crowds expectations, catching onto the back of the lead group to cross in sixth. With him were Gaze, Cooper, Schurter, Maxime Marotte (Cannondale Factory Racing) and Brazil’s Henrique Avancini (Cannondale Factory Racing). A second group was forming close behind, containing Daniele Braidot Jordan Sarrou (KMC-Ekoi-SR Suntour), Florien Vogel (Focus XC), Mathias Flueckiger (Thomus-RN Racing), and Titouan Carod (BMC).

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Gaze and Schurter immediately started opening up gaps on the Stellenbosch course’s technical descents, finishing lap two with a 10 second gap to van der Poel, Marotte, and Cooper. Gaze, unphased by the pedigree of his company, seemed happy to sit in and force Schurter to continue leading.

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Two laps later, Gaze and Schurter were still out front, leading the chasing pair of Marotte and van der Poel, 12 seconds back. A dangerous third group lurked 50 seconds back, containing Cooper, Flueckiger, Avancini, Vogel and Carod.

By the second checkpoint on lap four, Marotte had closed to within six second of the leading pair, with van der Poel holding his position 17 seconds back. The following group, unable to use numbers to their advantage, remained one minute down.

Going into the fifth lap of the sevel lap race, Marotte had bridged across to Gaze and Schurter, with van der Poel still floating on his own 15 seconds off the lead. Schurter didn’t wait long before making a move to get rid of the Frenchman, attacking a hill and quickly opening a gap on Marotte, with only Gaze able to follow. This held through most of the sixth lap, with Marotte dangling seven seconds behind the leaders, and a visibly struggling van der Poel fighting to hold his gap to the lead at 15 seconds. Schurter tried once to drop Gaze, with a blistering uphill attack into the second time check, but only succeeded in adding a handful of seconds to the gap back to Marotte.

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Starting the final lap, Gaze looked calm and relaxed sitting on the wheel of the decorated Swiss star. Schurter tried to attack several times, but was unable to open even the slightest of gaps to the young Kiwi. Marotte continued to float nearby, with the elastic never quite breaking to the lead group, while van der Poel bounced around on his own further back.

Mathieu van der Poel Stellenbosch World Cup

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Gaze continued to stand, stretch, and push Schurter’s wheel wherever he could, looking unphased by the pace. Schurter finally sat up and forced Gaze to take the lead, allowing Marotte to close a couple more seconds. Gaze immediately started to push the pace up the singletrack climb that had been causing riders problems all day. Unable to shake Schurter, he dropped to an almost casual looking pace, resting for was was looking like an inevitable sprint. Gaze, looking dangerously confident, continued to slow down in an attempt to force Schurter back to the front. The duo were nearing a crawl when Marotte appeared around a corner, agonizingly close to the lead pair, forcing Gaze to launch a searing attack up the same hill to the time check Schurter had tried to drop him on a lap prior. Marotte disappeared again, but Schurter remained glued to the young Kiwi’s wheel.

Both having tried, and failed to drop their adversary, the lead pair settled into a pace fast enough to hold off Marotte. Schurter tried once more to pass Gaze on the final uphill before the finish, but was unable to recapture the lead – one of the first times in recent memory the Swiss legend had been unable to pass when he decided to attack.

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Different lines through the “pick up sticks” sector almost brought the two together, but Gaze held his line to stay out front coming out into the finish area. The pace was now slow enough that a sprinting Marotte was only Metres behind as they passed through the final feed zone. The Frenchman’s presence forced an sprint early, as Gaze accelerated, jumping onto the downside of the final fly-over, and launching a full-on sprint for the line. Schurter moved right to try come around, but slipped a pedal and was left pounding his bars and rolling across the line behind Gaze, and just in front of a unrelenting Marotte.

Gaze crossed the line, collapsing to the ground, exhausted and exhilarated to be the first rider to beat Nino Schurter at a World Cup since the end of the 2016 season.

Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool

Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool

Gaze crossed the line, collapsing to the ground, exhausted and exhilarated to be the first rider to beat Nino Schurter at a World Cup since the end of the 2016 season.

Léandre Bouchard was the top Canadian finisher in 36th, with Peter Disera (Norco Factory Racing) in 45th, Andrew L’Esperance (Forward Racing-Norco) 57th, and Raphaël Gagné (Silverback OMX Pro Team) 66th.

In the U23 Men’s race, Quinton Disera (Norco Factory Racing) led the Canadians in 24th, with Pivot-OTE’s trio of Raphael Auclair finishing 40th, Felix Belhumeur 47th, and Marc Andre Fortier 51st.

Full Men’s Elite XCO results from Stellenbosch World Cup. U23 men’s results below.

Men’s Elite results – Stellenbosch World Cup XCO by Matthew Pioro on Scribd

Men’s U23 results:

Men’s U23 results – Stellenbosch World Cup XCO by Matthew Pioro on Scribd

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