New Zealand continued its domination of the men's Commonwealth Games cross country mountain bike events, with Sam Gaze claiming gold for the second straight Games. Ben Oliver trailed his compatriot in by half a minute for silver, well ahead of bronze medallist Alexander Miller (Namibia).
In 2018, Gaze bested Anton Cooper in an acrimonious finish between the two rivals, reversing the 1-2 order from Glasgow. Cooper however was sitting out this year's race with COVID-19, so it was Oliver who stepped in to keep the run of top two placing for the nation on track.
The victory for Gaze was also a step away from the struggles of recent years, on and off the bike. Gaze, who races for Alpecin-Deceuninck credited his road team for helping him get back on track after sustaining a head injury in 2019 and suffering from depression.
"It's been very challenging - the last four years have been pretty turbulent," Gaze said according to the New Zealand Herald. "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."
Gaze waited until lap six of eight to make his move and powered away on a hilly section to victory.
"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."
Richards overcomes a year in 'shambles to win gold
England's Evie Richards soloed in for the gold medal in the women's cross country race in Cannock Chase Forest north of Birmingham. Zoe Cuthbert (Australia) claimed silver 47 seconds behind while South Africa's Candice Lill rounded out the podium.
Richards, the world champion in 2021, told the BBC her season so far has "gone to a shambles".
"I had a bad back in February and this is the first race with no pain, no tears. Just to finish a race, it sounds silly, but it's such a special moment," Richards said.
"I've had everything from COVID to a stomach bug in Brazil so just to put a race together and to finish without a bad back, to be healthy, really means the world to me.
"I knew I wasn't the strongest but I just had to try. Sometimes I play it down to make it easier mentally, to take a bit of pressure off, but obviously I always want to win."
Richards was due to compete in the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup rounds in North America but opted to stay home for the Birmingham Games.
"It's so special to be here at the Commonwealth Games. I was supposed to be out in the World Cup with my team but I just really wanted to be here. It's been a long time since my family have watched me race and to be a world champion on home soil, it doesn't happen very much," Richards said.
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