19 Mar 2016

Cross-country titles for Gaze and Fluker

7:33 pm on 19 March 2016

Waikato's Sam Gaze and Kate Fluker from Horowhenua have won the men's and women's cross-country titles at the New Zealand Mountain Bike Championships at Cardrona.

Sam Gaze

Sam Gaze Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Gaze won emphatically after rival and under-23 world champion Anton Cooper punctured and stopped to change his front wheel.

The championship was the first of the key 2016 selection races as the pair chase what's likely to be a single place for New Zealand in the men's cross-country at the Rio Olympics.

Much was expected from Gaze and Cooper with close-fought duels in the last two national championships where the honours were shared, and at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games where Cooper led a Kiwi one-two finish.

Gaze had returned from a five-week training stint in South Africa while Cooper spent the last month training in the Central Otago mountain trails.

They broke away from the field on the first of five 4km laps before Gaze pushed hard to open a gap on the second lap, gaining a one minute advantage.

That gap stretched to three minutes after Cooper suffered a slow puncture and was forced to change the front wheel.

"I can't remember hitting anything but got the puncture and took the precaution to change my front wheel which cost me over a minute," said Cooper.

"But for sure the race was probably done for me by then anyway. Sam attacked hard on the second lap and I couldn't go with that.

"It was my first race for six months so I will now regroup and look forward to next week."

Gaze, 20, was the fastest rider on each lap as he pushed to his second national championship title in 1:19:53 with Cooper second more than three minutes back with a further 90 seconds to North Canterbury's Ben Oliver, who enjoyed a strong ride.

"I really wanted a result today that reflected the training that I've done and I am really happy to do that today," said Gaze.

"I felt great today but now I have to put it behind me and focus on the Oceania championships next weekend which is the next selection race. I am honoured to be able to wear the national championship colours when I race around the world this year."

Fluker overcame a first lap puncture to storm back to retain her elite women's title.

Kate Fluker

Kate Fluker Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The 28 year old had mistimed a jump and was forced to make a wheel change.

She trailled Samara Sheppard and Kim Hurst by two and a half minutes after the first lap, before closing to 35 seconds behind at the end of lap two and claimed the lead on the third lap.

Fluker went on to win in 1:22.59, nearly two minutes ahead of Hurst with Sheppard a further three minutes back.

"I am really stoked that I stuck to my plan through the off-season. I came into this race feeling so good and I hope it is a sign of things to come," said Fluker.


Elite women overall (4 laps): Kate Fluker (Queenstown) 1:22.59, 1; Kim Hurst (Wellington) 1:24.47, 2; Samara Sheppard (Wellington) 1:27.33, 3.

Elite men overall (5 laps): Sam Gaze (Cambridge, Specialized Factory Team) 1:19.53, 1; Anton Cooper (Woodend, Cannondale Factory Team) 1:23.27, 2; Ben Oliver (North Canterbury) 1:24.54, 3.