Kiwi mountain biker Sam Gaze has produced a stunning display to become the first New Zealander to win an elite UCI Mountain Bike World Cup title.
The 22-year-old from Cambridge claimed victory in the cross country event in the first round of the new season in Stellenbosch, South Africa, on Sunday morning (NZ time).
Gaze, a Perago Trust recipient in 2013 and 2013, upset world champion and top seeded Nino Schurter, of Switzerland, beating him in a sprint finish in the seven-lap race, finishing in a time of one hour, 30 minutes, 14 seconds, while fellow Kiwi Anton Cooper finished sixth (1:32:16) in the field of 99 riders.
Gaze, seeded 28 for the race, was in second place after the first lap, with Cooper in third, and it was a see-sawing time of it between Gaze and Schurter - who had won all six legs of the World Cup last year.
But the Kiwi showed great perseverance to hold his more-fancied opponent off, and after a string of attacks in the wider sections on the course, Gaze outsmarted the world champ to triumph in the exciting finish.
He then fell to the ground, somewhat in pain - having struggled with cramp on the last few laps - but mostly in ecstasy, at what he had achieved.
"We live our lives through these guys and look up to them as young riders. I watched London 2012, and Jaroslav [Kulhavy, 2012 Olympic gold medallist] and Nino racing there. You always dream you can do it. You always go to sleep wishing you can do it. And to do it, is incredible.
"Winning that sprint, was just a moment of disbelief. I was starting to cramp with a lap and a half to go. I was just pushing my way through. As we got closer and closer to the finish I knew I had to be in front. I went for it as we came over the bridge and it came off. I was never sure, but it is just amazing.
"I'm getting close [to full potential]. I had a lot of problems last year, personal problems, physical problems that I had to go through. I knew I was in a good place this weekend. You always wish, but when it becomes reality, it is mind blowing."
The next round of the World Cup is in Albstadt, Germany, on May 17-20, with the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast next on the horizon, where Gaze and Cooper will look to back up their efforts of silver and gold at the last Games in Glasgow in 2014.
"It's a dream come true," said Gaze, the under-23 world championship winner from the past two years. -stuff.co.nz