Mountain Biking: Medal bikers in showdown for Rio

By Brenton Vannisselroy

New Zealand men's cross- country mountain biker Anton Cooper. Picture / Greg Bowker
New Zealand men's cross- country mountain biker Anton Cooper. Picture / Greg Bowker

The rivalry between Anton Cooper and Sam Gaze is about to reach a whole new level as they pursue one cross-country mountain bike berth at the Rio Olympics.

The Commonwealth Games gold and silver medallists from Glasgow will race at the national and Oceania championships, this weekend and next, in Cardrona and Queenstown respectively.

They are the first two of five selection races for Rio, but take on extra significance.

"These are the only two races that me and Anton are going to be racing head-to-head because he's going to be moving up to elites for the world cups," Gaze said.

"There's not as much depth in these races as there are at world cups, so it's going to be a two-horse race for these two."

Selectors will then consider their performances at the world cup events in Australia, France and Germany before the New Zealand Olympic Committee names the men's cross-country mountain biking representative.

Gaze is prepared for the reality that either he or Cooper, the junior world champion, will miss out on competing in Rio.

"It's a bit of a shame really because I feel like both Anton and I would be able to produce good results there."

"It's a hard fact to face, but I'm sure whoever does get the spot will deserve it and will go on to represent the country well," he said.

"I've just turned 20 and Anton is 21 and so whatever happens out of these Games there are going to be more opportunities."

Gaze describes his rivalry with Cooper as healthy and believes they help push each other.

"We have good chats off the bike and we get along nicely. It's quite nice to have someone that you bounce off so positively."

While Cooper has been preparing for the season in New Zealand, Gaze has been in Stellenbosch, South Africa with his coach Christoph Sauser, the Olympic bronze medallist from Sydney.

The Specialized rider has hailed the training camp as a success, as he managed to shed some weight and find form.

He's checked out the Cardona Bike Park course and believes it is fair. "I feel like it's a course that suits me really well and it will also suit him, so I think it's a great course to hold the nationals on."

Kate Fluker will be the hot favourite in the elite women's race.

- NZ Herald

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