With a show of speed, determination and grit, the U23 men tore into the cross-country world championships.
If you're tired of elite XCO, you can look to the Junior and Under 23 ranks to find some seriously close racing. This was shown yesterday in the Juniors racing, where Cam Wright won the World Title in Junior Men for Australia. And it was evident again today with Sam Gaze riding to a commanding and triumphant 2nd U23 world title in Smithfield.
On the first lap, riders went out gun's blazing. The course is tight, and the dust makes breakthing hard and vision near on impossible. Yesterday's races showed the importance to be at the very front right from the gun.
And that's what Sam Gaze did, but he wasn't alone. With Max Brandl, Seb Carstensen, compatriat Ben Oliver and Martins Blums and othes for company. The race was strung out.
"Today was a very tactical race. A lot of boys were going very well today which you'd expect at a world champs. It's hard to have a plan for a race like this, when there are so many variables to it. I was keen to have a good start loop as it makes your life a lot easier for the next lap," said Gaze.
"That was my main plan, to get up the front and wait for a moment that really suited me. It's hard to tell coming into an event how it's going to go, especially at this age as there are so many boys with lots of fresh talent. I think it can be a really unpredictable race in under 23."
And that's what it was. Blums flatted on the 3rd lap, and along with Gaze he had been a pre-race favourite.
The front of the race was pretty set from here, with Gaze breaking clear on the 5th lap, as Alan Hatherly from South Africa trailed in 2nd and Maz Brandl was 3rd.
At the same time, Australian Reece Tucknott was working back through the field. Having been caught up in the start and coming in 48th on the first lap, he had his work cut out for him. But he made it his job to do it, with some highly consistent laps until he pulled out his fastest on the last lap to move into 31st position.
"I'm really happy to be able to pull on the jersey for a second year in a row," Gaze said in the press conference, and he was quick to attribute the succes to the whole Cycling New Zealand program, plus his team and the support from home.
It's a real boon for riders in New Zealand and Australia to have a World Championships here, but also for South Africa to have a World Cup next year.
"It's great to see the sport is becoming more than just a European sport, kudos to everyone here who made the event possible," said Gaze. "We're pretty fortunate to be here on a beautiful course in a beautiful area."
And Gaze is looking ahead to 2018, as the opening World Cup is exactly where he trains with his coach and mentor.
"It's quite a crucial part of my year training in Stellenbosch with my coach Susi (Christoph Sauser), and I've ridden the old course in Stellenbosch. I think a lot of people are going to be really surprised by the World Cup over there."
Alan Hatherly was 2nd, the first XCO medal at World Championships for South Africa since Burry Stander. He was grateful for support from home that has helped him get to this level.
"I'm really happy to put South Africa on the map again and it's a good step for our country. I've just relocated to Cape Town which is 50km from Stellenbosch. I'm looking forward to doing well there," said Hatherly.
"I didn't expect this result, right after the start there was a group with very good riders. So I wasn't sure about winning a medal. But after passing the highest point on the last lap - I was so happy!" Exclaimed Max Brandl, from Germany.
It's a full day of XCO tomorrow, with U23 women off first before Elite Women and Elite Men. The course is getting blown out, with riders saying dropping in to Jacobs Ladder is a case of holding on and hoping. Let's hope the course remains safe.