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New Zealand’s Samuel Gaze and Sweden’s Alexandra Engen (Ghost Factory Racing) prevailed in wet and slippery conditions at the Smithfield Regional Park in Cairns to claim the opening round of the UCI World Cup Eliminator.

With the heavens opening just moments before Friday afternoon’s finals, riders battled to stay in control of their bikes on the muddy, and sodden technical course – of which the featured rock garden proved to be the biggest eliminator of them all.

As they jostled for position, competitors were forced to touch down as they attempted the A-line through the rocky and slippery drop, with Engen opting for the B-line to ensure her victory while Gaze braved the descent to take the win.

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“I gave it my all and it worked out perfectly,” said Gaze, the reigning national and Oceania cross country champion. “The rodeo drop is gnarly and in the wet it was pretty scary but I loved it.”

18-year-old Gaze led from start to finish, shooting out of the start gates and into the first corner ahead of reigning world champion Paul Van der Ploeg, Austrian Daniel Federspiel (Ötztal Scott Racing Team) and Swede Emil Lindgren (Giant Pro XC Team).

“I had a strong qualifier with a couple of little slip ups and going into racing I really didn’t know what to expect,” Gaze explained.

“[In the final] I was thinking ‘God help me’. It was perfect I got that gap on van der Ploeg and tried riding away as fast as I can, I tried to use power there and then coming into the final straight it was death by a thousand paper cuts.”

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Gaze never lost his focus, hitting the rock garden with blinding speed and racing away to a fitting victory on ANZAC Day.

“ANZAC day is a very touching day for New Zealand and Australia, and the relationship we have because of that is really close. I’m really happy to be on the podium with Paul [van der Ploeg].”

Aussie hero van der Ploeg looked strong throughout the race, however failed to match the fitness of Gaze following a lengthy period on the sidelines after a shoulder reconstruction in January.

"I haven't raced an eliminator since South Africa last year so I was just trying to play on my strengths and conserve energy through those first few heats,” said van der Ploeg, who was passed by Austrian Federspiel on the finishing straight to claim bronze. “The other boys were just a bit strong for me, but I was stoked to just be up there.

"Sam just flew off the line in the final. I tried to hold his wheel and I got him by the top of the climb and I was just like ‘wow he is flying down the technical stuff’.

“I was pretty cautious with my shoulder and I took the B line and he got a bit of a gap. I tried to pedal back onto him and he just launched it out of the last corner and sprinted the whole 150 metre straight which is super impressive."

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In the women’s race, it was Alexandra Engen, the two-time reigning eliminator world champion, who showed her dominance over Swedish compatriot and national champion Jenny Rissveds (Scott-Odlo MTB Racing Team). Switzerland’s cross country world champion Jolanda Neff (LIV Pro XC Team) rounded out the podium.

“It's wonderful,” said Engen. “It's always nerve wracking before the first World Cup [of the season] because you don't know where you stand. I am just so relieved and so happy that it worked out so well today.

"I love [the weather]. As a kid I always wanted to do mud wrestling and I always wanted to be out when it was raining, so I enjoyed it today," she revealed.

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Engen got the jump on the field, choosing the safer and longer route down the rock drop, with Swiss’ Kathrin Stirnemann (Sabine Spitz Haibike Pro Team) coming un-stuck on the lumpy VEMASS section.

Rissveds fought hard to overcome Engen, but in the end came up short and settled for silver. Neff managed to hold on for third place, after hitting a tree and losing contact with the leaders.

Gaze and Engen now lead the UCI World Cup Series ahead of round two in Nove Mesto Na Morave (CZE) in May.

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The World Cup continues tomorrow with downhill finals beginning from 12.30pm on Saturday April 26, with the Elite Men's race scheduled for 2pm AEST.

SBS will be broadcasting the UCI MTB World Cup LIVE throughout the weekend on SBS2. smallcairnswc2014_0c7c5216