New Zealand, Canada dominate Commonwealth Games mountain bike races

Anton Cooper and Catharine Pendrel claim gold medals in the cross-country mountain bike race in Glasgow

Photo: Dave McElwaine

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GLASGOW (AFP) — Mountain biking made its return to the Commonwealth Games on Tuesday with Canada and New Zealand coming out on top at the Cathkin Braes course in Glasgow. The event was dropped four years ago when the event was held in Dehli.

New Zealand claimed the top two spots in the men’s cross-country, as teenager Anton Cooper narrowly won ahead of compatriot Samuel Gaze.

Cooper crossed the line in a time of 1:38:26, just three seconds ahead of Gaze. Daniel McConnell, who had been second with less than a kilometer to go, took the bronze for Australia.

“It’s a dream come true. The last couple of months of training have been tough, but this is huge for me,” said 19-year-old Cooper.

Canada continued its dominance of the women’s event as it claimed gold and silver.

Former world champion Catharine Pendrel cruised to victory in a time of 1:39:29, more than a minute ahead of countrywoman Emily Batty.

Australian Rebecca Henderson, matched her boyfriend, Daniel McConnell’s bronze medal performance, battling hard with Trek Factory Racing teammate Batty over the 31.95km course, but eventually settling for third place.

In the men’s race, a leading pack of Cooper, Gaze, McConnell and Canadian Max Plaxton quickly left the rest of the field behind.

The group exchanged the lead several times over the grueling 37.15km course before Cooper made his move on the final lap and found the strength to sprint to the line.

“I wouldn’t say the course suited me particularly, but if your legs are there, you are capable of winning,” Cooper said. “You normally wouldn’t see results this tight in a race like this and it’s just the style of the course. If you’re able to sit in at the right spots you can conserve energy, and I just had enough punch left for the last lap.”

‘Go hard’

Pendrel started among the favorites for the women’s race and soon opened up a gap on the rest of the field.

By the time the 33-year-old completed her first lap, she already had a formidable 34-second advantage over Henderson and Batty, which was to increase lap by lap.

“Anyone who has watched me race knows I just like to go hard from the start,” Pendrel said. “I really thought the race would stay together a lot longer than it did, but when you get some space between you and other riders, you just go for it.”

Canada has dominated the event, which made its Commonwealth Games debut in Manchester in 2002. Canadians have taken gold in both previous editions of the women’s event.

Pendrel admitted she had been desperate to continue that tradition. “It feels amazing to win the gold for Canada,” she said. “I was trying hard to ignore the fact that Canada has never not gotten gold in mountain bikes at the Commonwealth Games, and I really didn’t want that pressure coming into this.

“I knew how quick Emily was going as well so I knew we had a strong chance, but I just tried to do my best and I’m glad it was gold. Every victory is really special, but the Commonwealth Games are definitely unique and special. When you are competing for your country, you know if you do well you will make millions of people back home happy.”

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