New Zealander Sam Gaze is delighted to be back in the Western Cape, South Africa, where he enjoyed notable success in March last year.
He managed to beat world champion Nino Schurter into second place in a thrilling sprint finish.
A week earlier Gaze also won the Cape Town Cycle Tour MTB race and was pipped into second place by road ace Nolan Hoffman in the Cape Town Cycle Tour, which took place a day after the Stellenbosch showpiece.
The Specialized rider will hope to replicate that success when he competes in the first SA MTB Cup Series XCO event of the season in Bloemendal, Bellville, this weekend.
“This will be my first race of the year and I’m happy to be back in SA where the start of last year was such a significant time for me,” Gaze told In the Bunch today.
“I’ve been here now for almost a week and a half and I’ve been doing a lot of pre-season training, predominantly on my own.
“I don’t have any real expectations heading into the race. It will be my first in almost four months since my crash after the Mont-Sainte-Anne [world cup].”
“I experienced the very top and bottom in my first year as an elite,” he said. “Things started to fall apart after Gold Coast and I struggled to bounce back mentally.
“But in hindsight it’s the mistakes we make that define us and it’s something I can learn from.
“I can honestly say if it weren’t for that experience and adversity I wouldn’t be as well-rounded as I am now.
“Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to this season and I definitely feel like I’ve prepared for it perfectly.”
Hatherly lost out to Gaze in the 2017 version of the event, which took place in Australia.
He also finished third behind Anton Cooper and Gaze at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Now the two are part of the same team, with Hatherly’s former outfit, Team Spur, having come to an end last year.
“I’ve caught up with Alan a couple of times and he’s looking good and like he’s in really good shape ahead of what will be a busy start to the year,” Gaze said.
But first both riders will feature in the record-breaking Bloemendal event this weekend, which will boast a strong contingent of international riders.
Organisers have announced that the event will not only have a record number of entrants in the history of SA XCO racing, but also the highest number of countries – 21 – will be represented.
“We’ll have to see how it goes. It will be nice to have [teammates] Simon [Andreassen] and Alan there during the race. We’ll sort of look out for each other and take a bit of wind on the exposed course.
“The race will be filled with some of the world’s best riders – [including] many European and domestic SA riders, who are all usually strong this time of the year.
“It’s going to be a very hard race to win and whoever wins is going to be very deserving.”