The unbeatable Nino Schurter (Scott-SRAM) has finally been beaten in Mountain Bike World Cup racing after sweeping the 2017 series, with New Zealand's Sam Gaze (Specialized) outsprinting in him in Stellenbosch, South Africa, for the opening round of 2018.

The Stellenbosch course was very dry and dusty; as might be expected from the ongoing water shortages the region is facing. This, coupled with the short, steep climbs and technical sections of the course, meant it was difficult to avoid mistakes, which could easily cost seconds.

Schurter came into the 2018 season with a perfect record for 2017 - world champion plus six out of six wins in the World Cup. However, he admitted pre-race that there were two riders he was concerned about - reigning Under-23 world champion Gaze and cyclo-cross star Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus), who had switched full time to mountain bike this season.

Gaze and Schurter went to the front on the opening lap of the men's race, followed by Maxime Marotte (Cannondale Factory), Anton Cooper (Trek Factory) and Henrique Avancini (Cannondale Factory). van der Poel had a poor start position - on the eighth row - but had an incredible first lap, rocketing up to fifth by the end of the lap.

Schurter and Gaze were pushing the pace to keep clear of van der Poel and dropped the rest, with Marotte holding on to third, where he was joined by van der Poel. However, the Dutch rider had gone as high as he would go and would fade slightly in the final laps to finish fourth.

Meanwhile, Marotte kept yo-yoing behind the two leaders; just getting up to the front in time for one of them to surge, dropping the French champion again.

Gaze and Schurter were evenly matched through the race, with each responding to the others attacks on the short, steep climbs. Gaze took the front for the final two kilometres and attacked over a bridge in the last 200 metres, leading as they swept around the final corner onto the grass straightaway. He clearly had the lead, with Schurter on his wheel but unable to come around, and then Schurter pulled his left foot out of his pedal, ensuring the win for Gaze, his first ever Elite World Cup victory. Remarkably, Marotte had closed to within 10 metres of the two leaders for the final sprint and came across the line only two seconds back.

"It's a dream come true," said Gaze. "I grew up watching the sport, idolizing these guys. At London [2012 Olympics] I was watching Nino and Jaroslav [Kulhavy], so I had a dream that I could do it. It's a beautiful moment when you finally do it. I started to cramp with a lap and a half to go, and I was just showing a poker face and trying to be calm. As it got closer and closer to the finish, I knew I had to be in front to be sure that I had the line for the sprint, and I did it. I worked really hard last winter, I had a lot of personal and physical problems [with migraines] and I finally got them in check. You always hope, but when it becomes reality it's mind blowing."

"I'm a little bit disappointed," admitted Schurter, "I was really close. It was a tough race; first I was afraid about van der Poel and had to work quite a bit to make sure he didn't get to the front and at the end I didn't really have the solution for Sam. In the sprint it was unlucky; I was surprised that I was able to keep up with him, but then I unclipped. It was bad luck for me but an amazing performance from Sam today. I knew he is a very powerful rider; he is probably the highest peak [power output] in the whole field, and I didn't have the solution for him today. He's a talented rider and he's going to be a hard one to beat."

Full Results

#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Samuel Gaze (NZl)1:30:14 
2Nino Schurter (Swi)0:00:01 
3Maxime Marotte (Fra)0:00:02 
4Mathieu Van Der Poel (Ned)0:01:10 
5Titouan Carod (Fra)0:01:27 
6Anton Cooper (NZl)0:02:02 
7Florian Vogel (Swi)0:02:14 
8Henrique Avancini (Bra)0:02:22 
9Mathias Flueckiger (Swi)0:02:23 
10Andri Frischknecht (Swi)0:02:32