Despite being one of the youngest riders in the field, 19 year old New Zealander Anton Cooper proved to be the strongest and the savviest by surprising the two riders still with him heading towards the finish with a sudden and sharp acceleration off the front of the string to go clear with just a few hundred uphill metres remaining.
Teammate Samuel Gaze (himself only 18 years old) reacted quickly to pass Daniel McConnell (Australia) to take second place just three seconds behind Cooper, while it became clear the apparently still strong McConnell (who is currently fourth in the UCI MTB rankings) was in fact too tired to fight any more and he seemed happy enough to take the bronze.
Philip Buys (South Africa) was the early leader, pulling the bunch into one long string and eventually snapping the elastic on the first lap with seven men moving clear heading into the second half of the circuit.
Buys fell back through the field to eventually finish thirteenth.
Also present in front group were Canadian Max Plaxton, the current British Champion Grant Ferguson and teammate Gareth Montgomerie (Scotland) and the reigning Commonwealth Champion (from eight years ago) Englishman Liam Killeen.
Before the first lap was completed, Cooper had accelerated clear and was quickly joined by Gaze, Plaxton and McConnell.
These four steadily put time into the others, with Ferguson finding himself alone in fifth place and faced with the choice of continuing to pursue the front four alone or wait for the chasing Candaian Raphaël Gagne and Killeen – he bravely decided to continue on solo for the majority of the race, losing only just over three minutes on the winner by the finish.
Behind the front four the field had exploded into small groups and individuals.
It wasn’t until the leaders had completed three laps that the Canadian Plaxton took a turn at helping to make the pace, but it was evident when the speed went up that his reluctance wasn’t because he was ‘guising’ but because he knew he was the weakest in the group, yo-yoing off the string and flighting his way back on each time.
The two Kiwis and the Australian finally shook Plaxton off on the final climb on the last lap, where it looked like we’d have the unusual sight of a group sprint to the finish – but Cooper’s attack avoided that scenario.