Evie Richards puts ‘terrible year’ behind her to win Commonwealth gold medal

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Evie Richards put a “terrible year” behind her to storm to Commonwealth gold in Wednesday’s mountain bike race.

There was no sign of the back injury or multiple illnesses that have plagued the world champion over the last six months as she rode clear on the first of the seven laps around Cannock Chase forest to improve on the silver she took in Gold Coast four years ago.

There was one scare with two laps to go when she slid on a corner and had to remount but that was the only moment in the 95-minute race where a Richards win looked in doubt.

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games – Day Six
Evie Richards celebrates with her gold medal in Cannock Chase (David Davies/PA)

Though Richards had insisted coming into the race she needed to “be realistic” about her chances given recent setbacks, she was ultimately a comfortable winner from Australia’s Zoe Cuthbert and South Africa’s Candice Lill, with Scotland’s Isla Short fourth.

“I’ve had a terrible year,” the 25-year-old said. “From being world champion last year this year has gone to shambles. I had a bad back in February and this is the first race with no pain, no tears. Just to finish a race, it sounds silly, but it’s such a special moment.

“I’ve had everything from Covid to a stomach bug in Brazil so just to put a race together and to finish without a bad back, to be healthy, really means the world to me.

“I knew I wasn’t the strongest but I just had to try. Sometimes I play it down to make it easier mentally, to take a bit of pressure off, but obviously I always want to win.”

Richards, who grew up a little over an hour the other side of Birmingham in Malvern, has had this day circled since the city was awarded these Games.

She has skipped two legs of the World Cup for the opportunity to ride in front of family and friends – her grandparents Jean and Cliff were able to watch her for the first time in six years – and took her rewards.

Richards attacked from the start, building a lead of over 30 seconds after just two laps. But Cuthbert was starting to eat into it going into the final two laps, and the sight of her coming back forced Richards into a mistake.

“I was really shocked,” she said. “I’d felt calm and confident but coming into the arena I turned behind me and saw a rider. I had a little slip because I was quite surprised. I had very clear time splits from my team and it scared me.

“I thought, ‘Oh God, I’m going to have to do something special.’ Luckily I still had reserves, I put in a surge and managed to drop them but I scared myself.”

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games – Day Six
Isla Short finished fourth for Scotland (David Davies/PA)

The men’s race saw Sam Gaze successfully defend his title with New Zealand team-mate Ben Oliver second.

There was a surprise bronze for Namibia’s Alex Miller – who admitted he had almost travelled without his podium tracksuit not expecting to need it – after he rode away from Northern Ireland’s Cameron Orr and England’s Joe Blackmore on the last of the eight laps.

Scotland’s Charlie Aldridge had looked good for the podium when he went clear of Blackmore and Orr midway through the race, but the 2019 junior world champion crashed and broke his rear mechanism.

After lengthy repairs, the 21-year-old tried to finish the race with only one gear, but was timed out on the final lap.

“It was just a silly little crash,” Aldridge said. “I slid out coming into the finish area on a grassy corner and snapped my mech. I had to run around to the pits. The mechanics did a great job but I got pulled. I’m pretty gutted.”

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