Evie Richards comes off a ‘terrible year’ to win the Commonwealth gold medal

Evie Richards comes off a ‘terrible year’ to win the Commonwealth gold medal

Evie Richards has had a “terrible year” 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 for the past six months as she cleaned the first of seven laps around the Cannock Chase woods to improve on the silver she won four years ago had brought in Gold Coast .

There was a scare with two laps to go when she slipped on a corner and had to remount, but that was the only moment in the 95-minute race when Richards’ victory looked in doubt.

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games - Day Six

Evie Richards celebrates with her gold medal at Cannock Chase (David Davies/PA)

Although Richards had insisted on going, recent setbacks meant she had to be “realistic” about her chances, ultimately being a sure winner ahead of Australia’s Zoe Cuthbert and South Africa’s Candice Lill, while Scotland’s Isla Short finished fourth.

“I’ve had a terrible year,” said the 25-year-old. “Being world champions from last year has gone to pieces this year. I had back pain in February and this is the first race without pain, without tears. Finishing just one race sounds silly, but it’s such a special moment.

“I’ve had everything from Covid to a stomach problem in Brazil so to just put together a race and finish with no back pain being healthy really means the world to me.

“I knew I wasn’t the strongest, but I just had to try. Sometimes I downplay it to make it easier mentally, to take some pressure off, but of course I always want to win.”

Richards, who grew up in Malvern just over an hour across Birmingham, has been circling this day since the city was awarded these Games.

She skipped two World Cup stages to have a chance to ride in front of family and friends – her grandparents Jean and Cliff got to watch her for the first time in six years – and take her rewards with her.

Richards attacked from the start and built up a lead of over 30 seconds after just two laps. But Cuthbert started to eat into it in the final two laps and the sight of her return forced Richards into an error.

“I was really shocked,” she said. “I felt calm and confident, but as I got 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 differences with my team and that scared me.

“I thought, ‘Oh God, I have to do something special.’ Luckily I had reserves, I pushed in and managed to drop them, but I scared myself.”

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games - Day Six

Isla Short finished fourth for Scotland (David Davies/PA)

In the men’s race, Sam Gaze successfully defended his title, his New Zealand teammate Ben Oliver finished second.

There was a surprise bronze medal for Namibia’s Alex Miller – who admitted he almost traveled without his podium tracksuit because he didn’t expect to need it – after beating Northern Ireland’s Cameron Orr and the Englishman in the last of eight rounds Joe Blackmore drove off.

Scotsman Charlie Aldridge had been looking good for the podium as he pulled away from Blackmore and Orr mid-race, but the 2019 World Junior Champion crashed and broke his rear mechanism.

After lengthy repairs, the 21-year-old attempted to finish the race in just one gear but was out-braked on the final lap.

“It was just a silly little crash,” Aldridge said. I slid into the target area on a grassy corner and disassembled my ‘Mech. I had to run to the box. The mechanics did a great job but I got pulled. I’m pretty exhausted.”

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