Roger Vaughan / AAP News
The Commonwealth Games debutant makes Australian Games history claiming silver in mountain biking after a stirring effort in the final laps.
The Flying Raccoon has made Australian mountain bike history with her silver medal at the Commonwealth Games.
Zoe Cuthbert, 21, rode superbly at Cannock Chase Forest, north of Birmingham, and became the first Australian mountain biker to win silver at a Commonwealth or Olympic Games.
Wednesday’s races represented a sea change in the sport, with four-time Olympian Dan McConnell finishing seventh at his third and final Commonwealth Games.
Six seconds ahead of him, compatriot Sam Fox, also 21, finished sixth in his Games debut and he will also have domestique duties in Sunday’s road race.
Now she has announced herself as a rising star of mountain biking, Canberra’s Cuthbert will need to invent a better back story for her Flying Raccoon Instagram account.
“I created my Instagram account when I was 12 and everyone had weird names,” she said.
“I think my sister’s was cute fuzzy bunnies and then I just missed the memo to change it … it’s stuck.”
Before Cuthbert, Australia had won three bronze mountain biking medals at the Commonwealth Games and is yet to win an Olympic medal.
As England’s Evie Richards led from the start for the gold medal, Cuthbert overtook South African Candice Lill and Scot Isla Short late in the race, with Lill taking bronze.
“There were times when doubted if I could go, but the last two laps, I just felt so strong. I put it down and I was able to put a gap on them,” she said.
“Absolutely amazing. It’s unbelievable.”
Cuthbert paid tribute to McConnell and Bec McConnell, who is not racing at the Games ahead of this month’s world championships, where she will be a medal contender.
The McConnells have been mainstays of Australian mountain biking at Olympics and Commonwealth Games, with the pair winning two of the bronze medals and Mary Grigson taking the other.
Amid a time of great change for himself and the sport, Dan also revealed post-race that he and Bec have separated.
The 36-year-old was disappointed in his swansong race, but rapt for Fox as New Zealander Sam Gaze won his second-successive Commonwealth Games gold.
Fox recovered from a flat tyre on the first lap to ride with McConnell for much of the race.
“Obviously I’m pretty disappointed not to come away with a medal today, that was the goal,” McConnell said.
“It was a big focus of mine for the last 12 months. It didn’t pan out today, but not much I can do about it.
“It’s really cool to see some young guys coming through who are actually performing at World Cups and world championships. This is really good for him.”
Fox was similarly full of praise for McConnell.
“He’s done it the hard way … he didn’t have a lot of support until he went professional,” Fox said.
“He’s that real image of an Aussie battler who’s succeeded at the highest level.”