Christchurch Schoolboy Anton Cooper became the first New Zealand cross-country rider to win a rainbow jersey after his brilliant victory at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Austria.
Cooper, who turned 18 years last month, dominated the junior men’s race to beat home defending champion Victor Koretsky (FRA) by more than two minutes at Saalfelden.
Tauranga’s Vanessa Quin is the only kiwi mountain biker to win an elite title, claiming the women’s downhill title in 2004. New Zealand downhill riders have also won three junior world championships, with Scarlett Hagen in 2004 in France, Cameron Cole in 2006 at Rotorua and Brook MacDonald in 2009 at Canberra.
Cooper was in a class of his own today. After a close first lap with Koretsky, the New Zealander piled on the pressure, reeling off consistent laps of just over 12 minutes, faster than most of the riders in the under-23 race yesterday.
He went on to win in 1:06.53, with the Frenchman home in 1:09.10 and his compatriot Titouan Carod third in 1:09.27.
“I am just so stoked to finally become the world champion,” Cooper said. “It is a dream come true. There’s been a lot of hard work go into this. This is amazing.
“I got a really good start and was first into the single track but got passed by a couple of French guys. I managed to get passed them on lap two and managed to open up a gap from there.
“I just kept my focus right until the end and only celebrated down that finish straight. I am just so stoked.”
Cooper was runner-up in his world championship debut to Koretsky last year but his win means he has completed an unbeaten season after claiming all three world cup races that he contested this year as well as today’s world championship.
Team mate Nigel McDowell (Rotorua) started strongly to be sixth after the opening loop although faded back to finish 29th while Sam Gaze (Cambridge) placed 46th. Fellow kiwi Tom Filmer (Nelson) did not start after a head knock in a crash during practice.
Meanwhile both Rosara Joseph and Karen Hanlen finished in the top half of the field in 22nd and 24th places respectively in the elite women’s race.
Joseph began safely off the packed start from the third row to complete a solid race to hold her position throughout.
Hanlen made the most of her second row start to be in the top-10 after the start loop but a crash saw her back in 37th on the second lap. She worked her way gradually through the field for the final 24th placing for the London Olympian.
The Olympic champion and overall world cup winner, Julie Bresset (FRA) has added a world elite title to her honours just one year after winning the world under-23 title to celebrate an outstanding year.
Cooper has not finished racing this weekend with he and Gaze competing in the open cross-country eliminator class tomorrow, along with Joseph entered in the elite women.
Junior men (6 laps): Anton Cooper (NZL) 1:06.53, 1; Victor Koretzky (FRA) at 2,17s, 2; Titouan Carod (FRA) at 2:34, 3. Also New Zealanders: Nigel McDowell at 8”13, 29; Sam Gaze at 10:31, 46; Tom Filmer dns.
Elite women: Julie Bresset (FRA) 1:32.25, 1; Gunn-Rita Dahle (NOR) at 1:47, 2; Georgia Gould (USA) at 3:12, 3. Also New Zealanders: Rosara Joseph at 8:20, 22; Karen Hanlen at 8:30, 24.
Press release from BikeNZ website.