U23 World Champion Anton Cooper has claimed the elite men’s cross-country honours at the Stonewood Homes Oceania Mountain Bike Championships in Queenstown. The Cannondale professional from North Canterbury bounced back after being well beaten by fellow Kiwi young gun Sam Gaze in the New Zealand Championships last weekend.
Today he out-kicked world number eight Dan McConnell from Australia after the pair pushed clear of Gaze midway through the race on the spectacular Skyline course. Earlier Australian Rebecca Henderson, world ranked number 19, showed her bike-handling skills to good effect to beat off the challenge from Kiwi Kate Fluker and defend the women’s title she won in Queensland last year. The leading riders will now freshen up before focussing on the opening round of the UCI World Cup at Cairns in four weeks.
It was a race-within-a-race for the Kiwis as both men and women vie for a place at the Rio Olympics, with the Rio qualification period ending after the second world cup in Germany. Today Cooper found out that less is more, after he was well beaten by Gaze at the national championships last week. “I only trained twice this week and freshened up and that was everything,” Cooper said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect after last week but I am really happy with that. Having a rest week made all the difference.”
“It was a very tactical race and we all had a turn at the front. I wanted to be in front before the last downhill as I sensed I was stronger there. I had to dig deep for that one so I’m very happy.
“There were some steep climbs and a couple that we had to run and I really enjoyed that. It was bit like the courses I raced growing up. I really enjoyed that course today.
“Dan is one of the world’s best riders on his day so it is a huge confidence boost. I knew the form was there and I think I proved that today.” McConnell, who defended his national title in Australia last week, said while disappointed with the result, he did not have the legs today after a tough race last week. “Anton was too fast today and I am quite pleased with second given I did not have the legs to really contend today. Now it is a case of resetting for the first World Cup in four weeks.”
The women’s race proved a tight battle between Henderson and Kate Fluker, who was riding on home turf at a major event for the first time. Fluker had a strong race and took it to the Australian on the steep climbs but it was the bike-handling skills of the Australian on the descents that made the difference. “That was the toughest race I’ve had this season and Kate really pushed me,” said Henderson, who slipped out of the world’s top-10 after missing much of the last part of the season with glandular fever. “It’s been a good start this season with the win in the national title last week and now this as I work my way back into the sport.”
It is a similar theme for Fluker, who also enjoyed a long break off-season after training herself into a hole last year. “The break was perfect and now I feel fantastic. I felt terrific all day and really had great legs on the climbs. Rebecca was just too good on the downhill and that’s when she got her break.”
However Fluker was far from unhappy with second place, with the major qualifying points going to the Australian. Australia is currently in a qualifying spot under world ranking and if that is maintained, then the Oceania spot they currently hold will drop down to New Zealand. “It’s then up to me to prove I am competitive in those first two World Cups and today gives me confidence I am on track.”
In other races North Canterbury’s Ben Oliver enjoyed the best result of his fledgling career with victory in the under-23 race, with Australian Kian Lerch-MacKinnon beating national champion Eden Cruise (Porirua) in the junior men.
Rotorua’s Amber Johnston defended her title in the under-23 women with Auckland’s Jessica Manchester taking out the junior women’s honours.
Male, elite: Anton Cooper I(NZL) 1:25.22, 1; Dan McConnell (AUS) 1:25.40, 2; Scott Bowden (AUS) 1:30.43, 3; Sam Gaze (NZL) 1:32.18, 4; Brendon Johnston (AUS) 1: 32.39, 5.
Under-23: Ben Oliver (NZL) 1:16.28, 1; Jack Compton (NZL) 1:17.05, 2; Reece Tucknott (AUS) 1:18.10, 3.
Junior: Kian Lerch-MacKinnon (AUS) 1:03.45, 1; Eden Cruise (NZL) 1:05.18, 2; Michael Harris (AUS) 1:06.32, 3.
Under-17: Matthew Dinham (AUS) 1:05.26, 1; Cameron Jones (NZL) 1:06.10, 2; Connor Johnston (NZL) 1:11.33, 3.
Under-15: Adam Francis (NZL) 36.42, 1; Angus Riordan (NZL) 38.31, 2; Ethan Rose (NZL) 41.19, 3.
Masters 1: Steve Gale (NZL) 55.02, 1; Matt Boulcott (NZL) 1:00.06, 2.
Masters 2: Sarnim Dean (NZL) 53.09, 1; Nicholas Noble (NZL) 58.28, 2; Jared Scollay (NZL) 1:03.14, 3.
Masters 3: Tim O’Leary (NZL) 1:00.36, 1; Steve Gurney (NZL) 1:01.12, 2; Ray Hope (NZL) 1:01.43, 3.
Female, elite: Rebecca Henderson (NZL) 1:28.44, 1; Kate Fluker (NZL) 1:29.48, 2; Peta Mullens (AUS) 1:35.10, 3; Samara Sheppard (NZL) 1:35.11, 4; Kim Hurst (NZL) 1:40.58, 5.
Under-23: Amber Johnston (NZL) 1:23.23, 1; Shannon Hope (NZL) 1:28.32, 2; Holly Harris (AUS) 1:31.13, 3.
Junior: Jessica Manchester (NZL) 1:21.35, 1; Liv Bishop 1:28.37, 2.
Under-17: Zoe Cuthbert 1:01.35, 1; Katherine Hosking 1:05.08, 2; Phoebe Young 1:06.58, 3.
Masters 2: Merrin Brewster (NZL) 1:05.43, 1.
Masters 3: Sarah Beadel (NZL) 53.26, 1.