The winning start to the season continued for Commonwealth Games-bound Anton Cooper and Samara Sheppard at the cross-country racing for the Altherm Mountain Bike National Championships in Wanaka.  Cooper and Sheppard not only defended the titles won last year, but it follows their respective wins in the recent Oceania Championships in Dunedin.

The cross-country competition was moved from the initial course at Cardrona following heavy snowfalls that accompanied Cyclone Gita during the week.  The hastily prepared course at Wrights Farm, Hawea Flats received the thumbs-up from the riders, with the short, punchy hills providing a real test.

Cooper made the best of the start to glean a 13 second advantage after the first of six laps over rising star and fellow Commonwealth Games rider Ben Oliver. From that point the world’s number seven ranked rider was in a class of his own, pushing on to win in 1:20.54, with just under three minutes back to Oliver with Eden Cruise, in his first year in the under-23 category, third overall in 1:25.27.  Oliver and Cruise, both part of the Subway Cycling New Zealand Performance Hub, were first and second in the under-23 grade.

“It was a fairly smooth day and I was able to ride my own race. I got a wee gap at the start and from there I had a steady pace. I focussed on not making any mistakes and to get to the line in one piece,” said Cooper.

It proved similar for Sheppard who pushed hard on the opening lap to stretch to a 50 second advantage, and the in-form rider kept up her fast pace over the five laps to win in 1:24.11.  Queenstown’s Kate Fluker, working her way back into the top level after a lengthy injury break, was second over five minutes behind with Auckland’s Charlotte Rayner third overall and winner of the under-23 division.

“Today was fantastic. It is a different type of track today – quite punchy and the hills were a lot shorter. I enjoyed the challenge. It was different to [what] we have had all season and it went perfectly to plan,” said Sheppard.  “I managed to be first into the single track and I tried to ride it quite aggressively for the rest of the race.”

Subway Performance Hub riders Sammie Maxwell (Rotorua) and Wanaka’s Phoebe Young were first and second respectively in the under-19 division.

Both elite winners now head to South Africa this week to prepare for the opening round of the UCI World Cup before returning to prepare for April’s Commonwealth Games.

Sunday’s focus moves to downhill which will go ahead at the Cardrona Mountain Bike Park, starting with timed seeding runs from 11am and racing from 1pm.

Samara Sheppard added the national title to her Oceania crown, photo Barking Cat Photography
Cross-Country results

Elite: Samara Sheppard (Wellington) 1:24.11, 1; Kate Fluker (Queenstown) 1:29.24, 2; Melissa Newell (Wanaka) at 1lap, 3.

Under-23: Charlotte Rayner (Auckland) 1:37.35, 1; Liv Bishop (Blenheim) at 3 laps, 2.

Under-19: Sammie Maxwell (Rotorua) 1:10.47, 1; Phoebe Young (Wanaka) 1:15:04, 2; Ruby Ryan (Rotorua) 1:18.37, 3.

Under-17: Zoe Nathan (Nelson) 1:03.37, 1; Caitlin Titheridge (Ashburton) 1:08.36, 2; Emma Cunningham (Mosgiel) 1:12.43, 3.

Under-15: Rebecca Hufflett (Nelson) 1:01.34, 1; Mia Cameron (Taupo) 1:07.55, 2; Rachel Cunningham (Mosgiel) 1:13.41, 3.

Masters 1: Teresa Noble (Cromwell) 1:08.06, 1. Masters 2: Hannah Miller (Southland) 57:23, 1. Masters 3: Glenda Ryan (Christchurch) 1:04.51, 1; Sarah Beadel (Rotorua) 1:11.38.

Male, elite: Anton Cooper (Trek Factory, North Canterbury) 1:20;54, 1; Tim Rush (Oamaru) 1:29.33, 2; Sam Shaw (Rotorua) 1:30.07, 3.

Under-23: Ben Oliver (North Canterbury) 1:23.51, 1; Eden Cruise (Porirua) 1:25.27, 2; Henry Jaine (Nelson) 1:28.27, 3.

Under-19: Cameron Jones (Nelson) 1:14.56, 1; Josh Burnett (Invercargill) 1:15.50, 2; Caleb Bottcher (Palmerston North (1:16.06, 3.

Under-17: Ethan Rose (Coalgate) 1:02.13, 1; Adam Francis (Manawatu) 1:04.53, 2; Jacob Turner (North Canterbury) 1:07.48, 3.

Under-15: Cameron Beck (Rotorua) 54:53, 1; Marcus Blair (Christchurch) 59:56, 2; Cody Harper (Southland) 1:03.45, 3.

Masters 1: Brent Miller (Christchurch) 1:04.51, 1; Tom Brown (Queenstown) 1:19.50, 2; Jiri Klima (Queenstown) 1:22.03, 3.

Masters 2: Mark Williams (Queenstown) 1:07.10, 1; Nicholas Noble (Wanaka) 1:09.44, 2; Carl Johnson (Rotorua) 1:10.53, 3.

Masters 3: Richard Pascoe (Southland) 52:47, 1; Bodo Long (Auckland) 55:41, 2; Gary Moller (Wellington) 56:05, 3.


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