It proved a triple double for Anton Cooper and Samara Sheppard with their dominant victories in the cross-country races at the Altherm Mountain Bike National Championships in Rotorua today.
The Commonwealth Games teammates claimed their respective elite titles in the Whakarewarewa Forest, the third straight national championship wins for both.
Cooper won his fifth national title but was pushed all the way by fellow North Canterbury rider Ben Oliver, who is part of Cycling New Zealand’s Subway National Mountain Bike Performance Hub.
The pair rode together until midway through the third lap of five, when Cooper pushed clear on the main climb to open a 15 second lead but Oliver dug deep over the final two laps to keep within reach, finishing runner-up only 20 seconds in arrears.
It was more a case of mission accomplished for Cooper, who claimed his fifth elite title after only arriving back on Monday with a head-cold after a training camp in Europe.
“It is special to me. I really had to work hard for this one and I think that makes it more satisfying when you cross the line first. Ben rode well today and I was feeling it out there,” Cooper said.
“I am happy to pull it off, get the maximum points and the jersey. It doesn’t matter if you win by 20 seconds or four minutes it is still the same amount of points and the title.
“The course was hard. In practice it was a lot easier. There was a lot of flat sections where you had to keep on the gas. There was one main climb which was definitely my strength out there. I tried to maximize my advantage there and tried to drill it because Ben was faster on the flatter stuff. It was a relief to get the job done.”
Cooper said he will return to Christchurch tomorrow with a heavy heart after the atrocities there this week, in a part of the city he knows well.
“It is obviously heart-breaking that these things happen and in New Zealand now.
“It was playing on my mind out there in the race. When the going got tough I thought about it a couple of times and got the best out of me. “
Cooper said that growing up in Christchurch and at school near-by, he would drive past the area of the shooting every week, and has a friend who attends the mosque.
“I don’t know how you deal with it. You will need to mourn for a time but I guess you also need to go about day to day life somehow.”
Sheppard was expecting a close battle with Feilding’s Josie Wilcox but she crashed out on the water crossing with the defending champion dominating from that point to win by four minutes from Wellington’s multi-talented Kate McIlroy.
“It is really special. I knew I was riding really well coming into this race and I thought I was in good form to do well but it is a technical track and anything can happen and you could not under-estimate the other girls.
“I am happy and it’s a bit of a relief. I was happy. It was fun. It is cool to be back here in Rotorua. I lived here three years ago so there were a few friends I hadn’t seen in a long time out there cheering me on.
Sheppard will now build towards the defence of her Oceania crown and her main goal is to earn selection for the world championships.
“I would love to be at the worlds in Mont Sainte Anne and part of the New Zealand team to race the world championships. It is the last chance for Olympic selection so a performance there would mean a lot.”
There were a number of impressive performances from junior riders, none more so than Taupo’s Sammie Maxwell, the Youth Olympic rider who defended her under-19 title and was in second place overall in the early laps.
The Subway Performance Hub rider will now prepare for her first international campaign in Europe this year with the Hub team.
Earlier Christchurch’s Ethan Rose defending his under-17 honours, headed a talented field and will now aim for a move to the elite junior category and the plan to compete in Europe next season.
The focus moves to the downhill competition on Sunday.
Male, Elite: Anton Cooper (Trek Factory Racing, Christchurch) 1:20:30, 1; Ben Oliver (Subway Performance Hub, Rangiora) 1:20:50, 2; Sam Shaw (Rotorua) 1:27:20, 3.
Under-23: Josh Burnett (Invercargill) 1:27:42, 1; Cameron Jones (nelson) 1:28:40, 2; Maxwell Wickens (Wellington) 1:28:46, 3.
Under-19: Connor Johnston (Rotorua) 1:08:46, 1; Matthew Wilson (Auckland) 1:09:56, 2; Caleb Bottcher (Palmerston North) 1:09:57, 3.
Under-17: Ethan Rose (Christchurch) 53:34, 1; Adam Francis (Palmerston North) 55:20, 2; Jacob Turner (Rangiora) 58:17, 3.
Male, Under-15: Maui Morrison (Rotorua) 1:02:15, 1; Max Preece (Auckland) 1:02:51, 2; Nick Rush (Christchurch) 1:03:00, 3.
Sport: Payson Partridge (Ohakune) 58:50, 1; Don Smitstra (Matamata) 59:29, 2; Cameron Jacobsen (Tirau) 59:29, 3.
Masters 1: Leigh Reynolds (Rotorua) 1:04:51, 1; Josh Page (Hastings) 1:07:21, 2; Darry Stevens (New Plymouth) 1:07:56, 3.
Masters 2: Joe Skerman (Bulls) 1:18:54, 1; Garth Weinberg (Rotorua) 1:19:29, 2; Jonathan Brown (Wellington) 1:22:50, 3.
Masters 3: Mel Hansen (Nelson) 1:20:59, 1; Kent Wilson (Napier) 1:25:58, 2; Barry Wilson (Palmerston North) 1:27:22, 3.
Female, Elite: Samara Sheppard (Wellington) 1:18:29, 1; Kate McIlroy (Wellington) 1:22:47, 2.
Under-23: Jessica Manchester (Auckland) 1:27:35, 1.
Under-19: Samara Maxwell (Taupo) 1:00:28, 1; Zoe Nathan (nelson) 1:08:16, 2; Poppy Buissink 1:10:04, 3.
Under-17: Rebecca Hufflett (Nelson) 1:10:57, 1; Annabel Bligh (Christchurch) 1:12:21, 2; Jenna Hastings (Rotorua) 1:13:28, 3.
Under-15: Seana Gray (Hamilton) 48:07, 1; Florence McNabb (Nelson) 49:39, 2; Katie Ramage (Whanganui) 51:01, 3.
Sport: Olivia Baker (Hamilton) 1:24:17, 1.
Masters 2: Elizabeth Hicks (Cambridge) 1:16:02, 1; Jacqui Keay (Nelson) 1:30:14, 2.
Masters 3: Sarah Beadel (Rotorua) 1:21:28, 1.4