World top-10 ranked mountain biker Anton Cooper is hoping he can wear the coveted national champion’s jersey in his 2019 international campaign.
The 24-year-old Trek Factory professional is chasing his third straight national title and fifth overall at the Altherm Mountain Bike National Championships in Rotorua this weekend.
While he prepares for the long season based in Europe, he nonetheless believes it is important to perform in front of the Kiwi fans especially at the spiritual home of mountain biking in Rotorua.
“I absolutely can’t peak too early with my big races in May and then right through to September, but at the same time I always want to do the right thing and compete in my national championship,” Cooper said.
“I love having the jersey, I want to win the title and then have real pride in wearing the New Zealand jersey overseas and racing in it. I think it is the best-looking jersey out there and it certainly gets a lot of attention.
“I think it is important for me to turn up, and at present, the nationals works in well with my race schedule.”
Cooper finished last season sixth on the UCI World rankings with a raft of top-15 finishes capped with a remarkable second placing by a millimetre to Olympic and world champion Nino Schurter at Nove Mesto in the Czech Republic.
The Kiwi is targeting that race and the World Cup in his base of Albstadt as early season targets.
“They are both huge World Cup races and are probably the biggest races of the year aside from the World Championships which is the main goal.”
After a huge season in 2018, Cooper took a good chunk of time out of the sport before churning out some big miles in build-up, that included a team camp and two good races in Spain.
“I’ve focused on ticking the boxes and putting some good miles in.”
He also did a training stint at altitude, based at Cardrona, which he hopes will pay dividends later in the season.
Despite the lure of the 2020 Olympics on the horizon, Cooper is not looking too far ahead and getting carried away.
“The target is the World Cup season and the World Championships. I do not want to get carried away with the Olympics. The focus is to do well in the big races ahead this year, the important ones that pay the bills for my team.
“If I do them well then the Olympics will look after itself. If I race well this year and the slot opens up then I will put the focus on Tokyo when the time is right.”
Right now, he is not looking past the famed tracks of the Whakarewarewa Forest on Saturday when he chases his fifth national elite title.
“I’ve had one spin around the track which is a bit different from the past and is a good sized-loop. It is always great to be racing back here and it is always a good test and a lot of fun.”
There are 275 riders competing over the weekend with the Craigs Investment Partners cross-country titles to be decided over the testing course based at the Waipa Mountain Bike Village on Saturday from 10am and the Altherm downhill competition at the nearby NZ Downhill course near Eight Mile Rd on Sunday from 1pm.