New Zealand mountain bike star Anton Cooper has finished 20th in the final round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Italy. The Trek Factory rider has placed an impressive seventh place on the overall World Cup standings for his first full season in the elite competition, after illness plagued much of his 2016 campaign.
Cooper, the former junior and under-23 World Champion, enjoyed two top-10 finishes at the Czech Republic and Germany and performed consistently throughout in a competition dominated by the World and Olympic Champion, Nino Shurter (SUI) who won all six rounds. The 23-year-old Cooper started well in the final race at Val di Sole but was shunted back to 34th mid-race before working his way back through the field, finishing with the fifth fastest final lap of all riders to climb to 20th.
Compatriot Sam Gaze (Specialized) dropped back to be lapped after a useful start. Despite his impressive victory at the Swiss Cup, Gaze again had some challenges at Val di Sole in a season where the Under-23 World Champion has struggled to overcome health issues. Of the other Kiwis in cross-country, New Zealand and Oceania champion Samara Sheppard was 21st in the elite women’s race won by former teammate Jolanda Neff (SUI) while Wellington’s Jack Compton was 21st in the under-23 race.
The experienced Sam Blenkinsop (Norco Factory Racing) was the best of the New Zealand riders in the downhill competition finishing 18th with Bryn Dickerson (FS Patrol Funn) 20th and Rupert Chapman (Pivot Factory) 37th. Brook Macdonald (GT Factory Racing) was strong in practice, but went off the course and lost all chance. “Tough day and pretty gutted to end the final World Cup on that note but looking forward to Cairns in two weeks for the World Champs,” Macdonald said.
American Aaron Gwin won the final round to cement the overall World Cup standings after his third win of the season ahead of Australian Troy Brosnan.
Blenkinsop, ranked 19th overall with one top-10 finish, was the only Kiwi in the top-20 in the World Cup standings in a tough year for the New Zealand gravity riders.
The focus shifts to the southern hemisphere with Cairns hosting the UCI World Championships on 5-10 September.
Results, downhill elite men: Aaron Gwin (USA) 3:32.905, 1; Amaury Pierron (FRA) 3:34.312, 2; Loic Bruni (FRA) 3:34.957, 3. Leading NZers: Sam Blenkinsop (Norco Factory) @11.05, 18; Bryn Dickerson (FS patrol Funn)@ 13.271, 20; Rupert Chapman (Pivot Factory) @17.795, 37.
Cross-country, elite men: Nino Schurter (SUI) 1:24:30, 1; Stephane Tempier (FRA) @ 4s, 2; Julien Absalon (FRA) @47s, 3. Also NZers: Anton Cooper (Trek Factory) at 2:54, 20; Sam Gaze (Specialized) at 3 laps, 77.
Elite women: Jolanda Neff (SUI) 1:26.58, 1; Yana Belomoina (UKR) at 21s, 2; Maja Wloszczowska (POL) at 1:09, 3. Also: Samara Sheppard (NZL) at 6:17, 21.