A frustrated Anton Cooper is battling another bout of illness on the eve of the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Canada this week.
The world number nine ranked cross-country rider has battled a number of respiratory illnesses that have dulled his international season in Europe and baffled his support team.
He arrives at one of his favourite venues at Mont Sainte Anne, where he crashed spectacularly with his first World Cup victory in sight last year, with more of a resigned feeling rather than one of high expectation.
“It’s disappointing to say the least. I worked so hard to improve at altitude in the high mountains and came away with a good result at Andorra. But I have had four or five bouts of heavy colds and respiratory issues which has puzzled us and is really frustrating,” said Cooper.
Last year Cooper led into the final lap with Swiss champion Mathias Flueckiger until he crashed while leading down the steep rock section.
“This is one of the most gnarly courses we race. It’s got steep climbs and very technical descents which suits me.”
“It is one of my favourite tracks. I do well on the short sharp climbs and I am ok with the technical stuff although I made that mistake last year.
“Right now, it is pretty disappointing with these health issues that we just can’t seem to get to the bottom of. So, I am coming here probably the most unprepared of any world champs in recent years.
“My plan was to come here chasing an elite rainbow jersey. Of course, my ranking is still pretty good but I want podiums these days. I will be giving it everything I have and hope it is my day.
“I get to start on the second row which is ok. I was just one ranking place off the front row but I should get away to a good start and I will certainly give it all I have.”
He is joined in the Altherm New Zealand elite team by Subway Performance Hub rider Ben Oliver, who is ranked inside the top 50 in his first year in the elite ranks.
However Sam Gaze has decided to withdraw from the championship after his injury-filled last 12 months. His issues began at Mont Sainte Anne when he crashed in training after winning the short course event, breaking his wrist and injuring his ankle. That was compounded with a serious crash at the Cape Epic event in South Africa with significant concussion issues following.
Now ranked in 81st for championships which is on the 10th row, Gaze has decided it is more prudent for him to cut short his mountain bike season. He plans to ease back into training on the road, as a trainee with World Tour team, Deceunick-Quick Step and reset his goals for next year.
There is real interest in the junior ranks with all the riders with international experience headed by females Ruby Ryan (Rotorua) and Subway Performance Hub’s Sammi Maxwell (Taupo), who competed at the Youth Olympics, both in the top-20 world ranked riders.
There will be interest in the first e-bike world championship race on Thursday (NZ time) with Glenn Anderson, downhiller Wyn Masters and Kate Anderson competing.
The preview for downhill will be tomorrow.
The Altherm New Zealand elite cross-country team is:
Cross-country, elite male: Anton Cooper (North Canterbury, Trek Factory, Ben Oliver (North Canterbury, Subway Hub). Under-19: Connor Johnston (Rotorua), Caleb Bottcher (Palmerston North), Matthew Wilson (Auckland).
Female, Under-19: Sammie Maxwell (Taupo), Ruby Ryan (Rotorua).
E Bike XCO, Male: Glenn Anderson, Wyn Masters. Elite female: Kate Anderson