Anton Cooper begins an all-important UCI Mountain Bike World Cup season near his overseas base in Germany this weekend.
The 24-year-old Trek professional is looking for more consistency across the 2019 cross-country season which begins at Albstadt. It is doubly important in that it forms a crucial year in terms of qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Cooper was ranked sixth in the world after last year’s World Cup series that included a photo-finish second placing behind world champion Nino Schurter and three other top-10 placings.
He has spent a chunk of his off-season training in Queenstown to help build his base and improve his abilities at altitude with some key races where he has not been as successful in this environment.
Cooper has typically taken some time to find his peak form which has the Oceania and New Zealand champion with some concerns, after a 12th placing in the lead-up Swiss Cup race last weekend.
“I am feeling a bit slow and sluggish and far from where I want to be,” said Cooper. “Health-wise I feel okay and hopefully I will race better than last week. There’s no spark yet but it is a long season and I know the form will come. It always does later for the biggest races.”
Cooper will have a compatriot in the elite ranks with fellow North Canterbury rider Ben Oliver, part of the Subway National Performance Hub programme, moving up to the elite competition. Following in the footsteps of Cooper and Sam Gaze, he was ranked second in the under-23 World Cup competition last year and begins in 50th ranking overall this year. Another Kiwi, Rotorua’s Sam Shaw, is also competing in the Albstadt round.
Commonwealth Games champion Gaze will bypass at least two rounds of the World Cup after suffering a serious concussion as a result of a crash in the Cape Epic mountain bike race in South Africa. After struggling with his recovery, Gaze has made the prudent decision to ensure he is fully healthy before beginning his World Cup season.
Auckland’s Jessica Manchester makes her return to the international scene in the women’s under-23 category with Taupo’s Sammie Maxwell in the junior grade, both riders part of the Subway National Performance Hub based out of Rotorua.
The competition begins with the popular short course race on Friday (local time) which determines the starting grid for Sunday’s races. Maxwell will race the curtain raiser, UCI Junior World Series, on Saturday morning (8:45pm NZT), with Manchester’s race beginning on Sunday morning (7pm NZT) and the elite men in action from 3pm (Monday 1am NZT).