Anton Cooper and Ben Oliver scored impressive top-10 finishes in the opening round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in the Czech Republic today. 23-year-old former world champion Cooper, who had much of his debut season at the elite level wrecked with ill-health, was in outstanding form to sprint home for ninth place in the 129-strong field at a brutal cross-country course at Nove Mesto na Morave.
In his first World Cup ride for the new Trek Factory Team, Cooper managed to escape the opening crash that brought down several riders. Starting on the sixth row, he pushed his way through the field, and edged finally to ninth place in a sprint finish between three of the youngest riders in the race.
“I’d rate it as one of the top three results of my career thus far. I’m chuffed,” said Cooper.
The North Canterbury rider said it was a “brutal but epic day” and his first time testing himself against some of the sport’s best. “It was a mega fight on the last few laps with drained legs but I managed to hold my own. It was awesome to be racing with some legends of the sport and to feel worthy of being there with my performance today. I’m really, really happy to prove myself after having over four months out of training and surgery late last year.” Cooper showed he was returning to form with emphatic wins for the New Zealand and Oceania titles during the summer.
Compatriot and current under-23 World Champion Sam Gaze didn’t finish with reports he was mixed up in the early crash that affected several riders.
World and Olympic champion Nino Schurter (SUI) claimed the elite men’s win with Gaze’s Specialized teammate Kate Courtney (USA) dominating the Under-23 Women’s race. It proved an excellent weekend for North Canterbury riders with Ben Oliver gaining his first top-10 finish in the Under-23 World Cup race on Sunday.
Oliver, riding for Cycling New Zealand’s Performance Hub, powered by Subway, rode consistently and finished strongly to be 1:59 behind winner Petter Faberhaug (NOR). Of the other Hub riders, Jack Compton was 4:34 back in 33; Craig Oliver at 6:31, 57 and Gareth Cannon at 9:19, 99.
The World Cup moves to Germany for the second round for cross-country riders this weekend.
Under-23 men: Petter Fagerhaug (NOR) 1:16.39, 1; Martins Blums (LAT) at 35s, 2; Sebastian Carstensen (DEN) at 40s, 3. Also NZers: Ben Oliver at 1:59, 9; Jack Compton at 4:34, 33; Craig Oliver at 6:31, 57; Gareth Cannon at 9:19, 99;
Under-23 women: Kate Courtney (USA) 1:12.45, 1; Evie Richards (GBR) at 1.15, 2; Sina Frei (SUI) at 3:26, 3. Also: Charlotte Rayner (NZL) at 1 lap, 51.
Elite men: Nino Schurter (SUI) 1:27:35, 1; David Valero Serrano (ESP) at 26sc, 2; Julien Absalon (FRA) at 1:46, 3. Also: Anton Cooper (NZL) at 2:51, 9; Sam Gaze (NZL) dnf.