Kiwi mountain bike star Anton Cooper produced a heroic effort to finish 16th in his first UCI World Championship as an elite rider in Cairns yesterday. Riding in ninth place, Cooper crashed on the steep rocky decent on the penultimate lap, snapping his seat off. The 23-year-old managed to ride the rest of the lap without a seat, get it changed and recovered to finish 16th.
He was on course for an historic top-10 finish, something no New Zealand male has achieved in an elite cross-country world championship race, and his 16th was equal to the best achieved by Kashi Leuchs in 2006. Cooper, one of the youngest riders in the race, said while disappointed with his mistake which cost him a high placing, he was pleased with his performance. “I am disappointed it happened today especially as I was on such a good ride and potentially could have come fifth. It’s one of those things. Just showing that I can ride with the best riders in the world I have to be happy,” Cooper said.
The Trek Factory Team rider made a stunning start from the second row to fifth on to the dusty single track after the start loop, and settled into the chase group behind a breakaway group of four including the Olympic and defending champion Nino Schurter (SUI). Cooper dropped back to12th but worked his way back to ninth, riding with the world’s most successful rider Julien Absalon as the pair were making ground on the penultimate lap.
“I got crossed up on the dusty rocks and from there it was all over. It was a big crash and doing my seat was a real pain because I had to roll down the hill and change it. I dinged my knees up and it took me a while to get up and on the bike because I couldn’t feel my knees.
“I managed to get my rhythm back quite well and I have to be happy with how I re-gathered myself and still finished 16th.”
The former world junior and under-23 champion felt he was in an ideal position to charge on the final lap. “My last lap is typically my strongest so I am bummed because I know I could have come fifth. It was a guaranteed top-10 and potentially a fifth but I chucked it away a bit which is unfortunate but that is mountain bike racing.
“I showed I can match it with those guys. I was very close to fifth and definitely a top-10 result. I am very disappointed to chuck it away like that but there are so many positives I will take away from this and looking ahead to next year.”
Earlier teammate Samara Sheppard finished 28th in her first elite women’s cross-country race with a solid ride after being caught behind the main pack into the all-important single track on the first lap. “I knew how important the start was because there’s not much passing room on the climbs. I didn’t quite get on the right wheels and was around 40th going into the climb on the single track and from there the gaps just opened up and it was tough to close but I did what could,” Sheppard said.
“It’s my first year back in World Cup racing and I’ve really enjoyed it so next year I am going to have a crack at the full World Cup circuit and hopefully qualify for the Commonwealth Games.”
The attention turns to the downhill competition on the final day today. The remarkable Sam Blenkinsop, who has finished in the top-20 every year since his debut in 2007, was best of the Kiwi men in timed qualifying today finishing eighth fastest, with Rupert Chapman 16th and Ed Masters 20th.
Subway Mountain Bike National Performance Hub rider Shania Rawson topped qualifiers in the junior women and teammate Sam Robbie was in the top-10 in timed practice.
The elite competition is live on Sky TV channel 56 today from 3pm NZ time.
Elite women: Jolanda Neff (SUI) 1:27.17, 1; Annie Last (GBR) at 2:23, 2; Pauline Ferrand Prevot (FRA) at 3:04, 3. Also: Samara Sheppard (NZL) at 8:29, 28.
Under-23 Women: Sina Frei (SUI) 1:15.10, 1; Kate Courtney (USA) at 49s, 2; Alessandra Keller (SUI) at 2:18, 3.
Elite men: Nini Schurter (SUI) 1:27:44, 1; Jaroslav Kulhavy (CZE) at 7sec, 2; Thomas Litscher (SUI) at 15s, 3. Also: Anton Cooper (NZL) at 3:10, 16.