Anton Cooper and Samara Sheppard successfully defended their cross-country honours at the UCI Altherm Oceania Mountain Bike Championships in Dunedin today. The world number 7 ranked Cooper put the foot to the floor after compatriot Sam Gaze stopped to adjust his seat midway through the race at the new Signal Hill course.
From that point Cooper pushed on to a dominant victory in 1:21.54, to finish two minutes ahead of Gaze, who had to stop for a second time to fix his mechanical issue, with Australian Cameron Ivory 2:40 back in third.
Meanwhile Sheppard (Wellington) trailed Australian champion Rebecca McConnell (nee Henderson) on the first of five laps before taking command on the gruelling climb on the second lap. From that point she was in a class of her own, winning the five-lap race by three and a half minutes.
The Australian-based rider won in 1:24:28 with Australian Holly Harris second (1:27:56) and former national champion, Kate Fluker (1:29:35), returning after surgery for an injured shoulder injury, fighting her way up to third ahead of McConnell.
Cooper was delighted with his efforts today. “It is a big one for me. It is a big wad of points for me and the Continental title is always something special,” Cooper said. “It was a really tough course. As the laps wore on it got tougher and the extended effort crept up on me. But I really enjoyed it.”
Cooper has his sights set on defence of his Commonwealth Games gold medal on the Gold Coast in April. “I am very happy with my progress. It’s nice to get early season wins because it gives you confidence for the rest of the season. There is some really tough competition in the Oceania region so to get the win is always nice.”
“Gold Coast is going to be a really tough challenge. I know I have room to improve still but obviously the others do as well. It is going to be a real tough battle but I will be ready for it.”
Gaze was disappointed that the mechanical issues wrecked his day, while fourth placed Ben Oliver, in his first year as an elite, impressed with his efforts given he had two stops to inflate a flat tyre, but finished only a minute off the podium. Meanwhile Sheppard was thrilled with her repeat victory as she chases her dream of selection in the New Zealand team for the Commonwealth Games.
“It’s a privilege to win the Oceania Champs again this year, living in Australia and having support there but being a Kiwi and a proud New Zealander,” said Sheppard. “I am really pleased with my form so far this year. We’ve been doing some hard strength work, putting in the building blocks and everything is moving on a consistent incline which is fantastic and building up to hopefully competing in the Commonwealth Games.”
“It will mean everything to me to get named in the Commonwealth Games team this week. It has been two years in the making and it’s always been a dream to go to the Comm Games and with how everything is going right now, I am just crossing my fingers.”
Subway Hub rider Phoebe Young prevailed in the women’s under-19 race to win by 37 seconds from Australia’s Teagan Atherstone with Auckland’s Charlotte Rayner winning the women’s under-23 honours from Australia’s Charlotte Culver.
There was Nelson double in the women’s age group with Rebecca Hufflett winning the under-15 title and Zoe Nathan claiming the under-17 honours. Nathan, runner-up in the national championships last year, is continuing her rise after suffering from scoliosis which required spinal surgery.
Subway Hub talent Eden Cruise was in outstanding form to win the under-23 title by nearly two minutes from Nelson’s Henry Jaine and Wanaka’s Paul Wright. In the process he pushed up to fifth on the road overall, given he started two minutes behind the elites. World champion Australian Cameron Wright was in a class of his own to win the under-19 race by 1:35 from compatriots Matthew Dinham and Sam Fox.
Today’s attention turns to the downhill racing, with racing to start at 1pm after seeding runs from 11am.
Male, elite (6 laps) Anton Cooper (Trek, Christchurch) 1:21:54, 1; Sam Gaze (Specialized_ 1:23:51, 2; Cameron Ivory (Australia) 1:26.33, 3; Ben Oliver (Subway Hub, Christchurch) 1:28.07, 4; Dan McConnell (Australia) 1:28.34, 5.
Under-23 (5 laps): Eden Cruise (Subway Hub, Porirua) 1:11.20, 1; Henry Jane (Nelson) 1:13.37, 2; Paul Wright (Wanaka) 1:15.11, 3.
Under-19 (4 laps): Cameron Wright (Australia) 57:53, 1; Matthew Dinham (Australia) 59:27, 2; Sam Fox (Australia) 59:39, 3.
Under-17: Ethan Rose (Coalgate) 45:39, 1; Jacob Turner (Rangiora) 48:41, 2; Momo Frank (Australia) 48:49, 3.
Under-15: Cameron Beck (Rotorua) 34:58, 1; Coen Nicol (Taupo) 38:10, 2; Cody Harvey (Invercargill) 38:25, 3.
Sport: Ethan Glover (Dunedin) 45:16, 1; Jake Paddon (Dunedin) 52:56, 2; Chris Hamilton (Auckland) 54:47, 3.
Masters 1: Warwick McLaren (Dunedin) 1:08.13, 1.
Masters 2: Sarnim Dean (Blenheim) 1:07.29, 1; Mark Williams (Queenstown) 1:08.35, 2; Nicholas Noble (Cromwell) 1:08.45, 3.
Masters 3: David Harris (Australia) 54:25, 1; Gary Moller (Wellington) 55:58, 2; Peter Selkrig (Australia) 58:09, 3.
Female, elite (5 laps): Samara Sheppard (Wellington) 1:24:28, 1; Holly Harris (Australia) 1:27:56, 2; Kate Fluker (Queenstown) 1:29:35, 3; Rebecca McConnell (Australia) 1:31:53, 4; Imogen Smith (Australia) 1:36;32, 5.
Under 23, 4 laps: Charlotte Rayner (Auckland) 1:18:57, 1; Charlotte Culver (Australia), 2.
Under-19, 3 laps: Phoebe Young (Subway Hub, NZL) 57:58, Tegan Atherstone (Australia) 58:35, 2; Ruby Ryan (Rotorua) 1:00:10, 3.
Under-17: Zoe Nathan (Nelson) 1:02.35, 1; Caitlin Titheridge (Ashburton) 1:08.31, 2; Emma Lord (Papamoa) 1:09:04, 3.
Female, Under-15: Rebecca Hufflett (Nelson) 40:43, 1; Rachel Cunningham (Mosgiel) 46:46, 2.
Sport: Lydia Kinsman (Albury) 50:27, 1.
Masters 1: Melissa Newell (Wanaka) 1:01.10, 1; Teresa Noble (Cromwell) 1:05.02, 2.
Masters 2: Ronel Cook (Dunedin) 1:06:50, 1; Merrin Brewster (Dunedin) 1:27:25, 2.