Woodend's Anton Cooper made New Zealand proud today with a storming silver medal at the UCI World Mountainbike Championships in Champery, Switzerland. The Junior Mens Cross Country race lined up with 98 starters, and Cooper in the middle of the front row for five hard laps of the super technical course at the Grand Paradis event venue.
17 year old Cooper got away to a clear start, but found himself boxed in at the end of the start loop on the only sustained climb on the course - “I couldn't do anything about it and found riders going past me at a crucial stage of the race. I knew the leaders would get away as soon as they hit the single track descent after the climb, but I couldn't move left or right to counter” Cooper was 16th at the top of that climb, and had a tough task ahead to maintain touch with the race leaders. He steadily chipped away during the race with grit and determination, clawing back at the leaders after being down by nearly two minutes mid race. Cooper was sixth at the start of the final lap and exploded with stunning effect during the last 15 minute lap, winning a sprint to the line to take the silver medal.
Cooper was extremely happy with his performance after some reflection - “I came to Europe targeting top ten results, but quickly reset my goals after my two World Cup wins in Czechoslovakia and Italy. Winning the rainbow jersey here in Champery was achievable, and while I'm dissappointed to not follow through, maybe it is a better result to be runner-up in my first year at this level. I now have another year in the Juniors to claim that prize before moving through into the Under 23s and Elite grades” New Zealand's other four Juniors also raced hard and delivered with pride - Mathew Waghorn (Palmerston North) 27th, Tom Bradshaw (Wellington) 31st and Rotorua's Nigel McDowell 39th.
Coopers' silver is only the second World Championship Cross country medal won by a New Zealand athlete, and one better than Kashi Leuch's Under 23 bronze.
The Women's Under 23 Cross Country race was run after Cooper's medal presentation had finished. Katie O'Neil (Rotorua) raced to15th after a slow start, and a heavy fall in the final lap. O'Neil was satisfied with her performance after an up and down few weeks in the lead-in to the World Champs “Its great to come out of these Champs 15th best in the World in this category – I can go home happy to finish my season at this point”. But her Rotorua friend Samara Sheppard didn't fare so well. Sheppard withdrawing from the race after the start lap after going backwards through the field and not able to circulate at a race pace.
Tomorrow's schedule at Champery includes the timed session for all Junior and Elite Downhill categories, the Under 23 Mens Cross Country race and the Four Cross World Championships in the evening.