Mountain biking: Cooper relaxed as he chases history

Mountain biker Anton Cooper is not letting the prospect that he can create history cloud his thoughts at the world championships in Austria this weekend.

The 17-year-old Christchurch schoolboy is ranked second in the junior men's race at Saalfelden on Saturday night in the chase to become the first New Zealander to win a rainbow jersey for the world champion in cross-country.

Cooper is unbeaten in his three world cup starts this season in South Africa, Canada and the US and, in many people's eyes, is the rider to beat.

"I am coping well," Cooper said. "I am not really thinking about things like that (favouritism), just targeting my race and my performance. I am feeling relaxed and ready to go."

Cooper rides for the Trek World Racing team, who spotted his potential last year when he finished runner-up in the under-19 final, and this year he has mixed lightning trips around the globe with school work at Christchurch Boys High School.

"The main challenge at home has been the limited daylight with it getting dark at 5.30pm and you don't finish school until 3pm, suddenly get changed and there's not much daylight left," he said.

"And you throw in the rain and the cold on top of that, then it's pretty tough. I made do with what I had."

He has had the luxury of a month away in the US, Spain and Switzerland to train before heading to Austria.

Cooper's main rival is Frenchman Victor Koretzky, who claimed the world title last year and has won the remaining three world cup races this year in Europe where Cooper did not compete. The young Kiwi won in the only race the two lined up against each other at the start of the season at Pietermaritzburg.

In his early world cup races, Cooper was so dominant his manager keyed him off the lap times of the elite competitors, but this weekend is all about the podium.

Cooper leads a powerful quartet of young Kiwi riders in the junior men's race, supported by top-10 ranked Nigel McDowell (Rotorua), Tom Filmer (Nelson), and Sam Gaze (Cambridge) with Mary Gray (Dunedin) in the junior women's race. Filmer fell during practice and might not start.

The New Zealand campaign begins tomorrow when No 8-ranked Samara Sheppard competes in the women's under-23 ranks before Dirk Peters (Rotorua) and Tom Bradshaw (Wellington), ranked 12th and 24th respectively, ride in the under-23 men's race.

The second race day will see the junior men race before Olympians Karen Hanlen and Rosara Joseph compete in the elite women's race.

- APNZ

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