Mountain Biking: Rider has world at his feet

Cross-country championship first is just the start for mountain biker Anton Cooper.

Anton Cooper is the first New Zealander to win the Olympic category of cross-country mountain biking. Photo / Trek World Racing
Anton Cooper is the first New Zealander to win the Olympic category of cross-country mountain biking. Photo / Trek World Racing

World champion mountain biker Anton Cooper is already plotting bigger and better things in the sport. The Christchurch schoolboy became the first New Zealand cross-country rider to win a rainbow jersey after his victory at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Austria.

Kiwi mountain bikers have previously won four world titles, which have all come in the downhill discipline, but Cooper is the first to claim the rainbow jersey in the Olympic category of cross-country.

Cooper, 18, part of the Trek World Racing professional team, dominated the junior men's race to beat defending champion Victor Koretsky of France by more than two minutes at Saalfelden.

His lap times were equal to the under-23 elite riders who competed the previous day and competitive with all but the very top echelon of elite riders.

"I am just so stoked to finally become the world champion," Cooper said. "It is a dream come true.

"There's been a lot of hard work go into this.

"It is very special. It is one of those things that I have dreamed of since I was a young kid. To finally achieve it - well, it has taken a lot of hard years, a lot of work and a lot of dedication.

"I've had a lot of help from people along the way. You have to make a lot of sacrifices but to finally achieve it, I am very proud of that."

The BikeNZ rider said the key was being able to push himself in every aspect of his training and to ensure every detail was addressed.

"Over winter it has been a lot of hard training at home and then the month of hard work over here in Europe," he said. "It is a matter of trying to do everything to the best that you possibly can.

"When you are racing at this top level, then every small bit counts. You have to be on the top of your game in every element of what you do."

Cooper will head back to New Zealand tomorrow to complete his studies.

"I have my exams for level three NCEA, which is my final year of school and I plan to do well in that."

After a summer of racing at home, Cooper is aiming to head to Europe for much of next year.

"I plan to race the whole world cup circuit at under-23 and aim to take the overall world cup and the world title. And then I will go from there."

BikeNZ high-performance director Mark Elliott said Cooper was an outstanding prospect.

"His performances throughout the year have been outstanding," he said. "Anton has a tremendous work ethic, especially for such a young rider. He has excellent family support and the opportunities from his professional team at Trek World Racing are invaluable. "His potential is unlimited. We will certainly be sitting down with Anton and his team to see where we can continue to support him through these next developing years towards Rio 2016 and beyond."

Elliott said Cooper's appearance at home this summer would drive more interest in the sport and no doubt inspire more youngsters to get on their bikes and have fun.

- APNZ

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