Anton Cooper, the baby-faced winner of this morning's mountain bike race, says his love for the sport comes from when he was a baby.

The 19-year-old credits his father pushing him off-road in a running buggy for providing the passion for a mountain pass he has since pursued, riding a bike since he could walk.


Having begun racing at 11, Cooper won national and Oceania junior championships, before realising his dream of becoming a professional at age 17, signing for the Trek World Racing team. In 2012, Cooper claimed the junior world championship in Austria, the highlight of his career until today.

Gaze: The bike was always an important part of Gaze's life growing up in the Waikato. But, until a few years ago, it was the road where he directed his focus.

Gaze won the king of the mountains jersey at an event in Canberra, hinting at what was to come, but was dissuaded from a future in the discipline due to a dislike of the team aspect, often caught riding to support another's ambitions.

It looks like the 18-year-old made the right decision to switch. Before securing silver this morning, Gaze had already displayed his abilities in the sport, winning this year's national championships ahead of Cooper.



Nothing about Cooper's preparation hinted a gold medal-winning ride was on the cards. After all, a bout of food poisoning followed by a gastro illness hardly portends success. But never underestimate the power of Mum's home cooking.

"It's been a tough few months," he said after the race. "I got a bit sick and I've just been based at home in Christchurch over the winter.

"I stayed at home with the parents and they looked after me well. Mum cooked some good food and I was able to train well and deliver a result."

Gaze: The silver-medallist had a much more settled build-up for the Games, including besting Cooper on a couple of occasions in 2014. After winning the elite race at February's national championship in Rotorua, Gaze strung together three further under-23 victories at various events around the globe.

He sure sounded up for the race when he posted a photo of his kit on Instagram yesterday, writing: "I am truly honoured to represent such a prestigious country and will take pride in wearing the silver fern. I feel 110 per cent and I'm ready to fight. Bring it on, you have one motivated Kiwi to get past!"

Cooper: "I've been really needing a result like this to kick my season off," Cooper said. "My last big result was a world cup win last year, so hopefully this is a sign of bigger and better things to come."

The next opportunity to back up the result will be at September's world championships in Norway. Cooper has said his career goals include under-23 and elite world titles, as well as a trip to the 2016 Olympics, and today's win will inspire confidence in those races and beyond.

"I feel like I've got really good form. Hopefully I can build on that. The courses over the next few (world cup) races are very different to this, so that will be interesting."

Gaze: The pair will renew their friendly rivalry this season, with Gaze also off to the world champs. The teen's targets are familiar for any young athlete forging their way in their chosen sport - a pro contract and a spot at the Olympics - while he wrote on his website that in three years he wanted to be "having fun on my bike and shredding it up".

Today's race was undoubtedly a lot of fun but Gaze also saw his ride as something of a statement.

"This is it - this is the best way of saying, 'I'm coming for you world'. It's looking good for the future."

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