Anton Cooper Wins Under 23 XC World Title
New Zealand rider Anton Cooper has won the under-23 cross-country title at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Andorra today. Cooper, from Woodend in North Canterbury, rode from the front in wet and muddy conditions to win in a sprint finish.
It's Cooper’s second World Title after winning the Junior Championship in 2012.
Cooper, who turned 21 last month, certainly came of age as a mountain biker with a brilliant ride from the front in challenging conditions on a brutally tough course at altitude.
“To win both the under-23 title and junior world titles is something to be proud of,” the Cannondale professional said. “I did struggle this year to find the top step of the podium. I had some great results – fourth, fifth and fifth again in the World Cups - but just not that win and so to find that at the World Champs is truly special.
“I am pretty stoked to do it here. I would trade any World Cup win for this one.”
Cooper, usually a conservative starter, found himself in the lead off the front row at the head of a five-strong bunch including Frenchman Victor Koretzky, the 2011 junior World Champion, Great Britain’s Grant Ferguson, the World Cup winner last month in Italy, and Sam Gaze (NZL).
“My goal was to stay out of trouble. I knew it was going to be a race where mistakes would be made but I didn’t want to make mistakes because of someone else. To find myself feeling so strong for the first few laps, I knew that the win was definitely within reach. So I decided to ride it from the front and keep out of trouble.”
Cooper and Koretzky opened up a 13 second gap going into the fifth and final lap with Ferguson mounting a charge from behind and the Frenchman with a noted sprint finish.
“I was pretty nervous. There was one pinch hill before the start/finish straight about 250m to go … I just really attacked up that small hill and opened up a 5m gap and was able to hold that to the line.”
Koretzky finished just two seconds behind with Ferguson 22 seconds back and Gaze held on for a highly creditable fourth placing.
“I felt so strong in the hills and just tried to ride the downhills conservatively and limit my mistakes and I was able to do that. There is depth and pace in the under-23 field so to win a world title in the under-23s is a huge confidence boost. It is almost like an elite race, just the day before,” said Cooper. He said that the leading under-23 riders this year have been riding at a pace with the top of the elite men’s fields on courses where the conditions have been similar. Cooper already has his sights set on the big prize of selection for next year’s Rio Olympics.
“I am really happy with that and a huge confidence boost for Rio. That is really a big goal of mine since I was a kid. I would love to get a medal there that’s for sure.”
Anton Cooper (NZL) 1:22.03,
Victor Koretzky (FRA) 1:22.05
Grant Ferguson (GBR) 1:22.25
Sam Gaze (NZL) 1:23.44
CAPTION: Anton Cooper celebrates victory on the podium at the UCI Mountain Bike World championships in Andorra today.