Ninth title for Cooper emphatic

Canterbury star Anton Cooper bagged his ninth elite cross-country title with an emphatic performance at the national championships in Queenstown on Saturday.

The 29-year-old professional was in a class of his own, opening a 22sec gap on the opening lap of six at Coronet Peak, and going on to win by a minute after buttoning off over the final lap.

Under-23 world champion Sammie Maxwell (Taupo) claimed her fourth straight elite women’s crown in equally dominant fashion, winning by nearly five minutes in a display of power and precision.

The pair have been at the forefront of cross-country racing. Maxwell won her first elite title in Christchurch when she was only 19, while Cooper was just 18 when he claimed his first elite honours in Rotorua in 2013. Cooper, sixth at the Tokyo Olympics, is pleased with his training base as he targets selection for the Paris Games.

"I am way further ahead than I was for the last two years — probably more like I was in 2021 on the way to the Tokyo Olympics", Cooper said.

"It’s nice to know and to see that in the performance today and see it is coming together.

"I am right where I want to be for this time of year. I know I have a lot of room to improve still, which is a good thing. If I can ride like I did today, and knowing what is still left in the bank and what I can improve on before those two big world cups in two months’ time, then that is nice to know."

Cooper pushed hard from the start to open a 22sec gap on defending champion Matthew Wilson and 50sec over good friend Ben Oliver, just home from winning a UCI race in Abu Dhabi. The gap was 60sec after three laps and 1min 21sec after four laps, before Cooper eased back over the final two laps.

Anton Cooper on his way to claiming victory in the elite men’s cross-country at the national...
Anton Cooper on his way to claiming victory in the elite men’s cross-country at the national mountainbiking championships Coronet Peak on Saturday. PHOTO: BLISSFIELD PHOTO
Wilson remained strong throughout to finish an impressive second ahead of Oliver, while Canterbury rider Ethan Rose claimed the under-23 honours.

Maxwell, sporting her world champion’s rainbow jersey in competition for the first time, was in a class of her own in the combined women’s under-23 and elite race.

She pushed away to a 51sec lead on the first lap, and by mid-race it was over 2min, finishing her five-lap race in 1hr 24min 30sec. Experienced Nelson rider Josie Wilcox, the 2020 national champion, finished runner-up for a second straight time.

Christchurch teenager Maria Laurie finished third and claimed the under-23 national title.

The young guns fired in resounding fashion in downhill competition to dominate the honours yesterday.

The elite men’s competition was was won by Rotorua’s Lachlan Stevens-McNab,who has just turned 20, while Queenstown’s Jess Blewitt won her fourth straight elite’s women’s crown at just 21.

Blewitt, who has battled two injury-affected years, barrelled down the dusty course in 3min 8.68sec to be 2sec clear of 2022 junior world champion Jenna Hastings, of Rotorua, with local rider Kalani Muirhead third.

"It’s my first race since Val di Sol in July and it’s always hard to do the first race being out with injury", Blewitt said.

"This is probably the healthiest that I have ever been and nice to come out the other side."

Stevens-McNab has been the in-form rider in elite men’s downhill in the national series.

Defending champion Toby Meek from Queenstown set the standard with a 2min 51.87sec run which was beaten by Stevens-McNab. New Zealand’s top ranked professional rider, Tuhoto-Ariki Pene pushed hard in the final run, but the MS Mondraker rider managed 2min 50.85sec to claim second.

"The run was wild. To be honest it is one of the runs that you don’t remember much — it was good but very loose. I am stoked with the result."

— Staff reporter