The New Zealand Mountain Bike team arrived in Champery, Switzerland, on Saturday to start its UCI Mountain Bike World Cchampionships programme. The 29-rider team has been training between Morzine, France, and various Swiss locations since the final World Cup round in Val di Sole last weekend.
The final rounds of the World Cup cross country circuit were recently set alight by 17-year-old Anton Cooper from Woodend, North Canterbury. Cooper is finally realising his dreams of racing and winning at the highest level after being patient through the pre-junior age group categories in New Zealand.
Cooper headed to Champery on the strength of back-to-back junior men's cross country World Cup wins in Czech and Italy. His exploits have created a buzz amongst the professional teams who have been lining up to speak to him, but Cooper's focus on the rainbow jersey is unwavering.
On the downhill side of the team, New Zealand's strength and depth is recognised on the international circuit. The New Zealand team headed into Champery as the world number one ranked downhill nation in junior men, number two ranked nation in elite men, and number three ranked nation in junior women.
In the elite men's category, especially this year, several athletes have the potential to win next weekend: Cam Cole, Justin Leov, Sam Blenkinsop, Brook MacDonald and Mat Scoles, who have all stood on World Cup podiums this year or achieved top 10 results. Blenkinsop is ready to fire as well after not having his best season and after recovering from the lingering effects of a debilitating stomach bug last weekend in Val di Sole. 2009 Junior World Champion MacDonald is hungry and driven for success, and having tasted the lofty heights of World Cup podiums this season, the "Bulldog" won't settle for anything less at the Worlds.
See a complete roster of the New Zealand National Team racing at the 2011 Mountain Bike Worlds.