It was no secret in New Zealand that Anton Cooper is a fast junior cross country mountain bike racer, but it wasn't until he set foot in Europe for the first time that the rest of the world realized just how fast he was.
"Previous to coming over here, I'd only raced in New Zealand and Australia, and I had no idea how I would go," said the recently turned 17-year-old Cooper to Cyclingnews while at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Champery, Switzerland. "To get first in that first World Cup in Czech and then first again in the Val di Sole World Cup, I was stoked. I knew I had a chance today and I had the rainbow jersey in my mind, but some days, that doesn't happen. I've got next year as well and it's my dream."
Cooper won the silver medal in the junior men's cross country race at the mountain bike Worlds last weekend. Despite a bad start, he rode one of his best races yet to make it onto the podium.
"It wasn't ideal, but it was probably the best race I've ridden with that comeback, so I'm proud of that," said Cooper afterward.
"I'm not sure where I was after the first lap... It was a fight right from the start. I was struggling up that first climb to come back to the front."
Cooper managed not to crash on a slippery, technical course and he steadily worked his way up. He bridged up to Andrey Fonseca (Costa Rica) on the final lap.
"I caught Andrey at the top of the hill on the final lap. I couldn't make the pass at the top of that climb, but I came past him with 500m to go. then I held on to the finish." Cooper sprinted his way to silver.
What made Cooper's riding even more impressive was a recent injury.
"I had a bit of a forced break. I broke my collarbone 14 weeks ago," he said. "I had a few weeks on the trainer and then jumped on the road bike. I was back on the mountain bike a few weeks ago."
"It was a rough year, but I'm pleased with how it's gone after that."
Cooper was practicing for a downhill race when he broke his collarbone. "I don't race downhill often, but I do it for fun. It was one of those stupid things in that I was doing a race I didn't need to be doing."
Fortunately, he did not require surgery and while the bone on one side of the fracture had popped up higher than the other, it healed well and flatted back out.
Cooper will be back in Europe for some more racing next year, but his options will be limited for another year. "I'm still at school next year, so I'll focus on that, but I'll do a few World Cups again next year and the world champs again."
His European experience having proved a success, he said. "It's cool to be over here. They are fast. It's a different style of racing than what you get Down Under. Starts are faster, but it's all good. I like it over here and it suits me. That's where I see my future as a mountain bike racer."
Cooper turned the heads of many elite riders in New Zealand as during the last national series, he would frequently catch and pass the elite riders, even when started in a wave several minutes back.