After becoming the first New Zealander to win the overall NRS title this year, Joe Cooper (Avanti) has turned his attention to challenging for a high overall result at the 2015 Jayco Herald Sun Tour. The 28-year-old suffered a broken pelvis after a crash at the Tour of Toowoomba NRS race which forced him to miss more than two months of the season. Cooper lost his overall lead to teammate Brenton Jones but made a Lazarus like return to reclaim the series leader's jersey and seal the overall win.
"For me winning the NRS was big," Cooper told Cyclingnews. "I told Andrew and Steve, probably this time last year, that my goal for next season was to go out and win the NRS. I was going fairly well before my crash and that could have been career ending but I managed to pick myself up and secure the overall. It's just massive to do that, have a nearly season ending crash and then win it. It's amazing."
Having crashed while in arguably the form of his life, Cooper still judged the 2014 season to be a success, explaining there wasn't much else he could have done.
"It was definitely satisfying. I couldn't have gone too much better even if it was scripted easier for me," he said. "It was just the dream run. Maybe the nine weeks off the bike trying to heal the bones actually paid itself back in spades by being able to finish the season quite fresh, mentally fresh as well, as I hadn't been racing for a while.
"That could be an added bonus, a silver lining really, but I don't think I'd like to do another injury plagued season."
Cooped up for nine weeks, Cooper explained the mental strain of recovery and rehabilitation started to dissipate when placed in context of a larger picture.
"You go through depression, self-pity, hardship and then you come out the other side and your like 'I'm not dead.' It was only nine weeks and in a lifetime of say 50 years, that's quite a small percentage of that life.
"At the time it's really, really tough and I couldn't do anything but go to the swimming pool and float around. That's all it was for nine weeks, go to the swimming pool, float around, come home and repeat. So instead of riding, it was floating."
Cooper's first racing commitments of 2015 will be the New Zealand national titles in early-January. While harbouring aspirations for a second time trial title to add to his 2013 victory, Cooper's main aim is to ensure that Avanti secures the wins.
"I definitely have high motivation to do well there or help teammates do well there," he said. "The goal is to get a New Zealand title in the team and we already have the criterium title in the team with Paddy Bevin but we want to add to that and really start off the season with a bang."
With Avanti racing under a New Zealand license in 2015, the team will consequently have a large Kiwi contingent which Cooper is looking forward to.
"It's definitely good, there are more Kiwi accents going around and it's going to be interesting to see how everyone gels together but judging from the first night of the training camp, it seemed to be pretty seamless."
An Australian race, the Herald Sun Tour, where he placed 33rd this year, will be the primary aim for Cooper in 2015 as a defence of the NRS title appears off the cards as he explained.
"I'd really love to do well at the Sun Tour but first you have to be selected for it, so the first priority is selection," he said. "After that, it's go and nail the Sun Tour. I am not really sure after that, I'll have to go back to the drawing board and have a think about what I want to do. I am not 100% sure if I want to go for another NRS title because it's a massive workload to do."
With seven ex-Avanti riders having progressed to the WorldTour ranks, Cooper's injury hindered his hopes of going pro in 2015, but he is focused on adding his name to the honour roll and progressing to the top level of the sport.
"I think I have at least one-or-two more years to get myself up there before I have to start thinking realistically about another pathway," he said. "I am definitely going to give it another red hot crack for another two years then I'll have to be realistic. I am not getting any younger, only getting older, so I just have to keep on pushing the pedals."