Anton Cooper ended his junior cycling career with a victory in the cross country world championship race in Saalfelden, Austria on Saturday morning. Cooper also made New Zealand history by winning the nation's first-ever cross country world championship title.
Living far from Europe and being in school has kept Cooper from racing more frequently against his European rivals although based on his performances so far, he had realistically hoped to win the world title in his final attempt as a junior.
"Heading into the race, I wasn't sure how it would go because I hadn't raced these French guys in so long," said Cooper. "Today, I had to go with it on the spot. Where I went, I did so because I felt strong and it worked out."
One of several French riders he beat was defending world champion Victor Koretzky. Cooper proved much stronger on the day and rode away from all of his competition to win by over two minutes.
"One of my goals I set for this year was to win the world championships. It's been a dream as a kid to win this thing. I'm finally satisfied.
"Prior to the race, I felt relaxed and had a good sleep. Everything just fell into place. All my training has been really good. I've been well looked after with Trek. I've had a good build-up to Worlds."
Last year's Worlds in Champery, Switzerland didn't go so well due in part to a poor start. This year, Cooper got a good start and "that proved to be one of the factors that helped me win it".
Being off the front for so long can be daunting, but for Cooper, it was one of those kinds of days where there is no suffering. "I had that rainbow jersey in my mind and that was just pulling me to the finish. It was the least painful kind of effort I'll ever do."
Going to and from New Zealand isn't easy, but you have to do it to compete against the world's best riders. "It can be difficult to travel back and forth from New Zealand, but when you come from training in New Zealand in the winter to the summer, you can get a bit of a boost out of that."
Next up for Cooper, he goes home and back to school. "I have a couple months of school and then exams and then I'm finished with that. Next year, I plan on racing a full season - all the World Cups as an under 23."
Note: Vanessa Quin is the only kiwi mountain biker to win an elite title, claiming the women's downhill title in 2004. New Zealand downhill riders have also won three junior world championships, with Scarlett Hagen in 2004 in France, Cameron Cole in 2006 at Rotorua and Brook MacDonald in 2009 at Canberra.
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