It became a 1-2 Canterbury battle for top honours at the Mountain Bike Championships in Rotorua as Anton Cooper claimed his fifth National title with fellow Cantab Ben Oliver hot on his heals finishing in second.
The pair rode together until midway through the third lap of five, when Cooper pushed clear on the main climb to open a 15 second lead. Oliver continued to push hard over the final two laps to keep within reach, finishing runner-up only 20 seconds in arrears.
It was more a case of mission accomplished for Cooper, who claimed his third elite title in a row, after only arriving back in New Zealand on Monday with a head-cold following a training camp in Europe.
“It is special to me. I really had to work hard for this one and I think that makes it more satisfying when you cross the line first. Ben rode well today, and I was feeling it out there,” Cooper said.
“I am happy to pull it off, get the maximum points and the jersey. It doesn’t matter if you win by 20 seconds or four minutes it is still the same amount of points and the title.
“The course was hard. In practice it was a lot easier. There was a lot of flat sections where you had to keep on the gas. There was one main climb which was definitely my strength out there. I tried to maximize my advantage there and tried to drill it because Ben was faster on the flatter stuff. It was a relief to get the job done.”
Cooper said he will return to Christchurch with a heavy heart after the atrocities there this week, in a part of the city he knows well.
“It is obviously heart-breaking that these things happen and in New Zealand now.
“It was playing on my mind out there in the race. When the going got tough I thought about it a couple of times and got the best out of me. “
Cooper said that growing up in Christchurch and at school near-by, he would drive past the area of the shooting every week and has a friend who attends the mosque.
“I don’t know how you deal with it. You will need to mourn for a time, but I guess you also need to go about day to day life somehow.”
Under-17: Ethan Rose (Christchurch) 53:34, 1; Adam Francis (Palmerston North) 55:20, 2; Jacob Turner (Rangiora) 58:17, 3.
Under-15: Maui Morrison (Rotorua) 1:02:15, 1; Max Preece (Auckland) 1:02:51, 2; Nick Rush (Christchurch) 1:03:00, 3.
Under-17: Rebecca Hufflett (Nelson) 1:10:57, 1; Annabel Bligh (Christchurch) 1:12:21, 2; Jenna Hastings (Rotorua) 1:13:28, 3.