18 year old New Zealander Anton Cooper signed off brilliantly from his international junior racing career by taking the win here in Saalfelden (AUT) at the World Championships, and walking away with the coveted UCI Rainbow Jersey that he's been targeting for the whole season. In winning, he became the first New Zealander to ever stand on the top step at a XC World Championship.
Mixing the final year of High School with World Cup racing has been a tall order that the young rider has taken in his stride. While winning all three World Cups that he entered this year, the field did not always include defending Junior World Champion Victor Koretzky (FRA), who had won three World Cup rounds that Anton hadn't entered. The French had a clear strategy from the outset of the race, as their main advantage was numbers. Three French riders, including Koretzky, marked Anton at the head of the field and tried in the forest sections to unsettle his rhythm and attack on the short transition climbs. None of this fazed the young Kiwi who'd expected this. He maintained his pace and even when Koretzky tried to pull away, never chased him and waited for the Frenchman to eventually come back to him.
Halfway through the second lap Anton managed to get a gap and continue to push it out. In the top forest section of 1 minute duration, Anton was pulling 10 seconds on the chasing French. At the end of the 5 lap race, his winning margin was 2mins 17secs, and his winning time would have placed him 14th in the Elite Men's race, and 2 minutes ahead of the winning Under 23 riders who ran in heavier conditions the day before.
Anton said: "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 World Racing, had the brand new Superfly Ultimate to run, and I've had a good build-up to Worlds. Heading into the race, I wasn't sure how it would go because I hadn't raced these French guys in so long. 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 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."
Anton will race the XC Eliminator today, mixing it up with the Elite guys, before flying back to New Zealand to complete his final two months of school. There's a possibility of racing in China later this month as a special invite at the UCI Test Event, but this will be confirmed later.