The Junior World Champion suffered a mechanical problem on the third lap of the four-lap race which took five minutes to fix to cost him the victory in the under-23 category, finishing seven seconds down on Logan Horn (Christchurch), who won with a time of 1:28:20.
The elite champion was Rotorua’s Dirk Peters who was part of the New Zealand under-23 team in last year’s World Championships.
Horn said he had hoped to have enough to hold off the World Champion.
“I was confident in the position I was in, but Anton would’ve beaten me if he didn’t have the mechanical, and he pulled it back to a really close finish,” Horn said.
“It was a really tough course. It was a long way to the top and big descent, but it’s a really well built course and I enjoyed it. Usually I prefer to have to have two or three mains climbs but I rode well today.”
Cooper, who will ride full time on the UCI World Cup for the Cannondale Factory Team this year, was relaxed about the defeat.
“That’s the way racing is. I’m not too worried as this is part of the build up for me for the rest of the season.”
Invercargill local Logan Havenaar took third place with a time of 1:36:03.
Peters won the five-lap elite men’s race in convincing style with a time of 1:47:16. The 21 year old made the most of favourable conditions to get an early lead on his opponents, including fellow Rotorua rider Carl Jones who took second in 1:50:36, and Auckland’s Adrian Retief in third with 1:52:27.
“It was pretty good out there today. It was pretty rocky but nice and dry which suited me a bit better,” Peters said
“I got away at the start with Anton, who was riding the under-23 race, but then he had a mechanical so I was out on my own. I just rode at my own pace and had fun.
“I’m looking forward to the rest of the series, it should be good, and I’m hoping for a bit of home town advantage for the National Championships in Rotorua.”
The elite women’s race saw Kate Fluker (Queenstown) well ahead of the pack, finishing in a time of 1:40:49, almost nine minutes ahead of second place Erin Greene (Dunedin) 1:48:45 and Cayley Brooks (Canada) 1:51:47.
Mary Gray (Dunedin), a top-10 finisher in the world championships last year, took out the women’s under-23 honours in 1:21:14.
The BikeNZ MTB Cup Series continues next week with the second round in the downhill competition at Mt Hutt followed by Levin on 1-2 February and Hunua in Auckland on 8-9 February, before the National Championships in Rotorua on 15-17 February.
Cross-country riders will face two more rounds in the series at Mt Victoria in Wellington on 1-3 February and Hunua ahead of the National Championships.