Cooper, 19, goes into the final round of the cross-country season, his first in the under-23 category, in 11th place overall on rankings, despite missing most of the season with illness. He bounced back to win the World Cup in Mont Sainte Anne in Canada and then finished in a highly creditable fourth at the world championships two weeks ago in South Africa.
The only other Kiwi racing in the cross-country is Queenstown’s Kate Fluker in the elite women.
It is the penultimate round for the downhill riders, with the Kiwis continuing to be decimated by injury with national champion Brook MacDonald forced to finish his season early. He is heading home to get immediate surgery on a rotator cuff tear in his shoulder, in order to ready himself for next season.
“I have been struggling with the shoulder injury that I suffered when I was back at home and had a silly little crash on my cross-country bike,” MacDonald said. “It has been holding me back and I was struggling a lot.
“It was not what I really wanted as I had started the season off well and then suffering with this has been hard with bad results and struggling to ride the bike. Something like this is difficult to deal with.”
That leaves an in-form Sam Blenkinsop and the much improved George Brannigan to lead the way. Blenkinsop (Lapierre International) is seventh overall on the world rankings as he chases another World Cup podium while Brannigan, a teammate of MacDonald at Trek World Racing, is fully recovered from early season major knee surgery and enjoyed an impressive World Championship result.
Also confident will be Taranaki’s Wyn Masters after his outstanding 17th placing at the Worlds.
Other Kiwis joining them in qualifying include Wyn’s brother Ed, Matt Walker, Bryn Dickerson and Reon Boe in the elite men, Alanna Columb, Veronique Sandler and Sophie Tyas in elite women with Kyle Lockwood and Raphael Kammlein-Cutler in junior men.
The seeding runs are overnight tonight (NZ time) for downhillers, with practice overnight Saturday, with Cooper and Fluker to race on Sunday (NZ time).