Photo: Trek World Racing
Junior world champion Anton Cooper makes his return to UCI World Cup mountain bike racing in Italy this weekend.

Cooper has been off the bike for three weeks with illness and is not expecting too much in this weekend’s race at the demanding Val di Sole course.

There are 27 New Zealand riders in action in the first combined World Cup of the year with both cross-country and downhill competitions at the famed venue in the Trentino region surrounded by the Dolomite mountains. It is noted for its technical and rocky downhill course and steep climbs on the cross-country circuit.

The gravity riders get underway with their qualifying runs tomorrow, with in-form Brook MacDonald (Trek World Racing) and Sam Blenkinsop (Lapierre International) both keen to be back in action after finishing second and fourth respectively in last weekend’s opening downhill round in Scotland.

“I am having a good time on this track and stoked for the weekend. I will be trying my best,” MacDonald said after training runs at Val di Sole.

Cameron Cole, who ventured from the New Zealand winter to Europe in time for the opening round at Fort William last week, was pleased with his 16th placing first-up for his new Yeti Fox Shox team. He is looking forward to a return to one of his favourite circuits, after finishing fifth at Val di Sole in the last two years.

“I think my round one result bodes well for my goal of a top-five overall this year,” said Cole “I’ve had good results in Val di Sole before so here’s hoping my luck continues. “

The cross-country takes centre stage on Sunday (NZ time).

There are nine New Zealand riders involved including Carl Jones, Samara Sheppard, Katie O’Neill and Kate Fluker in the elite races while Dirk Peters, Adrian Retief and Sam Shaw join Cooper in the under-23 division, and Sam Gaze rides in the juniors.

There are 18 Kiwis in downhill action with 10 of them making the finals at Fort William. That has improved the seeding draw for qualifying in Italy as they vie for placings in the New Zealand team for August’s world championships in South Africa.

Val di Sole is a much different course from Fort William with short, steep and technical demands including the infamous rock garden and some new challenging elements as opposed to a long run in Fort William that favoured pedalling fitness and endurance.

Cross-country racing for the Kiwis starts at 9.30pm (NZ time) tomorrow (Saturday) with elite women, with elite men from midnight and the under-23 men from 2.30am Sunday, and junior men from 7.30pm.

Downhill action starts with the seeding and qualifying runs from 11.15pm tomorrow while racing begins from 11.30pm on Sunday with elite women from 1.15am Monday and elite men from 2am.

The New Zealand riders in action are:

Cross-country, elite men: Carl Jones (Whakatane). Elite women: Samara Sheppard (Toko Print Team, Wellington), Katie O’Neill (Rotorua), Kate Fluker (Queenstown). Under-23: Anton Cooper (Cannondale Factory Team, Woodend), Dirk Peters (Rotorua), Adrian Retief (Auckland), Sam Shaw (Rotorua).

Downhill, elite men: Brook MacDonald (Trek World Racing, Napier), George Brannigan (Trek World Racing, Napier); Sam Blenkinsop (Lapierre International, Wanganui), Cameron Cole (Yeti Fox Shox, Christchurch), Bryn Dickerson (Wellington), Tom Matthews (Christchurch), Reece Potter (Nelson), Matt Walker (Kawerau), Ed Masters (New Plymouth), Wyn Masters (New Plymouth), Reon Boe (Queenstown), Cameron Johnson.

Junior: Lawrence Cawte (Rotorua), Raphael Kammlein-Cutler (Dunedin), Jamahl Stringer (Wellington).

Elite women: Veronique Sandler (Nelson), Sophie Tyas (Coatsville), Alanna Columb (Queenstown).

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