Cooper vows 'to fight to the very last stage'
Joe Cooper is comfortable wearing the favourite's tag heading into the Tour of Southland.
"It's something I will embrace," the Wellingtonian said.
"I'll never give up trying, I'll fight to the very last stage if I have to, to secure something. I've come here with good form."
The 27-year-old Huon Salmon-Genesys Wealth Advisers rider has had an impressive season, winning the national time trial title in January, the prologue at the New Zealand Cycle Classic, claiming third at the Oceania time trial championships, victory in the Tour of Perth and four further stage wins in Australia's National Road Series.
But every competitive New Zealand rider dreams of winning the Tour of Southland, considered the most prestigious stage race in the country.
"It's been a target of mine for a long period of years," Cooper said.
"I think this will be my seventh or eighth tour. I'm definitely still motivated and wanting to race at full gas."
Cooper has won a stage into Gore on the SBS Bank-sponsored tour, but his best finish to date has been fifth.
The ride around Lake Wakatipu is one of his favourite parts of the race, but it's the challenge that drives riders like Cooper.
"Usually one of the strongest riders will win, which has always appealed to me. You can't do a race like this anywhere else in the world where it can be gales one day and the next day it will be no wind and 25 degrees," he said.
"All the guys are motivated as well. It's definitely one thing we went for when we were selecting guys to come down. There's no point being unmotivated because those guys just hop in the car pretty fast."
While his form has been strong, Cooper said good fortune would also play a part in staying ahead of the likes of Jeremy Vennell and Michael Torckler.
"I'll need a bit of luck and I'll need to stay near the front and follow the key guys that we've earmarked. We definitely don't want a big break to succeed and get 10 minutes or something crazy like that."
Cooper enjoys racing in Australia.
The competition is strong, with riders graduating straight from there to Europe, and it offered more consistent riding than anything in New Zealand.
The Huon Salmon-Genesys Wealth Advisers team spent time based in Queenstown before arriving in Invercargill yesterday, including a training ride on the Coronet Peak access road, a new 8km climb being used at the end of Thursday's 187km fourth stage from Te Anau to Queenstown.
"We rode it [Wednesday] to get familiar with it, but we didn't really do too much testing on it. It's going to be an interesting stage," he said.
As the national time trial champion, Cooper will exercise his right to wear the white New Zealand skinsuit in tomorrow's team time trial around Queens Park and next Saturday's individual time trial in Winton.
"I always get a bit of a buzz when I get to crack that out of the bag and pull it on."
- © Fairfax NZ News