Anton Cooper headlines mountain biking team

MATT RICHENS
Last updated 05:00 10/07/2014
Anton Cooper
Fairfax NZ
MEDAL HOPE: 19-year-old Canterbury rider Anton Cooper headlines the NZ mountain biking team for the Commonwealth Games.

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Anton Cooper is the name most New Zealanders will look for to feature in the mountain biking at the Commonwealth Games.

It is a New Zealand team with an eye to the future, but that does not mean they cannot come home with some silverware.

Cooper, from Woodend, near Christchurch, is ranked third in the Commonwealth and while that surely puts him in line for a medal, he is still relatively untested in the Elite grade.

Rotorua's Sam Gaze has not lost to Cooper in 2014 and beat him at the national championships in February, but is greener still at the top level.

Cooper is 19, Gaze just 18 and their rivalry and place on the world stage could eventually grow to the same level as that of shot putters Tom Walsh and Jacko Gill.

Cooper, the 2012 junior world champion and Gaze will both likely find themselves chasing Australian Dan McConnell.

McConnell is ranked fourth in the world, the next best in the Commonwealth is South Africa's Philip Buys in 25th before Cooper is 31st. Gaze is back in 78th but, like Cooper, has genuine pace.

Queenstown-based and Horowhenua-born and raised Kate Fluker, too, is relatively inexperienced and only been competitively mountain biking for three years.

In 2010 she had not even sat on a mountain bike, preferring horses, but this year she won both rounds of the New Zealand National Mountain Bike Cup and then the national championships.

Karen Hanlen was left off the initial team list, but added after it was decided health issues - namely an artery problem in her leg caused by her riding position - were behind her.

Hanlen, who finished 18th at the London Olympics, has recently had good speed in the middle and ends of races, but lost time at the start.

Initial signs are that surgery helped and in a sport like mountain biking where a good start is crucial, the added early speed could well see her much closer to the front.

Pre-surgery she was still no mug, Hanlen won the Oceania Championships at Mt Hutt, beating Fluker and Australian Olympian Rebecca Henderson in the process. 

BEST MEDAL HOPE: Anton Cooper is New Zealand's best chance at a third mountain biking medal, though team-mate Sam Gaze has knocked him over a couple of times. Cooper is ranked higher and has done more in the sport. Either way, it is hard to see any bloke getting near Aussie Dan McConnell. Cooper is ranked third in the Commonwealth, but the rankings are not as reliable as in some sports.

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OUTSIDE MEDAL HOPE: Kate Fluker could lay claim to this title, but we are going with Karen Hanlen. Hanlen consistently battled with early speed in races. Later in the race she was as quick as anyone, but slow starts were costing her. After a couple of false starts, she has worked out what is wrong and had surgery on a dickey artery. She is a little light on time on the bike, but we are picking Hanlen could cause a bit of a shock.

SCHEDULE: July 29.

VENUE: Cathkin Braes Mountain Bike Trails.

NEW ZEALAND'S MEDAL HISTORY AT THE GAMES: Mountain biking has only appeared in two Commonwealth Games, in 2002 and 2006. Only 12 medals have been given out, but two of them to Kiwis. After winning a road-race silver in 1998, Susy Pryde won a silver in Manchester on her mountain bike. Four years later, Rosara Joseph also won a silver, in Melbourne.

DID YOU KNOW: Canada have won six of the 12 mountain-biking medals to be awarded including three of the four golds.

- The Press

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