Anton Cooper survived a late fall and having to chase for most of the race to win his first New Zealand elite men's mountainbiking championship title on Saturday in Rotorua.
It took until the final lap, of seven, for the Woodend 18-year-old to get ahead of the home town's Dirk Peters but a crash near the finish almost cost him that lead and the title.
Cooper and Peters, who will also race in Europe this northern summer, broke away from the rest of the field almost immediately.
Cooper stayed on his tail throughout before making his move on the final lap past a gutsy, but fatiguing Peters.
"I managed to get a wee break. I knew I needed a break there to hold Dirk off. He was amazingly strong today and all I could do was sit on and wait for my opportunity on that final lap," Cooper said.
After finally passing Peters, Cooper looked assured of the win until his spill on a tight corner.
"I fell about 25 seconds before the finish which got the heart rate going. It was pretty nerve-racking but I managed to get up and hold on. If he'd got in front then he would have won."
Cooper had already won under-15, under-17 and under-19 titles and, because the under-23 and elite grades were raced at the same time on Saturday, he won both of those to complete his full set.
The elite men's win, however, comes with special privileges for the Cannondale Factory Racing team rider.
"It is such a great feeling to win the national jersey. It means I will be able to wear it overseas at the World Cups and that is of huge importance to me and I will wear it with great pride."
There was no rest for Cooper, who yesterday morning flew to Europe to spend time with his new team. He will be back briefly before heading north again to compete in World Cup meets and the world championship.
Olympian Karen Hanlen won the women's race after she, too, had a fall.
She trailed Queenstown's Kate Flucker after tumbling on the second of six laps but her strength and technique enabled her to regain the lead.
- The Press
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