Woodend wonder Anton Cooper just didn't "have the legs" as he lost his national cross-country mountain bike title to Waikato's Sam Gaze in Rotorua on Saturday.
The 18-year-old from Te Awamutu outsprinted Cooper, 19, to claim a thrilling race.
Cooper, a professional with the Cannondale team based in Europe and former junior world champion, pushed hard from the start but Gaze stuck with him throughout, before managing to take Cooper on the final corner.
Cooper, building for a big season in Europe with his eye on the world championships and the Commonwealth Games, paid tribute to his rival.
"I just don't think I had the legs," he said. "It was a tough, tough race. I just couldn't quite drop them. I was putting little gaps into them on some of the climbs, but they'd just sneak it back.
"I let Sam lead down the final straight hoping I'd come round him. I almost got it but he closed me out and full credit to him."
Gaze, last year's Oceania junior champion, is in just his first year out of the under-19s.
"It's unbelievable. I didn't know what to expect," Gaze said.
Meanwhile, 26-year-old Kate Fluker from Queenstown withstood the charge from London Olympian and defending champion Karen Hanlen, of Whakatane, to take on the elite women's honours on a testing course in the Whakarewarewa Forest.
Hanlen was far from disappointed with second, and will now reconsider retirement plans to chase a birth for Glasgow.
"For two years now I've been plagued with being unable to get on the pace in the first lap. Just this week it's been finally diagnosed that I have asthma and already with a few days medication I felt so much better."
In the downhill championships yesterday, Queenstown-based professional George Brannigan won the men's event and Lower Hutt's Sarah Atkin claiming the women's honours. Both riders earned their first national elite titles.
Brannigan, 21, said the victory showed that he is fit and healthy again after a frustrating 2012 international season.
Another key was his move from his family home in Hawke's Bay to Queenstown in the off-season.
Meanwhile, North Canterbury's Ben Oliver won the under-19 men's cross-country title, Christchurch's Georgia Petrie claimed the under-19 women's downhill crown, and Tyler Brooker of Christchurch won the senior men's downhill title.
Elite men's cross-country: Sam Gaze (Te Awamutu) 1:32:30 1, Anton Cooper (North Canterbury, Cannondale Factory Team) same time 2; Dirk Peters (Rotorua) 1:33:29 3.
Elite women's cross-country: Kate Fluker (Queenstown) 1:31:56 1, Karen Hanlen (Whakatane) 1:32:38 2, Fiona Macdermid (Palmerston North) 1:36:11 3.
Elite men's downhill: George Brannigan (Havelock North, Trek World Racing) 3:01:40 1, Sam Blenkinsop (Wanganui, Lapierre International) 3:02:00 2, Nick Beer (Switzerland) 3:04:26 3.
Elite women's downhill: Sarah Atkin (Lower Hutt) 3:45:83 1, Alanna Columb (Queenstown) 3:51:85 2, Harriet Latchem (Queenstown) 3:52:59 3.
I just don't think I had the legs. Anton Cooper Woodend mountainbiker --------------------
- The Press
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