• 2017 New Zealand Cycle Classic winner Joe Cooper. (Dave Lintott/Lintott Photography)Source: Dave Lintott/Lintott Photography
Even after three New Zealand national championship titles, two National Road Series titles and an Oceania championship, it seems scary to think we may not have seen the best of Joe Cooper.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Cycling Central
2 Feb 2017 - 10:15 AM 

The New Zealander comes into the Jayco Herald Sun Tour with some red-hot form, having won the nationals road race and the New Zealand Cycle Classic in recent weeks, now he's looking to continue a special affinity with the Australian race.

Cooper has been the yardstick that others have measured themselves by on the local scene for some time but came up against the best in the world last year at the Herald Sun Tour when he made a late attack on the queen stage which Chris Froome followed. The New Zealander had to press on with his first class passenger.

“When you look back and he’s grimacing you feel pretty good,” Cooper said. “Then he launched and you realise why he’s the Tour de France champion and I’m still dreaming about it.”

Froome promptly jumped away at the bottom of Arthur’s Seat to win the stage and the overall, whereas Cooper was caught by the chasing group and finished well down.

“I guess I rolled the dice there and came up a bit short, running out of gas there at the bottom of the final climb," he said. "You live and learn from those moves and I guess I was a bit carried away with the moment and the situation of the race. In hindsight, I probably wouldn’t do that move with Chris Froome on my wheel again.”

He doesn’t mind a joke or two, with a very dry sense of humour often on display in post-race interviews, where he jokingly took a bit of credit for Froome’s 2016 Tour de France win.

“What he did at the Tour de France (launching an attack over the top of Bagneres-de-Luchon), he used my move to win that stage. I reckon he probably thought ‘I’m going to use Joe’s move here’,” he said.

Cooper was third at the Herald Sun Tour in 2015, finishing just behind Cameron Meyer and former teammate Patrick Bevin but won’t come into the race with the same lofty expectations since the long climb to Falls Creek at the finale of Stage 1 is beyond his climbing abilities.

“Falls Creek is 29km and it’s pretty steady the whole way up. If Chris Froome and Chaves want to have their own little personal battle, you probably have to be invited to that," he said. "They’ll be some gatecrashers to their party and if I can grab a late ticket to have a bit more freedom on one of those other days I’ll be happy with that.

“If you lose a bit of time going up Falls, you’ll have a bit more rope going up the road and maybe taking a stage or the king of the mountains jersey. We pride ourselves on being a top team and we get a good chance to show it here.”

Keen observers of the local scene are of the opinion Cooper would be a good addition to a squad at WorldTour level. He has the power and while it might be a bit much to expect him to win at that level he would certainly be a valuable contributor. That isn’t on the horizon, however.

“I used to aspire to that, but now that I’m 31… to make that jump up now, there’s a year to 18 months of actually learning the craft at that level," he said.

"To actually achieve that at this stage is probably a bridge too far. I’m more than happy to ride at this level and enjoy it. Once or twice a year we race against the best guys in the sport and remind them that we’re not complete amateurs.”

Cooper will instead aim to continue his winning ways in Australia, New Zealand and Asia, where he started with verve this year.

“Since the team has been rebranded to IsoWhey Sports-SwissWellness, you want to get the name out there in the best way possible," he said.

"Winning the New Zealand is a great way to headline the start of the season for me and get into the New Zealand jersey after a good preseason with the help of IsoWhey Sports nutrition.

"With the New Zealand Cycle Classic, we had a lot of plans going into the race. We’ve won the race in the past with Ben O’Connor and Nathan Earle, our goal is trying to go to races that we’ve won in the past and keep putting runs on the board.”

At 31, Cooper is getting to the point where he’s considered a veteran of the sport but he looks to be in some of the best form of his career, which he puts it down to consistency.

“I’ve been riding a bike for 12 years and there have been some good results in there with the two NRS titles, you just have to be consistent and have a strong team behind you. The older I’ve become, the more consistent I’ve become.”