• Anton Cooper. (Kane Fleury)Source: Kane Fleury
With the event held on home ground, New Zealand riders claimed the majority of the spoils at the Oceania Mountain Bike Championships held in in Dunedin.
Cycling Central

12 Feb 2018 - 9:54 AM 

New Zealanders Anton Cooper and Samara Sheppard successfully defended their elite Cross-country titles with Cooper winning for the third year in a row.

Reigning Commonwealth Games gold medallist Cooper set the early pace in the men’s race with countryman Sam Gaze able to hold the pace over the opening half of the six-lap race. A mechanical issue for Gaze saw him drop off Cooper but claimed silver with Australia's Cameron Ivory completing the podium.

“It is a big one for me. It is a big wad of points for me and the Continental title is always something special,” Cooper said. “It was a really tough course. As the laps wore on it got tougher and the extended effort crept up on me. But I really enjoyed it.”

The early season success sets Cooper up on a strong path as he looks to defend his Commonwealth Games gold medal at April’s Games on the Gold Coast.

“I am very happy with my progress. It’s nice to get early season wins because it gives you confidence for the rest of the season. There is some really tough competition in the Oceania region so to get the win is always nice.”

There was no stopping Sheppard in the elite women’s from claiming back to back titles with the New Zealander on her own from the start in the five-lap race. With clear dirt in front of her Sheppard rode her own race on route to gold. Behind Holly Harris (Australia) left it all out on the course to collect silver for the second year in a row with Kate Fluker (New Zealand) completing the podium.

“It’s a privilege to win the Oceania Champs again this year, living in Australia and having support there but being a Kiwi and a proud New Zealander,” Sheppard said. “I am really pleased with my form so far this year. We’ve been doing some hard strength work, putting in the building blocks and everything is moving on a consistent incline which is fantastic and building up to hopefully competing in the Commonwealth Games.”

In the under 23 category New Zealand’s Rayner took gold improving from her bronze medal finish 12 months ago, beating Charlotte Culver (Australia). Cruise (New Zealand) took out the under 23 men’s in a New Zealand 1-2-3 ahead of Henry Jaine and Paul Wright.

Crowds were treated to an exciting show in the under 19 men’s with reigning world champion Wright showing his class to take a convincing win in an all Australian top three ahead of Matthew Dinham and defending champion Sam Fox.

Young raced away from her rivals to take out the under 19 women’s title, finishing over a minute and a half clear of silver medallist Teagan Atherstone (Australia) with Ruby Ryan (New Zealand) completing the podium.

Sam Blenkinsop (New Zealand) and Virginia Armstrong (New Zealand) claimed the elite Downhill titles and Sam Robbie (New Zealand) the under 19 men’s on the final day of the 2018 Oceania Mountain Bike Championships in Dunedin, New Zealand, Sunday February 11.

Blenkinsop turned back the clock to claim his second Oceania title in commanding style having tasted Oceania success in Methven, New Zealand in 2014.

Rain overnight made for tricky conditions on the Signal Hill course, with Blenkinsop setting the fastest time in seeding by more than 12 seconds, leaving him the last rider to start in the final.

With rain continuing to fall throughout the day the conditions only became trickier with Blenkinsop one of six riders needing to re-start his run following a red flag after a crash.

The 29-year-old was undeterred by the conditions or re-start as he raced down the course stopping the clock in 3min 13.65sec to take gold. Silver went to Wyn Masters (New Zealand) as under 19 champion Robbie grabbed elite bronze.

“I am happy to get through it, have no injuries and come away with the win. It was also good training in these wet conditions because we can get them in the World Cup season,” Blenkinsop said. “The re-start was harder because I was better at the top of the course in the first run. It was cleaner with the rain in that first run but with no rain in the re-run it had clogged up a bit.

“I almost threw it away in the first corner when I hit a root and slide out. I had another huge moment at the bottom. My chest hit the seat and my legs were hanging out the back like Superman but somehow it worked. I don’t know how I rode it out but I must have got lucky.”

In the elite women’s Armstrong was too quick as she took a commanding victory over rising star and 2017 under 19 champion Shania Rawson (New Zealand) by 14 seconds.

Robbie lead home a New Zealand 1-2-3 in the under 19 men’s clinching gold in 3mins 30.29secs ahead of 2017 bronze medallist Josh Oxenham and Anton Cousins.