Anton returns to New Zealand to defend his jersey and will wear the national colors again for 2019.
Anton Cooper made the long trip back home from Spain where he had attended a team training camp and competed in two early-season races, winning both. Arriving with only days to prepare, Cooper also came down with a head cold, adding to the jetlag, and defending his title was never a certainty for the 24-year-old.
I was expecting a tough race at Nationals, and that's exactly what I got. The races in Spain showed that I had good form but with a long-haul journey home, jetlag, and a head cold to contend with upon my arrival into NZ it was going to make it that much tougher to defend my title. Although I was much healthier for the race than when I first arrived home, I felt quite weak during the race and like I wasn't really able to recover well from hard efforts.
Cooper started fast, getting rid of all but Ben Oliver, who was hot on his heels throughout the race. The pair rode together until the third lap of five when Cooper hit the gas on the main climb and opened a significant gap. However, Oliver never surrendered, keeping the pressure on for the final two laps and finishing only 20 seconds in arrears.
I tried to get away early in the race and was able to distance most of the riders but wasn’t able to open a significant gap on Ben who was able to close down any small gaps I was able to open up. I could tell I was stronger on the climbs than Ben and would have to make that work to my advantage. I dug deep once again on the main climb of the lap on lap 3 of 5 to finally get some breathing space on Ben. I had to push hard to maintain that gap over the second half of the race, and thankfully I had enough in the tank to do so and retain my National title, explained Cooper.
Really happy to tick the box and take maximum points from the race, but most importantly retain my National title and make it three in a row (10 total - including 5 Elite titles).