14 Apr 2014

Fifth place for Cooper in Italy

10:20 am on 14 April 2014

Former junior world champion New Zealand's Anton Cooper made a strong start to the international mountain bike season, finishing fifth in the Under 23 section at the opening round of the UCI World Cup in South Africa.

The 19-year-old made a competitive start as Frenchman Jordan Sarrou pushed clear of the field in the tough five-lap race on a revamped circuit at Pietermaritzburg.

Cooper was in a battle with South Africa's James Reid and Brit Grant Ferguson for the final spot on the podium but had to settle for fifth placing.

Compatriot Karen Hanlen (Whakatane) finished 26th in the elite women's race won by Swiss under-23 rider Jolanda Neff.

She was fourth Commonwealth rider, as the Olympian mounts a challenge for selection to Glasgow.

The World Cup now moves to Cairns in two weeks time which is the final chance for New Zealand riders to press their claims for Commonwealth Games selection.

Meanwhile Wanganui's Sam Blenkinsop led the Kiwis on the downhill slopes in South Africa, finishing fifth in the opening round for gravity riders.

The Lapierre International rider was ninth through the first split but flew down the bottom half of the course to clock 4:03.387, four seconds behind winner Aaron Gwin (USA) who held out Michael Hannah (AUS) and local superstar Greg Minaar (RSA), the defending winner.

Cameron Cole, in his comeback ride from serious injury and first World Cup for his new Commencal team, was a solid 11th place after also making ground on the second half of the run.

Of the other Kiwis in downhill, George Brannigan (Trek World Racing) was 22nd, his teammate Brook MacDoanld, still nursing his way back to full health after injury, was 35th, Matthew Walker (Bansee Bikes) 47th and Wyn Masters (Team Bulls) 50th.