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Cooper and Sheppard post come-back wins

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 25/02/2017

Anton Cooper of New Zealand © Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Anton Cooper of New Zealand Anton Cooper and Samara Sheppard have celebrated comeback cross-country wins at the mountain bike national championships near Wanaka.

Commonwealth Games champion Cooper, the former junior world champion, won the men's title in emphatic fashion at the Cardrona Alpine Resort.

The 22-year-old grabbed the lead and was never threatened, winning in one hour 23 minutes 21 seconds, nearly 4min clear of fellow-North Canterbury rider Ben Oliver. Wellington's Jack Compton was third.

Cooper was delighted with his progress back into the sport after missing much of last year with illness and chronic fatigue.

"I am feeling good but I have a lot of room to improve which is a good thing," he said.

"The amount of time I had off due to my illness is very significant for an elite athlete. It may take the whole season gradually building up and I will take it carefully to keep finding form."

Sheppard, the Australian-based Wellingtonian, gained her maiden national title as she makes her way back.

The 26-year-old was one of the country's most exciting young riders but fatigue and some illness brought about a loss of form.

Defending champion Kate Fluker from Queenstown pushed ahead of Sheppard on the first climb but the Wellington rider slid past when the leader washed out on a corner.

From that stage she was never threatened, going on to win in 1:26:41, with Fluker more than 5min behind and Auckland's Charlotte Rayner third.

"I haven't been at the pointy end for quite a while but I've had years of experience competing overseas so I know what I am in for and really looking forward to the opportunity to have another go," Sheppard said.

The downhill titles will be decided on Sunday.

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