Anton Cooper is without a doubt the next mountain bike king! Having pulled-off a whopping 6th position at the UCI XC World Cup Race in Stellenbosch earlier this year, I’m keen to see what he has install for us at this weekend’s 2nd round of the UCI XC World Cup in Albstadt.
I managed to catch this super-fast guy for an interview, some time ago. Here’s what we chatted about! – Enjoy!
- So can you tell me a bit about where you grew up, and how you discovered your passion for cycling?
“Yeah, I grew up in Christchurch, New Zealand. Which is on the south most island of New Zealand. I was into a whole lot of sports when I was younger, playing soccer, tennis, doing a little bit of cross-country running. Just kind-of doing everything.”
“I would ride a bike for fun. Just with my mates, and my dad, that was also into cycling. So I used to head-out with him a lot. He was never a racer, but just enjoyed keeping fit. We’d often build bike tracks in the back-yard, ramps, jumps and that sort of thing. I just enjoyed everything really.”
“When I was 11, I did my first cycling race. And I won it, and I thought well this is pretty cool. I’m doing well, so I’m enjoying it more. So I kept doing more and more races, and went from there. Everything has sort-of just been a stepping stone, taking it bit-by-bit. There haven’t been any huge leaps from myside. It’s just been a building process.”
- What’s the MTB scene like in New Zealand?
“Ah, the New Zealand MTB scene is never-ending. Every town, city, or village, has MTB tracks. The industry has just exploded, and where I live there’s hundreds of kays of single-track.”
“I think the big thing about New Zealand is the variety. Like you have tracks in the forest, with moist, dense ground, or you have this clay surface, or even a dry gravel surface like here in South Africa. The terrain also changes so much. You have flats, you have big hills, huge mountains. So I think that’s the cool part of the industry. And the cycling culture has just taken off. Overall, New Zealand is cycling mad, but especially MTB crazy.”
- So your neighbouring country, Australia; how would you compare the MTB scene there compared to New Zealand?
“Yeah, so track wise, Australia doesn’t have like the rugged mountains – it’s generally quite flat terrain. Where as compared to New Zealand, all the mountains are like, boom, straight up from the sea. And that’s obviously unique to us. Australia is mostly flat, although they still have big hills. The big difference between us and Australia, riding wise, is the ground surface. Like Australia is this red dirt, rocky ground. It’s actually very similar to where we’ve raced here in SA –but just more rocks really!”
“So yeah, Australia is a bit like Mars, with a few gumtrees as well. But I think the riding culture is similar to New Zealand. Both countries have a lot of riders. Although I’d say New Zealand probably more. Australia does enjoy the race scene of the industry though. You know, in New Zealand, we’re a bit behind on the racing part. Like we have so many people love to just get out on a bike, but when it comes to racing XC we’re just behind. Where as you go to Europe and everyone wants to race but there’s not so many people just going out and playing on the tracks. That’s a big difference I’ve noticed.”
- What do you think about SA trails? Having spent a bit of time here riding and racing…
“I haven’t spent, honestly, a lot of time on this trip here, because I had New Zealand nationals a few weeks before. A literally, after that, had to pack and fly over here. So I’ve seen a bit of the trails and race tracks, in the Stellenbosch area. What I’ve noticed about South Africa, though, your trails are more fast and often quite flowy. Which gives it a good fun factor to riding here. So that’s the big thing I’ve noticed, and also that the weather here is always pretty decent.”
- If I take a look at your results for this year so far; it looks like you’ve finished 1st in pretty much every race, apart from MTB World Cup on Saturday. One could suggest that you’re in-line to be the next Nino Schurter. What’s your determination behind this? (personally)
“I love winning at the end of the day. And that’s probably the soul reason why I train hard and I push hard, and race hard. I’m just competitive. I don’t necessarily do it for money or glory; it’s more of a personal satisfaction. That you get when you race and you win.”
“With racing world cups, there’s also an excitement that you get, being able to perform in-front of 15 000 or even 20 000 people. Like they’re screaming, and you’re all just sort-of part of the moment. Not many people get to experience that ever. And to actually be one of the front runners in the top 10 at a world cup, is all in the moment. That’s what sort-of drives you to keep coming back for more and to just do it better. You just want to push for the podium or you want to win this. There’s always more to improve.”
- How was your race this past Saturday at the UCI World Cup, taking 6th place?
“It was good, because you know it’s the first world cup of the year, and you don’t really know what to expect. It’s like the first time, where everyone is on the start line together. So yeah, I wanted to have a good start, and after that if I could keep the pace, I’d push on. But otherwise I would have to ride my own tempo.”
“I did feel that pace was really good for me at the start, and I could control it a bit. However, kind of half around the 2nd lap and start of the second lap, I just had to back off. I couldn’t go with the pace that was being set. I think the pace will come though. With the amount of training I’ve done at the moment, I’m really happy with that position. I’ve done hours in the saddle, but sort-of haven’t done that intensity yet. I’m satisfied with the result because it was better than I expected it could be.”
“6th is quite good. There’s not many more places you need to pass to get to the top. So overall it was a good way to start the season.”
- What’s your aspirations for this year’s World Cup season?
“It’s interesting now with the short track in the race. And I think that’s going to contribute now, overall to the world cup ranking. But I haven’t really set myself a goal, of say finishing in the top 5 or whatever. My goal is more on individual events; I want to win a world cup sometime this year. And feature on the podium some more.”
“Then there’s always world champs, at the end of the season. It’s the one event where everyone really wants to perform and win a rainbow jersey. I want to have a good strong race there, simple really.”
- How do you stay motivated to keep pushing your-self to the next level?
“Yeah, motivation it’s like goal setting I suppose. It’s pretty crucial, because without the goal you don’t really have a target. I mean you can move and change that target all the time, but I suppose the motivation comes from having a goal. Once you have that goal it kind-of lights the fire inside. And then it just gets you through the hard days.”
“It is exciting to back at a world cup because that’s the moment where you get to prove itself, and you actually get to race the best guys in the world. That’s what we all love, is to turn up, and look at the start line; and go man, every face I see here has a result to their name or they’re a deal, you know.”
- What do you love about riding a bike?
“I love getting out and exploring. In New Zealand one of my favourite things is to like go out into the back country really. Whether you pack a fishing rod in your bag or just some hiking shoes. Getting out and exploring something that you don’t normally see, and I think that’s completely separate from the race side of things. Where we are in a more urban environment, and we’re racing close to a city.”
“In the end it’s what mountain bikes were intended for, not so much the racing, but like exploring and going somewhere new. Where a regular bike can’t go. I enjoy doing that at home, I mean I live in a perfect country for doing that. So I try to make the most out of it in that off season or base training time, just to get out and explore.”
10. What’s your all-time favourite bike to ride?
“Hmmm… If I had to choose a fun bike to ride, a bike that really does it all; it would be the Trek Top Fuel. I know I race the Procaliber hardtail always, and I would always choose that as a race bike, but the Top Fuel is a bike that actually has much capability. It really does, it’s not just a cross-country machine. You can bomb down hills with it, through some seriously rough stuff, and get away with it. Though some riders you wouldn’t want to put on it, and trust them with it. *Anton throws a suspecting glance out”
“All-in-all if you know how to ride the Top Fuel, and know where to put the wheels, that thing really motors. So there’s a fun factor to the bike, which is pretty cool, and then there’s the cross-country style for those type of riders.”
- Is there any advice you can give to younger riders that are aspiring to be like you?
“Yeah, keep it fun and at a young age its really about working on your skills more than anything. It’s not saying; oh I’m 15 years old, I need to be on a training program, training 6 or 7 days a week or hitting the gym or whatever. It’s just not how it should be. Unless you have a desire to personally go and do that, there’s no stopping you. It really though, from a young age, it’s about developing the skills.”
“That’s the first and foremost things, because as you grow older, and you naturally develop, and you’re riding a bike more, then you can start a program. That natural strength and fitness will come with age, but you can’t develop skills when you’re older, just like you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. If you’re twenty years old, and you haven’t learned basic skills yet, you’re never going to be as good as someone that has learnt that from 10 years old.”
“So just play on the bike, and when you’re ready than set goals and target races for sure.”
- Do you have a favourite MTB trail?
“My favourite like trail or area at least, is called Craigyburn Castleberg area. It’s like on the central/South Island of New Zealand. Near the Authur’s Park National Park Area. There’s just honestly so many trails there, but it’s like a very unique to New Zealand vibe, with the mountains. And the soil type and trees that you’re riding through, it’s like a beach forest. The leaves that kind-of fall down there are very fine leaves, and that kind-of mixes with the soil.”
“So you get nice grip there, and the floral with the roots as well. I just love it there, it’s like my favourite at the moment. Although its bean my favourite for the last 5 years.”
- What do you think about Jonkershoek having ridden there?
“Oh there’s some wicked stuff there! It’s also very unique to South Africa. And I think that’s what is so great about traveling the globe. You get to see trails that you wouldn’t if you just stay in your one country or your one area. I enjoy that aspect, and it’s pretty cool to come some place different and ride new tracks.”
- Do you prefer technical rock gardens or long steep climbs?
“Hmmm… Probably long steep climbs. You know that in the end, they both sort-of suit me a bit. But if had to choose from a fun perspective, I’d choose the rock garden.”
“I prefer like roots and that sort-of stuff over rocks though. Because a lot the tracks we do, are these man-made rock gardens. They don’t always have a flow to them, or it’s hard to find the flow. On some more natural courses though, you have rocks and roots mixed into it. And it’s like; ah there’s the line, you pick it, and then there’s still multiple line choices. Rather than just going; here’s the rock garden and you can see the obvious line that everyone takes.”
That was 14 Questions with Anton Cooper (a.k.a The Machine). Stay in touch for more blogs just like this one!