New Zealand celebrated an historic opening day of the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Colombia by blitzing to their first ever men’s Team Sprint gold and also banking a bronze medal in the men’s 4000m Team Pursuit during an rollicking session in Cali.
The crack Team Sprint trio of Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster and Eddie Dawkins avenged last year’s World Championship defeat to Germany be going one better in the 2014 edition to shade a titanic tussle by just 0.045 in 42.840 - their second fastest time of the day.
In a gripping final, Mitchell (Auckland), the lead Kiwi rider, blasted out of the start gate and after lap one New Zealand trailed their German rivals by just 0.021. Webster (Auckland) took his turn at the front on lap two, although the defending champions had edged out to a 0.037 advantage at two-thirds distance.
It was then left to Southland’s Dawkins, 24, to try and reel in Germany’s Maximilian Levy, a four-time world champion, which he did with a blistering third lap performance to secure gold with a dazzling ride.
Webster, 22, was elated to finally strike gold and earn revenge on the Germans.
“It has been a hard few years for us. In 2012 we got bronze and we qualified first last year but couldn’t capitalise on a good qualification,” he explained. “We’ve been working hard and it is a new year with a new coach, so to win gold this time means a lot to us.
“It was a very tight race – only a couple of hundredths of a second separated us the whole way. It was Eddie that brought it home for us. He was the one that pulled the cat out of the bag and won the race for us.”
The Kiwis had earlier served notice of their gold medal winning potential after comfortably leading the qualifiers with a scintillating national record time of 43.065 – almost half a second faster than their previous fastest of 43.544 set at last year’s world’s in Belarus.
In a tight battle for bronze France (43.285) edged Russia by just 0.028 in the ride-off for the bottom spot on the podium.
Earlier in the session, New Zealand secured a fourth men’s 4000m Team Pursuit bronze medal at the past six editions of the World Championships by comfortably defeating Russia in the ride-off for the minor medal.
The young Kiwi quartet of Pieter Bulling (Invercargill) 20, Dylan Kennett (Waimate) 19, Aaron Gate (Auckland) 23 and 31-year- old veteran Marc Ryan (Timaru), produced an impressive ride to stop the clock in 3:58.989 – the second fastest time of the competition. Russia recorded 4:00.777 to place fourth.
New Zealand had qualified fourth fastest courtesy of a solid time of 4:02.065 and it was Russia who held a slender advantage at 1km on the bronze medal ride off. However, by the 2km mark New Zealand had forged ahead before tightening their grip on the minor podium spot with an eye-catching final 2km.
A delighted Bulling said of securing bronze: “The boys are feeling pretty bloody good. This is my first elite world championships so to get a medal is great.
“We knew we could do it. We raced to a plan but equally we knew we had to really fight for it. That medal did not come easy.
“In qualifying we were not that happy with our final kilo and tonight we knew it would come down to being strong in the final kilo.
“Aaron did a lap and a half pull to set us up and I was able to do a lap and a half in my final turn. The camp is absolutely fizzing.”
Australia, the defending champions, bagged Team Pursuit gold in a time of 3:57.907 ahead of Denmark, the fastest qualifiers, who took silver (3:59.623).
BikeNZ Head Coach Dayle Cheatley said of a memorable session for New Zealand track cycling: “The Team Sprint was unbelievable. It has been a programme developed over four or five years and their work ethic and commitment was been outstanding.
“The team pursuit bronze ride was outstanding. That was the time we knew they could deliver. It’s been a good programme for a new and young combination which is developing. Now they can see what they are capable of and importantly where they need to go. Tonight everything clicked.”
New Zealand will be hoping for more success on day two as five Kiwi riders are in action at the Velodromo Alcides Nieto Patino.
Fresh from his Team Sprint gold medal Dawkins returns to compete in the men’s Keirin and the New Zealand challenge in that event will be further bolstered with the presence of Olympic bronze medallist Simon van Velthooven (Manawatu). Ryan, a bronze medal winner in the 4000m Team Pursuit, tries his luck in the 4000m Individual Pursuit alongside Timaru’s Shane Archbold (Timaru). Meanwhile, Kennett will be in action in the men’s Scratch race.
Men’s 4000m team pursuit final
Australia 3:57.907, 1; Denmark 3:59.623, 2; New Zealand 3:58.989, 3; Russia 4:00.777, 4.
Men’s Team Sprint
New Zealand 42.840, 1; Germany 42.885, 2; France 43.285, 3; Russia, 43.309, 4.