The New Zealand track cycling team stepped back into the London velodrome today for the first time since London 2012 in readiness for this weekend's second UCI World Cup starting on late Friday night (NZ time).
The team had their first hitout this morning (NZ time), with Southland's Cameron Karwowski seemingly untroubled by an injury picked up in a training crash before departure.
The Southland rider has a hairline fracture of his collar bone sustained after the fall but he is confident he will take a full part in what is shaping as the strongest competition outside of February's world championship.
"The travel has gone well and not as challenging as getting to South America," said BikeNZ head coach Dayle Cheatley. "Everyone has settled well and had a good first session.
"It's the first major competition at the velodrome since the Olympics but the track looks just the same although there's obviously been some public usage."
Cheatley is expecting all teams to have stepped up since the first world cup in Mexico.
"We will see the same quantity and quality of riders this week but a step-up in urgency from all teams. It's vital for nations wanting to qualify for the Olympics and the world championships to hit this hard and we are expecting some very strong competition here."
The BikeNZ squad is looking for progressive improvement through to their main goal of February's world championships in Paris, led by the world champion team sprint trio of Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster and Eddie Dawkins.
"All of our squads particularly the sprint team have kept tracking well in the last month and making those gains. They will be striving to make that gold medal ride-off and I don’t see any reason why they can't be in that."
Cheatley was most pleased with the effort of the women's endurance squad in their first international appearance in two years, when they finished fourth in the team pursuit and Raquel Sheath was a promising 11th in her omnium debut.
"They have continued to impress us since they've been back on the track. They are looking to step up from what they did at Guadalajara and expectation is that they get to step on to the podium which would show fantastic gain and progression."
One of the main challenges is for the team pursuit with three rounds on one day, followed by the omnium the next day.
"Teams will be looking strategically in what they do with their line-ups on the first day."
New Zealand have ear-marked the 2013 world champion Aaron Gate to compete in the six-discipline omnium competition to secure qualifying points and options for the team for the world championships and Olympics.
However the men's team pursuit is an untried combination with Karwowski and a returning Myron Simpson in their first World Cup to join Pieter Bulling and Westley Gough.
"I am pretty sure the men's coach Tim Carswell will want to use Aaron for one of the rounds of the team pursuit with such a young squad at this one.
"We will check out the other teams and then set goals for that qualifying ride with the aim of continuing to pick up those Olympic and world championship points."
The Great Britain squad will be keen to impress on the track that brought such success two years ago, the Australians have a large team and all of the major teams are also targeting this world cup.
"It is a very strong competition and exciting to see track cycling in this state right now. It is very strong globally."
The format differs from Mexico with the first day (Saturday NZ time)featuring qualifying, semifinals and finals of the team pursuit for both men and women set for a testing 12 hour programme, with team sprint to also contest both qualifying and finals.
Sunday is the sprint for women keirin for men and the first day of omnium competition for men and women, with Monday featuring the men's sprint, women's keirin and final three events of the omnium.
The final world cup will be in January in Colombia ahead of February's world championships in Paris.
The BikeNZ team is:
Men endurance: Aaron Gate (Auckland), Westley Gough (Waipukurau), Cameron Karwowski (Invercargill), Pieter Bulling (Invercargill), Myron Simpson (Auckland).
Men sprint: Eddie Dawkins (Invercargill), Ethan Mitchell (Auckland), Sam Webster (Auckland), Matthew Archibald (Invercargill).
Women endurance: Lauren Ellis (Hinds), Jaime Nielsen (Cambridge), Rushlee Buchannan (Te Awamutu), Racquel Sheath (Te Awamutu), Georgia Williams (Auckland).
Women sprint: Stephanie McKenzie (Invercargill), Katie Schofield (Dunedin).
CAPTION: The women's team pursuit (from left – Jaime Nielsen, Georgia Williams, Rushlee Buchanan, Lauren Ellis) will be looking for the podium at the London World Cup.
Photo courtesy: Guy Swarbrick