New Zealand head coach Dayle Cheatley is expecting a white hot competition when the all-important pre-Olympic UCI Track Cycling World Cup season kicks off in Cali, Colombia tomorrow (NZ time).
The three-stop World Cup circuit, which comes to New Zealand for the first time to the Avantidrome in Cambridge on 4-6 December, will not only determine spots for the world championships in March but also largely determine the fate of several nations chasing Olympic qualification to Rio.
The European nations will be highly favoured in Cali, coming to South America on the back of the European championships two weeks ago.
“You can already sense a more heightened level of urgency around this World Cup. The pressure is really on especially those countries on the cusp of qualification,” Cheatley said.
It will also largely determine the make-up of teams to venture to Cambridge in December.
“If teams do not meet targets here they will need to send their strongest possible teams to New Zealand. It becomes a game of chess but there’s a lot at stake here.”
New Zealand, like Australia, have sent their top-ranked sprint squads to Cali to produce an early showdown for next year’s world championship and Olympics.
New Zealand is led by the team sprint combination of Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster and Eddie Dawkins, the current world silver medallists, who beat Australia to win the Oceania title earlier this month. They won the 2014 world title on the Cali track.
They also have Olympic medallist Simon van Velthooven who will contest the individual events in Cali, with a focus on the keirin competition.
London Olympian Natasha Hansen has fought back to regain her spot in the team sprint joining starter Katie Schofield in the women’s combination.
“The boys have been training well and building well. This will give them a good litmus test where they are at. They worked very hard during the winter in USA and Europe and looked strong at Invercargill when they beat Australia in the team sprint,” Cheatley said.
The endurance squad is led by 2013 omnium world champion Aaron Gate, who is showing glimpses that he is returning to encouraging form after a crash that stunted his European racing.
“My form has been pretty good lately. I will also be involved in the team pursuit squad with a young group of riders like Luke Mudgway and Nick Kergozou along with Cam Karwowski and Shane Archbold,” Gate said.
“It is a track that you never really know what it will throw at you so we will be looking for a good result and smooth qualifying ride tomorrow,” Gate said.
“We’ve settled well although we had a couple of days waiting for our bikes to arrive and good to out on the track and get the feel of things. Everyone is well rested now and ready to get in to it.”
The women’s team is also a mix of youth and experience with the likes of exciting young rider Holly Edmondston joining fellow South Island riders Kirstie James, Liz Steel and Alysha Keith and Wiakato’s Philippa Sutton.
The first day is limited to qualifying for both team pursuit and team sprint.
CAPTION: Aaron Gate in action at last year’s world championship in Cali.
Photo courtesy Guy Swarbrick