The world’s top emerging cyclists have converged on Invercargill in the deep south of New Zealand this week for the UCI Juniors Track World Championships.
The Stadium Southland Velodrome will host 154 riders from 24 different countries, many of whom could feature on Olympic podiums from Rio 2016 and beyond.
There are 19 Rainbow jerseys up for grabs in the under-19 event which is being held in New Zealand for only the second time since 1983 in Wanganui and is the first UCI World Championship in Invercargill, which is rated one of the fastest sea-level tracks.
Six riders are back to defend their world titles won last year, with three of them also current junior world record holders.
Track cycling powerhouses Australia, Great Britain and Russia head the list of international competition, with New Zealand’s 16-strong team firmly in the running as well following their breakout 10-medal haul last year in Moscow.
“We’re feeling very confident,” said Australian team manager Rik Fulcher. “But we also know we are up against some tough opposition with the local New Zealand team and also some of these other teams from around the world, like Russia and Great Britain.”
Australia has sent 14 athletes across the ditch for this event, including four defending world champions.
“We have high expectation of our athletes as always, because they all put in a huge amount of commitment and effort to get the rewards,” said Fulcher.
“We wouldn’t send these athletes if we didn’t think they were ready to compete at this high level and have the ability to get the results.”
Great Britain has sent a small, but high quality team with three of the five-strong team current European champions.
“We tried to encourage the team to deal with travel and competing at a new track in Portugal for the European Championships; this is going to be even more exaggerated in New Zealand,” said British Cycling’s Jon Norfolk.
“There will be much more to deal with for them with long-haul travel and multiple time-zones. I think it is about as far as you can travel from here [Great Britain] track-wise.”
Many of the international teams have endured lengthy journeys to get to Invercargill. None more so, it would seem, than the seven Belarusian riders who arrived in town at 3am this morning following an overnight drive from Christchurch airport.
Their arrival concluded the travelling, meaning all 24 teams were on show during today’s final practice session.
The event begins tomorrow and runs through to Sunday night. For live updates and results throughout the week, visit www.juniorworlds2012.com.