Well I am back in Valencia again. It seems like not much has changed since we were here last year, however the feel of the team has changed a lot. Since our last visit New Zealand sprint records have been consistently broken - World Cup, World Championship and Olympic medals won. However, now signals the start of new Olympic cycle. This means we now start the process of qualifying for the 2014 World Championships, which will flow into the Commonwealth Games and then into the Olympic qualification, while trying to figure out how to make up the tenths of a second between us and the top of the podium.
This year our European campaign started with a week-long camp in Auckland, which gave me an opportunity to catch up with the Auckland-based riders and staff, as well as some fairly brutal lactate testing. From here we packed up, meeting Tom Beadle at the airport (from Invercargill) and began the 40 hour trip to Valencia. This involved two 10 hour flights, a two hour flight and a three and a half hour car ride, as well as a few long stopovers. We arrived in Valencia at 1am meeting Simon Van Velthooven who had arrived two days earlier from Japan.
The temperature is much more comfortable here than I remember last year. It is sitting most days at about 25, which we all prefer to the 35-45 we had last year. The morning after arriving we had 3 days to build our bikes, get over the jetlag, switch our bodies into race mode and figure out what gears and lines to ride for the first day of racing. This was made much easier seeing we have already spent time on this track. However, I always find it takes me a while to adjust to the different track, Especially when I have come from the smooth wooden surface of Invercargill to the bumpy concrete surface here.
The first day of racing was sprint with only 16 going through to the first round out of 36 and no rep’s this meant we would all need to qualify well to ensure a smooth run to the finals. My ride felt reasonable average as I didn’t feel 100% comfortably on the bumpy surface. However, I managed to qualify in 4th with 10.29, a solid time for a concrete track. All the Kiwis made it through the first round comfortably. In the Quarter finals I unfortunately came up against team mate and training partner Eddie Dawkins. We all prefer not to race each other in the early rounds as this means a team mate will be knocked out however on the positive one of us is guaranteed to make the Semi. We both knew the races would be tight and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I rode the first ride well leading it out but couldn’t hold on to my speed enough to hold off Eddie’s fast finish and was beaten by a couple of centre metres. In the next ride I failed to capitalise on an opportunity and by the time I put the gas down it was too late and again was beaten on the line by Eddie’s fast finish. Feeling a bit disappointed it was great to see Eddie go on and win the whole competition in a similar style showing that the Kiwis are in good shape.
The following day saw the keirins and another very cut throat schedule. The winner of each heat would go to the A final and the 2nd place would go to the B final. Everyone else would be out. As well as this some heats were stacked a lot more than others. Sam Webster, Tom Beadle, and Eddie Dawkins drew one of the hardest heats with world champion starter Renee Enders. Eddie again showed his strength to lead all the way to the finish. In Tom’s first international race as an elite he had no fear coming up the inside to get himself into third place and narrowly missing out on 2nd to Enders. I also had a difficult heat up against a fast German sprinter and Kevin Serau (world record holder). I made my move with half a lap to go and was only able to manage 2nd being pipped by Serau. I went on to place 5th in the B Final and Simon won the A final, coming around Eddie in the home straight who finished fourth.
We now have had just over a week to recover, get some training in and now head off to Paris. The Paris racing is a somewhat unknown. None of us have been there and we will not get to ride on the track until our first race. We have been told it is a very rough semi outdoor concrete 250m track, so it may come down to who makes the best gear choices and can adapt to the different track.
Keirin finish heat: Eddie in front, Tom inside, Enders beside Tom
Match sprint first round: Matt
5 – 8th start: Sam, Ethan , Matt, Forstermann