Host centre Southland dominated proceedings on the final night of competition at the 2012 RaboDirect Age Group Track Cycling Championships in Invercargill last night.
The defending points shield champion added another 4 national titles and 14 podium finishers to confirm its place at the top of the National Points Shield Standings. After points were colated over the seven days of combined racing across the Elite and Age Group Champs, Southland finishes with 144 points, well ahead of Canterbury (81), Auckland (78) and the fast-improving West Coast North Island (45).
Two brilliant rides by Central Otago's finest put the lid on the emphatic performance by the locals. Sophie Williamson and Liam Aitcheson buried themselves in the Under 19 Points races at the end of the night to stand on the top step of the podium. Williamson was consistently in the points throughout the 15 kilometre women's race and was helped in her cause by a strong finish from team-mate Georgia Timpany who powered away from the bunch over the final three laps to take the final sprint. Williamson was fourth across the line to go to 14 points, two ahead of Auckland's Raccquel Sheath with a brave Alysha Keith a further point back in third. Keith's effort deserves special mention. She was one of three riders brought down early in the race before bravely getting back on her bike, winning the next sprint and fighting all the way to the finish.
Aitcheson's victory was just as impressive. The young Wakatipu-Central Otago club member put himself right in the frame for Junior Worlds selection with a powerful performance from start to finish. The field was forced to respond to a number of attacks from Canterbury riders, quite possibly designed to soften the field up for Dylan Kennett. The Southlanders hit back strongly however over the final half of the race with Josh Haggerty and particularly Tom Vessey proving excellent foils for Aitcheson.
Remarkably three riders, Aitcheson, Hamish Schreurs and Hayden McCormick were tied on 15 points on the standings heading in to the final sprint with Tayla Harrison on 10. Harrison was first across the line meaning Aitcheson needed to pick up a point and finish in front of Schreurs. The two drove to the line together with Aitcheson crossing the line in third, one place ahead of Schreurs to confirm his gold medal. It capped a hugely impressive championship for Aitcheson who just months ago was hospitalised with a serious brain injury following a nasty crash. His is truly remarkable tale of courage and determination.
Earlier in the night the talented youngsters from West Coast North Island dominated proceeding in the Under 15 and Under 17 categories, scooping three gold medals. Kate Stewart successfully defended her Under 17 Girls' sprint title, beating Southland's Laura Heywood two-straight in the final. Canterbury's Olivia Podmore took bronze.
Michael Culling proved his class yet again with another two-straight victory over team mate Nick Kergozou in the Boys sprint with Tasman's Quinn Karwowski filling the third podium step.
The Under 15 scratch races went with the form books with Michaela Drummond continuing her dominance in the girls competition making it a clean sweep of all four titles with victory in the 1.5km Scratch Race over Southland's Emma Cumming and Canterbury's Phoebe McCaughen.
The Boys race saw Campbell Stewart add a another gold to his tally (three golds and a silver) with Hayden Strong and Tom Sexton of Southland earning two very popular medals.
The Under 19 Team Sprint competition provided more drama. The Women's gold went to Auckland's Paige Paterson and Racquel Sheath who proved a class above the rest of the field recording 36.431 to take gold over Canterbury's Alice Hay and Vic Steel earning silver and Southland's Kate Dunlevey and Jennifer Muhl bronze.
The Men's bronze medal raide saw Tasman defeat Auckland by more than a second. The gold medal ride provided a rematch of sorts from the Teams Pursuit final held the night before. On that occassion a puncture saw the title go to Southland over Canterbury. Last night the roles were reversed as Southland crossed the line a tenth of a second faster than Canterbury before being relegated to the silver medal position due to an early change-over.
The Masters Men Keirin appeared on the programme for the first time and provided some spectacular action. Kerry Harford took out the 7-12 Final and Michael White again proved untouchable with gold in the 1-6 Final. Russell Ownsworth took silver and Craig Domigan moved up to take bronze after Garry Smith was relegated due to an infringement in the final sprint.
The Masters 2 and 3 riders backed up to travel 7.5km later in the night as the Scratch race titles were handed out. In Masters 2 (45-54) Kerry Harford could not be stopped with Steve Woods taking silver and Ant Leathart pipping Neil Familton on the line for bronze. Masters 3 (55+) was taken out by Russell Scott by just half a bike length over Bruce Jones with the camera required to seperate Gary Humpherson (3rd) and Les Candy.
And the two Under 17 Team Pursuit gold medalists also added new national records. In the Girls final, Maxyna Cottam, Ruby Perry and Kate Stewart withstood a withering Southland comeback to drive home in the final two laps to gold in a record time of 2:32.289. Laura Heywood, Georgia vessey and Sophie McMurdo took silver and Auckland's Samantha Croft, Lydia Rippon and Holly White defeated Waikato Bay of Plenty for bronze.
The Boys title went the way of a composite team of East Coast North Island's Regan Gough, Luke Mudgway and Corbin Mason-Smith and Southland's Michael Culling who recorded 3:27.015 to take the title by nearly 8 seconds over Auckland's Hamish Jeffries, Charles Michel, Reon Sheath and Kurt Standen. Waiakto-BOP's Jesse Crabb, Sam Dobbs, Lewis Eccles and Tim Lund took bronze.
The evening concluded with the presentation of the Graham Sycamore Cup to the Junior Track Cyclist of the Year for 2011, won by Southland's Stephanie McKenzie. Canterbury's Dylan Kennett took out the Levin Cup for the most points by an Under 19 at the championships and Grant Tommey and Tom Sexton received the National Points Shield on behalf of Southland.
The next major event on the track cycling calendar is the UCI Juniors Track World Championships to be held in Invercargill in August. The New Zealand team is expected to be announced in approximately two weeks time. Certainly, following the standard of racing over the past four days in the deep south, while the selectors may have some difficualty narrowing the squad to required numbers, we can be confident of another strong showing by the riders in black skinsuits in August.
Full results, race video, daily reports and photo galleries from both National Track Championships can be found by clicking here.