Cycling New Zealand has named a 17-strong squad, including five Cycling Southland riders, to contest the UCI Track World Championships in Germany next month.
The championships, to be staged in Berlin on 26 February to 1 March, will provide an all-important litmus test for the Vantage elite team five months out from the Tokyo Olympics.
The women’s endurance squad comprises the quartet of Rushlee Buchanan, Kirstie James, Holly Edmondston and Bryony Botha that won the UCI World Cup in Cambridge last month, where they were just half a second outside the world record and a full five seconds inside their previous national record.
Waikato’s Jaime Nielsen returns after last competing at the world championships in 2017, having taken time away from the sport after setting a national best time and close to a world record for the one-hour ride.
The men’s endurance squad includes omnium world champion Campbell Stewart, the 2017 individual pursuit world champion Jordan Kerby, Nick Kergozou and Regan Gough. Rio Olympian Aaron Gate will make his return along with exciting Southland teenager, Corbin Strong after both riders produced standout World Cup performances.
Both of the endurance squads are highly ranked with the women second on the Olympic rankings in the team pursuit with the men fourth along with first in the omnium.
The sprinters face more of a challenge at the world championships to secure nominations for Tokyo.
The three-time world champion trio of Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster and Eddie Dawkins will compete in Germany, currently ranked fourth in the team sprint but with a massive 2250 points available for the winners, they will be chasing a top-six performance in Berlin.
The trio of Natasha Hansen, Ellesse Andrews and Olivia Podmore will compete in the women’s sprint events. They are currently ninth on Olympic rankings in the team sprint, and will need a competitive finish to secure a tilt at Tokyo.
While the world championships offer the prestige of a rainbow jersey, this year it is not the pinnacle event for New Zealand riders, who will have the bigger picture of Olympic outcomes firmly in their sights.
“Clearly our sprinters will chase top-six placings to bolster their chances both in ranking points and NZOC criteria. There are a lot of points on offer and plenty at stake for our riders,” said Cycling New Zealand High Performance Director, Martin Barras.
“In terms of endurance events, the main focus will be team pursuit, particularly for the women. The bigger picture is that everything they do in Berlin will incorporate a clear Olympic outcome, and not solely about a rainbow jersey.
“This will be our last major international competition before Tokyo, so we need to have a very clear focus and outcomes before we plot out final path to the Olympics.
“The riders selected for the world championships have the first opportunity to push their claims for final nomination for Tokyo but there are reserves and others in the wings with aspirations.”
Barras said the depth of talent in the Vantage elite squad was a significant factor in the high-quality performances in recent months and while excited at the excellence of the team, he recognised that a number of quality riders would remain at home.
Some of the team will take part in off-discipline events at the upcoming national championships while others are competing in road races in New Zealand and Australia before final world championship preparations.
The team will head to Germany in mid-February.
The Vantage elite team is:
Female, endurance: Bryony Botha, Rushlee Buchanan, Holly Edmondston, Kirstie James, Jaime Nielsen.
Sprint: Ellesse Andrews, Natasha Hansen, Olivia Podmore.
Male, endurance: Aaron Gate, Regan Gough, Jordan Kerby, Nick Kergozou, Campbell Stewart, Corbin Strong.
Sprint: Eddie Dawkins, Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster.
Coaches: Rene Wolff (sprint), Ross Machejefski (female endurance), Craig Palmer (male endurance).
CAPTION: The women’s team pursuit, second on Olympic rankings, headline Vantage elite team for UCI Track World Championships. (Photo Guy Swarbrick)