Date: Thursday, 29 January 2015
Posted by: Cycling Southland

Tarsh HansenThe fire is back and former Olympic track cyclist Natasha Hansen is focused on returning to the sport's biggest stage.

Hansen was a surprise call up for the final round of the World Cup series in Colombia earlier this month, her first significant international outing since the 2012 Olympics in London.

The loss of her close friend Nicola Stock to cancer just before the London Games was something which affected Hansen very deeply, something which took her some time to recover from.

"We were so close, and she was my mentor right through. Leading into London it was very challenging, and post-London is was tough to motivate and be on top of my game. I think I needed the year after that off."

Subsequently dropped from the New Zealand programme, Hansen returned to cycling last year with coach Jerard Stock, Nicola's brother, but suffered a prolapsed disc in her back.

Gym training and the pressure of sprinting might have been the root cause for the back injury, but the niggles turned to blinding pain when she bent over to tie up her shoelace one day.

The injury required three months of rest, but in the interim Hansen, an air traffic controller, has transferred from Invercargill to Hamilton airport in a bid to force her way back into the New Zealand sprint programme based at Cambridge.

It won't be easy.

Hansen's former team sprint partner Katie Schofield had overtaken her as New Zealand's leading female sprinter over the past couple of years, and Schofield has recently been supplanted by Steph McKenzie.

Hansen and Schofield reunited at the Cali World Cup, breaking the New Zealand record and finishing fourth overall, with Hansen going within 0.1sec of her personal best.

It's likely only two female sprinters will be selected for next month's world championships in Paris, with this week's national championships cementing selection.

"There's so much pressure. I really want to go [to worlds], stamp my mark. There's such strong competition between us girls that I'm feeling super nervous, but nerves are good and I just hope I can rise to the occasion."

Aiding Hansen in her comeback has been the support of partner Ben Stewart, himself a sprint cyclist hoping to push his way into the New Zealand programme.

Southland will be chasing an eighth-straight Points Shield win during this week's national elite track cycling championships in Cambridge, which start today and run until Sunday.

Cycling Southland has dominated track cycling at national level since the advent of the SIT Zerofees Velodrome in 2008.

The centre won a seventh Points Shield - a combined points competition which takes in both the national elite and under 19 championships and next month's national age group championships - at Cambridge's Avantidrome last year.

Auckland had won the shield for the preceding six years.

Manager Dave Beadle said the Southland-based members of the team had settled in well at Cambridge.

Southland will be strongly represented in men's and women's elite sprinting, with New Zealand representatives Eddie Dawkins, Matt Archibald, McKenzie and Hansen.

Southland will field a very fast men's team sprint which includes Dawkins, Archibald and Jeremy Presbury.

The women's endurance squad includes recent World Cup representative Kirsty James and New Zealand Paralympic pilot riders Laura Fairweather and Kylie Young.

Emma Cumming will ride across the two disciplines, although she is recovering from illness.

The Southland team will miss Commonwealth Games gold medallist Tom Scully, who has made himself unavailable for the current track season, and Pieter Bulling's race programme has been limited by Cycling New Zealand and he won't compete in the madison.

Despite that, the in-form Cam Karwowski and Nick Kergozou are fresh from the Cali World Cup and fellow New Zealand representative Liam Aitcheson returns to track cycling after a break.

Photo and article courtesy The Southland Times

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