The New Zealand cycling team will be straight into action in their two strongest events on the opening day of the UCI Junior Track Championships in Italy starting tonight (NZ time).
The 11-strong team are among the major contenders after claiming nine medals last year in Switzerland, the second highest tally for New Zealand in the championship history.
Arguably their two best medal chances are up for grabs on the opening day with the team pursuit for junior men and junior women at the Fassa Bortolo Velodrome in Montichiari, which is two hours from Milan.
Three of last year’s silver medal-winning junior girls’ team are back this year with Emily Shearman (Palmerston North), Nicole Shields (Clyde) and Kate Smith (Christchurch) joined by Ellesse Andrews (Cambridge), who has moved to the endurance group after winning the gold in the team sprint last year.
Christchurch’s Josh Scott is the long survivor from last year’s world champion junior men’s team pursuit, joined this year by Harry Waine and Aaron Wylie (both Auckland) and Corbin Strong (Invercargill).
Both teams won their recent trans-Tasman finals over Australia, with the women particularly dominant.
“Compared with last year when Campbell Stewart was a standout individual, the junior boys team is on a par at least. There’s no weakness in their squad. They are all healthy and going well,” said head coach Jon Andrews.
“The Italian women won the team pursuit last year with a world record, and they won the European title recently so they will be the team to beat. That said we have no pressure on us and our girls will be a really strong challenge to them.
“Both teams beat Australia and both have come on since then and are much stronger. Both should be in the thick of the medals on form.”
The teams ride in qualifying rounds in the morning (local time), with the fastest eight teams to move through to the first round.
The junior men compete in their first round on the evening programme on day one, while the junior women have their first round match on the afternoon session on day two, with medals decided on the night schedule.
The other rider in action on the opening day is Palmerston North’s Libby Arbuckle, who competes in the 5km scratch race, with qualifying heats in the morning and final at night.
Coach Andrews is pleased with the preparations of his team, although it has taken time to adjust.
“It’s taken a week to settle and to get over the travel. They are just kids so they are learning how to travel, adapt to different food and a different environment.
“We have put huge emphasis on developing a strong culture, developing our values and behaviours, which the team has come up with themselves.”
More than 100 women and 200 men from 42 countries are entered for the five days of competition, with the championships moved from the original venue in China.
“With the championships moved to Italy, it seems that the European nations are here in more force and have put more emphasis on the championships this year with bigger and more impressive squads.”
The New Zealand team is:
Female, Endurance: Ellesse Andrews (Cambridge), Libby Arbuckle (Palmerston North), Emily Shearman (Palmerston North), Nicole Shields (Clyde) and Kate Smith (Christchurch). Sprint: Shaane Fulton (Nelson).
Male, Endurance: Josh Scott (Christchurch), Corbin Strong (Invercargill), Harry Waine (Auckland), Aaron Wyllie (Auckland). Sprint: Jackson Ogle (Cambridge).
Coaches: Jon Andrews, Shem Rodger.
CAPTION: The junior girls team pursuit on the way to their silver medal at the UCI Junior Track World Championships in Switzerland last year. Credit: Guy Swarbrick.
VISION: Link to live streaming https://webtv.velodromemontichiari.com/