A slick track surface at altitude in Mexico will provide both challenge and opportunity for New Zealand cyclists in the opening UCI Track World Cup starting this weekend.
The indoor track at Guadalajara is at 1400m but it is the fast surface, considerably quicker than they experienced last year, rather than the altitude that will be the key according to BikeNZ head coach Dayle Cheatley.
A full 16-strong squad will contest the first World Cup programme, in a condensed two and a half day format focussing on the five Olympic events of team sprint, individual sprint, keirin, team pursuit and omnium.
“There’s some effect from altitude that we need to adapt to, but more so the track surface will be a key because it is a fast track and important to ride it technically well to get the most from it,” Cheatley said.
There are more than 40 nations competing with the sport’s superpowers including Australia, Great Britain, France, Germany and Russia all with full strength combinations.
“Our main focus is on February's world championships and this is the first big international step towards that,” said Cheatley. “The aim is to build from our performances at Oceania Championships and progressively improve through the World Cup series. We want to make those progressions all the way through to the world championships.
‘In that regard if the results come this weekend, then they will come but I am looking for progressive improvements.”
The team has handled the rigours of the 30-hour haul to Mexico well and have adapted to the environment.
“We are getting used to it now and we have good processes in place.”
Cheatley expects the crack men’s sprint group to use their status as world champions to positive effect.
“They have a lot of confidence. You do not win a rainbow jersey by fluke. They are working hard and want to retain those jerseys so I am sure they will be riding with real confidence.”
Southland’s Cameron Karwowski, a former junior team sprint world champion and more recently endurance road rider, has been selected for his first major omnium, while the men’s team pursuit will feature the return of London Olympic medallist Westley Gough to join Marc Ryan, Aaron Gate and Piet Bulling.
“There’s some depth in this squad back home and with some more experienced riders potentially coming back into the fold it will make this squad competitive and a challenge for us to get the mix right.”
The New Zealand women’s programme also makes a return to their first world cup since before the London Olympics, with the team pursuit impressing at the Oceania Championships.
“The women’s endurance programme are excited to get their break to return and there’s some real hunger there. We will see some good performances from the women’s endurance squad this season.”
Likewise the sprint pairing of Stephanie McKenzie and Katie Schofield have real opportunity to press their claims.
“We have an objective to qualify all team spots for Rio and from there decide who fills those spots. The women’s sprint squad have been given that opportunity now and it is their first hit-out for 18 months at this level.”
Competition starts with qualifying for team sprint and team pursuit on Saturday (NZ time), semifinals and finals on Sunday along with first day of the omnium, women’s sprint and men’s keirin. Monday sees the completion of the omnium, men’s sprint and women’s keirin.
Caption: New Zealand's World champion team sprint combination (from right Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster and Eddie Dawkins) back in action following gold medal success at the Commonwealth Games.
NOTE RE COVERAGE:
The final day of competition will be broadcast on Sky Television.
Photo credit: Guy Swarbrick.