New Zealand cyclists will be looking to this week’s UCI Track World Championships as an important litmus test on their progress towards next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
The 17-strong Vantage Elite team face a five-day competition starting on Wednesday at the BNP Paribas Arena in Pruszkow, Poland.
Injuries will mean that the women’s sprint and men’s endurance squads are at less than full strength but there has been encouraging signs from the men’s sprint and women’s endurance riders in the recent UCI World Cup competitions.
“Obviously the World Championships are always a key target for our riders, but this year securing good qualifying points towards Tokyo is paramount,” said Cycling New Zealand high performance director, Martin Barras.
“We would certainly like to leave here in a solid situation in terms of the key Olympic events.
“It is an important test to see if the improvements that we have seen throughout the World Cup season show progression through to the world championships.
“The squad has settled well since arriving in Poland and aside from a few riders with some minor sniffles, they are all in good shape.”
There will be interest in the continued development from the women’s endurance squad, and the team pursuit in particular, with the Vantage Elite team breaking the New Zealand record three times this season and winning the World Cup final at home turf in Cambridge.
Rio Olympic finalists Great Britain and Australia are expected to set the standard with New Zealand likely to be in a battle with Canada and Italy for a spot in the medal round.
The highly experienced Rushlee Buchanan, New Zealand’s only medallist at the 2018 worlds, is expected to contest the four-discipline omnium with other individual rides to be finalised.
The men’s sprint trio of Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster and Eddie Dawkins are working their way back to the form that earned them three world titles and the Rio Olympic silver medal. They are ranked second fastest this season behind the powerful Netherlands squad with Great Britain the other team to push into the 42-second barrier, while a fast-improving young Australian combination could threaten.
The men’s endurance squad rocked the Avantidrome in Cambridge with their outstanding 3:50 ride in the team pursuit – the third fastest in history. However, they have come to Poland without half of that team with Jordan Kerby ineligible this year after switching his allegiance from Australia and Regan Gough is injured.
“There are some young riders coming in to this combination with the likes of Corbin Strong who has come out of the SIT Performance Hub programme in Southland as a late call-up.”
The women’s sprint programme will see an injured Natasha Hansen competing in the individual events only, still suffering from a shoulder complaint from a crash at the recent national championships.
It means she is unable to get out of the standing blocks for the team sprint with former junior world champion Ellesse Andrews a late call-up to partner Olivia Podmore, with Hansen’s regular partner Emma Cumming also recovering from injury.
The competition starts on Thursday (NZ Time) with the team sprint qualifying, first round and finals within three hours. There is qualifying for the team pursuit with the men completing their first round in the evening and the women’s first round and medal rounds for both on day two.
The Vantage Elite New Zealand team is: Female, Ellesse Andrews, Bryony Botha, Rushlee Buchanan, Michaela Drummond, Holly Edmondston, Natasha Hansen, Kirstie James, Olivia Podmore, Racquel Sheath.
Male: Eddie Dawkins, Aaron Gate, Nick Kergozou, Ethan Mitchell, Tom Sexton, Campbell Stewart, Corbin Strong, Sam Webster.
Coaches: René Wolff (sprint), Matt Shallcrass (male endurance), Ross Machejefski (female endurance).
The championships will be broadcast live on SKY Television.
Cycling New Zealand will provide a wrap with results, audio and images at the end of each day’s programme by 11am (NZ time).
Note that because of the differing programmes for each team and access, there is no opportunity for individual interviews until riders complete their programmes.
Caption: Rushlee Buchanan leads the women’s team pursuit at the UCI World Cup in Cambridge last month. (Credit: Guy Swarbrick)