22/08/2011 - The curtain has dropped on the 2011 UCI Juniors World Track Championships in Moscow and the New Zealand squad ended the five days of competition on Sunday night with 10 medals and 3 fourth-places from 16 events entered, arguably the best result by any group of cyclists at a World Championship. Add that level of achievement to the fact that yesterday (Monday) marked the one year anniversary until the start of the 2012 Junior Worlds in Invercargill and the excitement levels at the ILT Velodrome are rising rapidly.
True to form, Cycling Southland’s two representatives, Steph McKenzie and Sophie Williamson delivered on the world stage in Russia and return with a little excess baggage. McKenzie was a stand-out winning two silvers and a bronze along with a fourth placing in her sprint events while Williamson, Alexandra’s favourite sporting daughter, claimed bronze in last Friday morning’s Points race in her first trip to the World Juniors.
Sophie rode herself to near breaking point and only found out she had held on to claim a medal when she was warming down after the event. However, in the process, she emptied the tanks and paid something of a price over the next two days in the Women’s Omnium (six separate events over two of the longest days in track cycling). Reading her updates from the event, in true Sophie-style, she has already learned lessons which I have little doubt she will put to good use in 12 months time.
She won’t have much of a chance to reflect on her first campaign though, lining up again in the Black skin-suit for the Junior Women Road World Championships in Copenhagen from September 19-23.
Steph would no doubt have loved to change the colour of one or two of her medals into gold but she can be justifiably proud of her efforts. She went within 0.011 seconds of the world record in the Women’s Sprint qualifying before losing out to one of the power-houses in the home-town Russian squad. In the process, she became the first New Zealander to make a Sprint Gold Medal ride-off. She added a Team Sprint bronze with Auckland first-year Paige Paterson and followed it up with a powerful performance to take silver in the Keirin.
Six of this year’s squad are eligible for next year’s World Championships in Invercargill with Williamson and Canterbury’s Dylan Kennett, another bronze medal winner this year, likely to be central to the kiwis drive for medals on home soil.
Preparations will now heat up – from both an event organiser’s and rider’s perspective. BikeNZ has named strong squads ahead of the ILT Trans-Tasman Junior Track event in October and Oceania Championships in November. With Olympic spots up for grabs for the Elite riders and selection for a home Junior World Championship campaign for the Under-19 and second year Under-17 riders, the racing at these two events is sure to be some of the most-hotly contested in recent memory. The ILT Velodrome will be the place to be.
Nick Jeffrey is the Chief Executive of Cycling Southland.