Following a whirlwind 72 hours, Southland's Corbin Strong has landed home from Bundaberg last night and has flown out this morning to join the Cycling New Zealand team bound for the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Poland.
New Zealand is taking an 18-strong team to the champs, where they take their first serious aim at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The Vantage Elite Team will focus on the core Olympic events as the priority, having qualified for 11 of the 12 races on the Tokyo schedule for Poland which runs from 28 February to 4 March.
They are led by three-time world champions men team sprint trio of Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster and Eddie Dawkins who recently produced two sub-43 second rides – their best since the Rio Olympics – in winning the World Cup contest in Cambridge.
After a slow start to the season, they are ranked sixth in the world. Added to that Dawkins won the keirin and is ranked in the top-10, while Mitchell and Webster are combined to make New Zealand seventh on the nations’ sprint rankings.
The injury to Emma Cumming has ruled her out of contention for the world championships where Natasha Hansen, ranked sixth in the sprint and 14th in the keirin, will team with Olivia Podmore with New Zealand ranked fourth in the team sprint.
The biggest move has come from the women’s endurance squad under new coaches Ross Machejefski and Alex Greenfield. They reduced the 4000m team pursuit national record to 4:17.560 prior to Christmas at the Paris World Cup but lowered that mark to 4:16:028 in winning at Cambridge.
The team pursuit is currently ranked third in the world with the Madison and Omnium also both qualified, leading to a squad of six riders selected comprising Bryony Botha, Holly Edmondston, Kirstie James, Michaela Drummond, Racquel Sheath and Rushlee Buchanan.
The men’s endurance squad has a six-strong squad in Poland. They will be without former Australian Jordan Kerby, a key in their remarkable team pursuit ride of 3:50.159 in Cambridge – the second fastest in history – as he sits out his qualification period, per UCI rules, having switched allegiances to New Zealand.
That leaves the quartet of Regan Gough, Campbell Stewart, Nick Kergozou and Tom Sexton along with the return of former omnium world champion Aaron Gate and Commonwealth Games pursuit medallist Dylan Kennett. However an injury to Kennett has prevented him fulfilling the UCI requirement to compete at a World Cup during the 2018-2019 season in order to be eligible for selection for the world championships. Cycling New Zealand has asked for an exemption that would allow him to compete.
“The key objective is to seek some strong performances to give us key qualifying points towards Tokyo, which is why we are focussing on Olympic events in Poland,” said Cycling New Zealand high performance director, Martin Barras.
“Where there are opportunities to benefit this squad with non-Olympic events, then we will race them. But with 18 months left before the 2020 Olympics our focus and efforts are firmly set on an Olympic agenda.
“We are continuing to develop depth in our squads and those riders will be competing in the upcoming national championships. Our world championship riders will all be competing but in limited and selected events before we head to Poland in two weeks.”
The Vantage New Zealand Elite team for the world championships in Poland is:
Female, sprint: Natasha Hansen, Olivia Podmore; Endurance: Bryony Botha, Rushlee Buchanan, Michaela Drummond, Holly Edmondston, Kirstie James, Racquel Sheath.
Male, sprint: Eddie Dawkins, Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster; Endurance: Aaron Gate, Regan Gough, Nick Kergozou, Tom Sexton, Campbell Stewart, Corbin Strong.
Coaches: René Wolff (sprint); Matt Shallcrass (male endurance), Ross Machejefski (female endurance).