There is a mix of Olympians with an injection of youth in the 16-strong Vantage New Zealand Elite Track Cycling team to compete in next month’s UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Hong Kong.
The focus will be on the current world champion men’s team sprint in their quest for back-to-back rainbow jerseys in what would be their third in four years when the championships take place at the Hong Kong Velodrome on 12-16 April.
The Rio Olympic riders form the nucleus of the team with three additions. Eighteen-year-old Michaela Drummond, a silver medallist at last year’s junior world championships, has been selected in the women’s endurance squad. Drummond won the national elite women’s omnium title in Cambridge yesterday.
Invercargill’s Nick Kergozou and Palmerston North teenager Campbell Stewart have been selected in a six-strong men’s endurance squad. Kergozou competed at last year’s world championships in London, while Stewart, 18, has won four world junior championship gold medals.
“The men’s team sprint trio have been the fastest squad in the world for the last three or four years and they have obvious motivation and form to press for the podium for the sixth straight year,” said Cycling New Zealand head coach Dayle Cheatley.
“We have a good number of our Rio Olympians back again but we are also excited with the healthy injection of youth into the squads who, along with others who impressed at the age championships, will be pressing our more experienced riders towards Tokyo 2020 and beyond.
“The squad will want to make a good account of itself in Hong Kong. At the same time we are just making a start on the build towards Tokyo. We have events with new formats including the team sprint, team pursuit and omnium, so this is an opportunity to test ourselves against the world’s best on how best to prepare for these events.
“The world championships are the only opportunity to ride some of the traditional cycling events like the Kilo, Madison, Points and Scratch races that are no longer part of the World Cups or Olympics as we also look to next year’s Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
“We are excited about the likes of Michaela Drummond and Campbell Stewart. We won’t be putting them under too much pressure but allowing them the opportunity to experience a world championship environment. They are both outstanding prospects but it does take time to transition from junior to elite ranks.”
The Vantage New Zealand elite sprint squad is led by the world champion trio of Eddie Dawkins, Ethan Mitchell and Sam Webster, with Zac Williams, while Natasha Hansen is the only female sprinter.
The women’s endurance squad comprises the Rio quartet of Racquel Sheath, Jaime Nielsen, Lauren Ellis and Rushlee Buchanan, who performed with distinction in Rio, with Drummond the newcomer.
The men’s endurance squad has Rio riders Piet Bulling, Aaron Gate, Regan Gough and Dylan Kennett, with the addition of Kergozou and Stewart.
They will prepare in Cambridge before leaving for Hong Kong early next month.
It is the first time the world championships have been staged in Asia since 1990, when New Zealand earned its first ever women’s world championship title after Karen Holliday won the Points Race.
The Vantage New Zealand elite team is:
Female, Endurance: Racquel Sheath, Michaela Drummond, Jaime Nielsen, Lauren Ellis, Rushlee Buchanan. Sprint: Natasha Hansen
Male Endurance: Dylan Kennett, Piet Bulling, Regan Gough, Nick Kergozou, Campbell Stewart, Aaron Gate. Sprint: Eddie Dawkins, Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster, Zac Williams.
CAPTION: The men’s team sprint world champions will be looking for more honours in Hong Kong.
Photo courtesy Guy Swarbrick