Cycling Southland will face its sternest test in recent years to retain the National Points Shield when the National Age Group Championships start on Tuesday.
The symbol of track cycling supremacy has spent the off-season at Stadium Southland Velodrome for the past five years but Southland will need to turn-around a five point deficit following the Elite and Under 19 Championships held in Invercargill three weeks ago.
Auckland currently leads the table on 59 points, thanks largely to Aaron Gate’s domination of the Elite Men’s endurance events and the sprint trio of Simon van Velthooven, Sam Webster and Ethan Mitchell. Southland sits second on 54 with Canterbury in third on 30.
The burden of keeping up the south’s proud recent tradition rests with a 65-strong squad of junior and masters riders, easily the largest in number terms of the 10 centres who will contest the championships.
Cycling Southland Coaching Coordinator and Team manager Dale Tye is confident of another strong showing. “Our squads have had a thorough build up with quality track racing over the last few months and they are looking strong, fast and ready to go.”
“We’ve got close to maximum entries across all grades and it’s particularly pleasing to see another strong Masters (35 years and older) contingent. Most of our Under 17s are in their first year in the age category and have really stepped up while our Under 15s include lots of new riders who have come through our velodrome learner programmes and are now racing at national level which is really exciting to see,” Ms Tye said.
Southland looks set to again dominate the Masters Women’s categories with nine of the 13 entrants from the host centre, including Erin Criglington (Masters 1) and Jacqui Dearlove (Masters 2), both undefeated in their age categories over recent years.
The Masters Men categories shape as being very even, with particular interest surrounding the return of current world record holder Reon Park. The Mid South Canterbury stalwart set the New Zealand record in the Masters 1 Men Individual Pursuit in March of 2009 before going over 4 seconds faster to win gold at the World Masters Championships in Sydney later that year.
Another Mid South Canterbury team member Jack Ford looms as one of the riders to beat in the Under 17 Boys’ field with impressive West Coast North Island youngster Campbell Stewart looking to follow his title-winning deeds from last year’s under-15 category. Cycling Southland fields one of its deepest squads in this age group, headed by Tom Sexton, Hayden Strong, Hamish Beadle and Brayden Stephens. Makayla Smith has bounced back from a fall at the recent ILT New Year Track Carnival to lead the Under 17 girls squad with first year Emma Cumming.
Kain Bowles has looked in supreme form in the Under 15 Boys in recent times and looms as a strong medal chance.
The Elite Women and Under 19 Men and women back-up from their track nationals earlier in the month to contest their respective Omniums. A trio of 2012 Junior Worlds representatives in Racquel Sheath (Auckland), Alysha Keith (Otago) and Cassie Cameron (West Coast North Island) will look for a winning start to their Elite racing careers. Sheath won a popular bronze medal in the event at last year’s Junior World Championships and has a chance to repeat those deeds against Olympian Jaime Nielsen (Waikato-Bay of Plenty) and Liz Steel (Canterbury), with Southland’s interests represented by Kirstie James.
Southland’s Josh Haggerty will start the Under 19 Men’s Omnium as one of the favourites, along with East Coast North Island’s Regan Gough, while Laura Heywood will also hope to take another step towards Junior Worlds selection with a strong showing in the women’s event.
The Age Group Championships begin on Tuesday night at 6:30pm with daily sessions 10:00am and 6:30pm sessions from next Wednesday (26th) to Saturday (2nd). Tickets, including discounted event passes to all five days are available at Stadium Southland.