Two of Cycling Southland’s young stars are in Russia for the 2011 UCI World Junior Track Championships which started overnight in Moscow.
Alexandra’s Sophie Williamson and Stephanie McKenzie of Invercargill are part of an 11-strong squad who will compete for world titles and the coveted rainbow jersey over the next five days. There is a further Southland connection in the coaching team with former Cycling Southland Regional Coach Ross Machejefski overseeing the campaign and mechanic Chris O’Connor completing the quartet.
For Williamson it is her first taste of World Championship racing while McKenzie, who has followed the cycling phenomenon known as the “drift south” - relocating at the start of this year to Invercargill from Auckland, is back for her second tilt.
She represents New Zealand’s best medal prospect having won silver in the Team Sprint twelve months ago in Italy along with top ten finishes in the Women’s Sprint (4th), 500m Time Trial (7th) and Keirin (9th). Last year’s experience will serve her well and she enters the competition safe in the knowledge her times are faster – she was in blistering form earlier this year at the Track Nationals at the ILT Velodrome in March.
Williamson is unquestionably one of the sport’s brightest prospects. She swept the floor at the Track Nationals in the Under 19 Omnium event earlier this year, winning five of the six events, and there is little doubt she will be in the thick of every race she starts.
She will be available for selection next year also and the prospect of seeing Soph riding for her country at World Championships in Invercargill in 2012 is one all southern sporting fans shouldn’t miss.
Racing begins early Thursday morning with McKenzie opening her campaign alongside Aucklander Paige Paterson in the Women’s Team Sprint along with the Men’s Team Pursuit, Team Sprint and Scratch Race.
It also reminds us that the 2012 Championships are now 53 weeks away. Our own Graham Sycamore doesn’t miss many bun-fights and true to form he is sweltering in the heat in Moscow pressing the flesh with the 35 countries involved, extolling the virtues of Southland and the ILT Velodrome. He informs us the Russians, Swiss and Spanish are already making plans for their trips to Invercargill.
Not only will the 2012 World Junior Championships be a wonderful showcase for the sport and facility, but it is also an incredible marketing opportunity for the region. Forecasts are for around 250 competitors from up to 40 countries with something like 13,000 bed nights and $3.2 million dollar cash injection around the event alone. This doesn’t account for the extension of stays in and around the south, which obviously is a focus of our international marketing.
And while we are on the subject of juniors, entries opened publicly this week for the 2011 Yunca Junior Tour of Southland. Demand is high and we can’t wait to host the best young talent in the country for the annual event from October 14th to 16th.
Nick Jeffrey is Chief Executive of Cycling Southland