This week's national track cycling championships promise to be the most competitive and important for several years.
The four-day elite and under-19 championships take place at the Stadium Southland Velodrome in Invercargill starting tomorrow and include rising Marlborough stars Callum Saunders and Quinn Karwowski.
The Cuddon Cycling Marlborough duo will contest the kilo time trial, keirin plus the match and team sprint events in the under-19 grade. Saunders, fresh from winning three silver medals for New Zealand at the recent Youth Olympics in Sydney, said he and Karwowski are feeling good heading into tomorrow's opening event, the kilo time trial.
"We are both looking to do personal bests. Focusing on that and the results take care of themselves. Ideally podium finishes. Both really happy with doing PBs in Sydney and hopefully that form still carries on."
Saunders and Karwowski flew straight from Sydney to Invercargill to prepare for the nationals, training alongside members of the New Zealand squad, and Saunders said the focus has been on retaining the top form both showed in Sydney.
BikeNZ coach Dayle Cheatley said, "We have made it clear that the first turn of the cranks towards the Rio Olympics in 2016 starts at these championships. We have some of our London Olympians as the incumbents, the under-23 squad from the last two years now in senior ranks and some of our talented young riders out of the under-19 world championships with the chance to show their hand."
BikeNZ is expected to name a small squad to the world track championships to be held in a month's time in Minsk, Belarus.
As well as the upcoming world championships, BikeNZ plans to take a men's endurance group and men's sprint squad to Europe for a mix of road and track racing and training and challenging for a place in the track team is former Marlborough rider, Cameron Karwowski, older brother of Quinn.
There will be considerable interest this week in the individual pursuit with London Olympians Aaron Gate (Auckland), Shane Archbold (Timaru) and Westley Gough (Waipukurau) challenged by the likes of Myron Simpson (Auckland), Michael Vink (Christchurch), Hamish Schreurs (Christchurch), Dylan Kennett (Waimate), Pieter Bulling (Invercargill), Cameron Karwowski (Invercargill) and Hayden McCormick (Te Awamutu).
The sprint competition will see the successful quartet from the recent World Cup in Mexico, Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster, Eddie Dawkins and Matt Archibald joined by London medallist Simon van Velthooven, with possibly only three spots available for the worlds.
Missing from the endurance competition is individual pursuit world champion Alison Shanks, who is out with injury, as is Taupo's US-based professional Paddy Bevin, who was aiming at a return to track. London medallist Sam Bewley is also out after being called into the Tour of Qatar for his Orica GreenEdge team.
Olympic team-mate Jaime Nielsen (Hamilton) will be the likely favourite in the women's individual pursuit from Rushlee Buchanan (Christchurch), Lauren Ellis (Ashburton), Gemma Dudley (Levin) and Sequoia Cooper (Invercargill).
Olympian Natasha Hansen (Invercargill) will be looking for a return to top form to quell the challenges from Katie Schofield (Dunedin), former junior world championship medallist Stephanie McKenzie and rising young star Paige Paterson.
The championships begin tomorrow with qualifying from 10.30am and finals from 6.30pm.
The programme is:
Tomorrow: Men and women individual pursuit, men and women 250m time trials. Evening finals: Under-19 and elite time trials, individual pursuit finals, men under-19 scratch race.
Friday qualifying: Elite sprint, under-19 individual pursuit, under-19 keirin. Evening finals: Elite sprint, under-19 individual pursuit, under-19 kerin, women points race, men scratch race.
Saturday qualifying: Under-19 sprint, elite keirin, under-19 points. Evening finals: Under-19 sprint, women's under-19 points, elite women scratch, men's keirin, men's points.
Sunday qualifying: Elite team pursuit, elite and under-19 team sprint. Evening finals: Elite team pursuit, under-19 and elite team sprint, men's Madison.
- The Marlborough Express