Olympian keen to shine at national champs
The Rhino is getting jaded.
For Simon van Velthooven, the wheels have barely stopped spinning since that night at the Olympic velodrome in London in August when he dead-heated with Dutchman Teun Mulder for bronze, stood on the dais as the music played and the flags went up and later shared a beer with Chris Hoy, arguably the greatest bike sprinter ever.
It has been the 24-year-old's time.
After years of grinding, van Velthooven - dubbed Rhino for his hard-charging racing style - has been cashing in on his Olympic success.
He spent three months in the Japanese keirin league, raced in Tasmania and Christchurch and helped his team-mates get ready for the last World Cup meeting Mexico.
He will line up against the other rising stars of the BikeNZ men's sprint programme - Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster, Eddie Dawkins, Matt Archibald and others - at the national elite championships, which started in Invercargill today.
The strength and depth among the strongmen of New Zealand track cycling is such that if you don't bring your A game to the boards, you will be staring at the backs of your Lycra-clad peers from the wrong side of the track.
"I'm just a little bit jealous looking at the guys and how much they have progressed since the Olympics," van Velthooven said.
"While I was racing in Japan I couldn't train and they would have been very motivated to train and race, and the results showed in Mexico and potentially this week.
"I'm looking forward to racing them and I'm looking forward to watching the kids racing, who have been inspired by the Olympics.
"It's nice that BikeNZ have said that the nationals are a priority event, because it's just a nice thing for the younger riders in New Zealand to watch the senior riders race at an international level in their own country."
His new-found celebrity status is something van Velthooven wears with understated pride.
"Nothing has changed at all, just that people want to talk to you and relive the Olympics through you." Fairfax
- The Marlborough Express
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