OPINION: Think cycling and right now a few words instantly spring to mind.
Lance. Armstrong. Cheat. Drugs. Sport in crisis.
You get the drift, but fortunately at the Stadium Southland velodrome those sorts of words or thoughts won't get past the front door this weekend.
There's simply no place for that sort of talk and gloom and doom on our boards of dreams. Why? The national track cycling championships finish tomorrow and it's an event regarded as one of the most important, and competitive, for a number of years.
It has attracted the wide-eyed and fresh-faced cream of New Zealand's elite and under-19 riders who even at this early stage are already pushing hard to make the Rio Olympics in 2016.
It's New Zealand cycling and sport at its best - and it's right on our doorstep.
But what is more appealing is that leading the way is a group of classy Southland-based and bred riders, who continue to show that they're not only up with the leading guns nationally but some of them are already world-class and serious hopes for Olympic medal glory in Rio and beyond.
And for that, of course, we should feel pretty good about ourselves and appreciative that we have an indoor velodrome that continues to produce outstanding young pedallers to demonstrate just what can be achieved if you have top-notch facilities and experienced coaches at your disposal.
Cycling, as we know, has always been strong in the south but now it could rightly be regarded in the heavyweight sporting stakes, even edging past netball and ranking alongside rugby as our main code.
Don't believe us? Look at some of these names - Eddie Dawkins, Natasha Hansen, Pieter Bulling, Cameron Karwowski, Sequoia Cooper, Matt Archibald, Stephanie McKenzie, Laura Fairweather, Tom Beadle, Jeremy Presbury and Alysha Keith. They're all New Zealand representatives, from Olympic Games to junior world championship and age-group internationals. That's quite a collection of Southland riders and the indications are that there are many more pushing in right behind them, chasing their own dreams, wanting to be the next Dawkins, Hansen or Bulling.
Off the track, cycling also continues to make a massive impact economically. Goodness knows how much hosting major events like the track champs is worth for Invercargill but it's safe to assume it's not to be sneezed at.
We already know that last August's junior world track cycling championships, which saw 154 riders from 24 countries take part at the velodrome, generated more than $2 million for Southland's economy and created significant international exposure for the province in the process.
So these are very much golden times for cycling in Southland but everyone involved in the sport knows it's no reason to sit back on the saddle and glide to the finish line. They are all well aware that a $28.5m national cycling centre of excellence near Hamilton is progressing well, with the country's second indoor velodrome complex expected to be operational possibly by the end of the year.
But, if anything, the arrival of a competing velodrome may just be the spur Cycling Southland heads need to kick on even further, to be even more innovative and successful than it has been until now. And if its efforts to date are anything to go by then who's to say that won't happen? Hold on tight everyone. It should be one heck of a ride.
- The Southland Times
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