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.
"We have made it clear that the first turn of the cranks towards the Rio Olympics in 2016 starts at these championships," BikeNZ coach Dayle Cheatley said.
"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.
"We are unlikely to be taking any endurance teams," Cheatley said.
"But there is potential to take individual endurance riders if they can show us they have medal potential.
"Equally we have tremendous competition in the sprint ranks.
"They have shown in recent weeks that they are world class but form at the championships will be a key to determine who is selected."
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.
"Obviously some of our leading candidates for the Commonwealth Games next year and ultimately to Rio are with professional teams in Europe and USA already," Cheatley said.
"We will work closely with them and their teams as well as develop our depth with the group based in Belgium."
A women's endurance squad will not be included in the European campaign this year but BikeNZ plans to have them back into full swing next year, while the women's sprinters must prove their worth at the championships.
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). The charge from the young guns will come from Racquel Sheath (North Harbour), Georgia Williams (Auckland) and Cassie Cameron (Wanganui).
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 Southland Times