Van Velthooven needs break but won't be off long

FLYING PERFORMANCE: Simon van Velthooven finished second in his heat of the keirin behind Sir Chris Hoy (right) of Great Britain.
FLYING PERFORMANCE: Simon van Velthooven finished second in his heat of the keirin behind Sir Chris Hoy (right) of Great Britain.

The rhino is getting jaded.

For Simon van Velthooven, the wheels have barely stopped spinning since that night at the Olympic velodrome in London last August when he deadheated 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 sprinter there has ever been. 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 in Mexico.

He will line up against other rising stars of the BikeNZ men's sprint programme - Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster, Eddie Dawkins, Matt Archibald et al - at the national elite championships starting in Invercargill today.

"Being an Olympic medallist you have to take advantage of what you can, when you can.

"I haven't really had much time off, and I do need it, but I'm hoping to get through nationals and then worlds and then I'll have a break in March-April," van Velthooven said.

"I'm just getting myself out there while I can. Nothing lasts forever and an Olympic medal does wear off, so you have to earn a crust to survive in following years when you have to pay for things yourself."

For someone who rides their bike so well, it is not surprising that van Velthooven struggles with not riding his bike.

When asked what he will do at the end of the season, he struggles for an answer other than a few mindless activities like mowing the lawns.

"I'm looking forward to time off the bike because it's been a long year. I've been riding a wave since the Olympics, but I can't wait to push the reset button and just get into some hard training again.

"I miss the feeling of going to bed at night with legs that are absolutely shot, knowing that when you get up in the morning you are going to be a little bit stronger, a little bit faster."

That is not to say van Velthooven isn't looking forward to his first racing on an indoor velodrome since the Olympics this week. The strength and depth amongst the strongmen of New Zealand track cycling these days is such that if you don't bring your A game to the boards, you will be staring at the back 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.

"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 [will] potentially this week," he said.

"I'm looking forward to racing them and I'm looking forward to watching the kids racing who have been inspired by the Olympics."

His new-found celebrity status is something van Velthooven wears with under-stated pride.

"I get talked to a lot more at petrol stations, that's about it. It's only New Zealand, it's not like I'm a movie star.

"It's just nice to be acknowledged, that I have put in a hell of a lot of work for a number of years and people appreciate how hard you have worked in getting that result for New Zealand and yourself. It's a nice feeling that people recognise that," he said.

"Nothing has changed, just that people want to talk to you and relive the Olympics through you.

"It's more I feel that I'm inspiring people to the Olympics, that they can do it too. Not only kids, but my team-mates - since the Olympics I've seen them take off. They saw me win a medal and thought, ‘why can't I'? They are training their hearts out to be the world's best." 

The Southland Times