Hansen dedicates record ride to late friend

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 21:15 03/02/2013
Natasha Hansen
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ
EMOTIONAL RIDE: Natasha Hansen (left) and Steph McKenzie celebrate after winning gold in the women's 500m team sprint final.

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Olympian Natasha Hansen signed off on an emotional week with two New Zealand records in the space of half an hour at the national elite track cycling championships in Invercargill.

The London Games representative broke her own flying 200m record before combining with Southland team mate Steph McKenzie to defend their women's team sprint title and break the New Zealand record by more than .2sec.

Coming back to race at the Stadium Southland velodrome this week has been tough for Hansen, who lost her best friend and strongest supporter Nicola Stock to cancer in the lead up to the London Olympics.

It's the first time she has raced on the Invercargill boards since then and before last night's final against Otago she and McKenzie decided to dedicate their ride to Stock.

Earlier, Hansen had bettered her national mark in the flying 200m by just .002sec, riding a gear she'd never tried before.

''The first record was pretty underwhelming and I was pretty luck to get that, but the second one was really good to be able to celebrate with Steph because we were dedicating that ride to our good friend Nic,'' Hansen, who also claimed the keirin title on Saturday night, said.

''It's cool that we were able to deliver and she was obviously there with us and making us go faster tonight, so we are just so happy.''

Hansen also won the Horowhenua Centennial Challenge Cup for the elite woman with the most points from the championship, with Simon van Velthooven picking up the Warren Johnston Cup for the leading male rider.

The men's team sprint final was set up perfectly with a star-studded Auckland team of Olympic keirin bronze medallist van Velthooven, Sam Webster and Ethan Mitchell, taking on Southland's Eddie Dawkins, Matt Archibald and teenage sprint star Tom Beadle.

The six riders had already duelled on Saturday night in an exciting men's keirin final, with van Velthooven just managing to hold out a fast-finishing Webster, with Matt Archibald continuing his outstanding recent form for third place.

As predicted, the Auckland line-up, which had only narrowly missed out on breaking the New Zealand record during qualifying, was too strong in the final.

However, both Auckland's 44.445sec result and Southland's 44.610 are considered world-class, Southland's time including a great first lap by first year senior Beadle.

Archibald, a former rower who narrowly missed selection for London, is coming off the New Zealand team's World Cup gold medal in Mexico and a top eight finish in the sprints.

He finished the nationals with silver medals in the sprint  which included briefly holding the New Zealand record - team sprint, and flying lap and was third in the keirin.

The 26-year-old Southland rider is now looking ahead to the four-year build up to the Rio Olympics.

''I'm definitely stepping up each year so it's going to be an exciting four years to Rio,'' Archibald, who goes by the nickname 'Mule', said.

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''I've always known I had the speed, but to add some tactical stuff, that's improving ... that confidence is huge. Every time I ride I want to improve and if I can do that year in and year out I'll be the best in the world.''

Archibald has no issue dedicating the next four years of his life to his Olympic dream.

''Like Mexico, you come back with your head held high. [Racing against] guys who have been riding since they were teenagers and you are beating them at their own game. I don't see it as work, it's stressful at times, but it's still fun. This week has been a hard four days but I'd rather be doing this than sitting in an office.''

BikeNZ are set to name a small team today to contest the world track championships in Minsk, Belarus from February 20 to 24.

The squad will be based around the men's sprint programme, and possibly an endurance rider like the in-form Aaron Gate.

The team may not include any female endurance or sprint riders, with cost, form and the long-term injury to Alison Shanks all contributing to that decision.

The national age group championships will be staged at the Stadium Southland velodrome from February 26 to March 2.

- The Southland Times

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