Southland hope home advantage will hold

Southland's age-group track cyclists will get their chance to defend the province's honour from tonight at the national age-group championships at the Stadium Southland velodrome.

Southland has been the leading centre at every national championships since 2008, making the most of home advantage to dominate the national points shield.

However, following the national elite championships earlier this month, Auckland holds a five point lead over Southland - thanks mainly to the sprint efforts of Sam Webster, Ethan Mitchell and temporary Aucklander Simon van Velthooven.

That's left Southland's 69-strong team with a bit of work to do during the five-day championships, starting with tonight's evening session, followed by day and evening sessions through until Saturday.

Tonight's session is dominated by the 500-metre time trial, where Southland's Erin Criglington will look to defend her title and break her New Zealand record in the M1 category.

Criglington is part of a contingent of Southland masters cyclists who are targeting the world masters track championships in Manchester, in October.

Meanwhile, New Zealand cycling's young guns proved they belong at the sharp end of the sport following their three-medal haul from just five riders at the track cycling World Championships in Minsk, Belarus, during the last week.

Auckland 21-year-old Sam Webster had to settle for fourth in the sprint, taking event winner Stefan Botticher, from Germany, to a deciding ride in the semifinal before narrowly going down in the bronze medal ride to Frenchman Francois Pervis who won three medals in Minsk.

Webster became the first New Zealand rider to qualify for the sprint finals at the world championships and along with Simon van Velthooven, the first time two Kiwis made it to the final eight.

"This is the first world championships that I've turned up to with really good condition. After the Olympics, we made some big changes to training and the way we approach training which gave me the mental freshness," Webster said.

"I am really happy. Today in the second day I did make a couple of mistakes which is why I finished fourth but that experience will be invaluable. I am happy I beat the Olympic champ two straight and took the eventual winner to three rides.

"I didn't have an easy way through and have been in some hard rides so I am pleased with how I stepped up. It was good that it came together and now gives me a good platform to build on."

The team finished with a gold medal to 22-year-old Aaron Gate in the omnium, silver medals to the team sprint and van Velthooven in the 1-kilometre time trial and fourth placing to Webster in the sprint.

"The focus was taking a small team away who were all capable of winning medals and they have delivered on that," BikeNZ high performance director Mark Elliott said.

"From this world championship it proves our sprinters now deserve to be in the position to ride for medals. We spent the last few years developing them to where they can challenge, but now our expectations will be that we can get them into medal positions all the time.

"With the experience they have received from these world championships it will stand them in really good stead for the next three years.

"They have a lot of physiological development to go and we have a really strong sports-science and strength-and-conditioning programme that lays the foundation. Then we have to get that right at the top racing experience.

"We need to do that more often and combine it with the sports science and you just don't know where these sprinters will go in the future."

Elliott said he was also thrilled with the performance from Gate and a vindication of the European-based development programme.

"We spotted his talent four years ago and he has spent that time doing his apprenticeship riding with top team-pursuiters like Marc Ryan and Jesse Sergent. Now he has taken that tactical knowledge and that power work we did early on and transferred that across to the omnium.

"The fact he is the world champion is exciting for us. We want to see him grow from that and dominate this discipline and for us it is important that the knowledge he gains can transfer across to the team pursuit.

"Aaron came through our development programme and the fact we now have a world title out of it shows the positive nature of that investment. This year we are not just doing that with two or three riders but we are sending eight to Europe and that will hold us in good stead not just for this Olympic cycle but beyond."

The young sprint quartet, with an average age of 22, has moved into the top echelon of sprinting. With a silver medal coming after victory in the recent World Cup, they are now a genuine threat in the team sprint.

Webster became the first New Zealander to make a medal round in the sprints after becoming the fastest Kiwi at sea-level in qualifying. He took the honours to Botticher in the first semifinal, controlling the sprint and holding off the German in the challenge. The second race was the closest with the German only just rolling Webster, with only 8/1000ths of a second separating the young Kiwi from qualification to the final.

Botticher jumped Webster from behind to take the inside run, and his sudden move gave him the winning break and a place in the final.

The former triple junior world champion made a strong move from the front in the first race in the bronze medal rider against Pervis, but the Frenchman got over the top 10m from the line to go one-up. Webster challenged strongly in the second but Pervis had too much power.

The Southland Times