A recent racing crash may prove fortuitous for Linda Villumsen's chances of adding to her four medals at the world road championships starting this weekend in Tuscany, according to BikeNZ high performance director Mark Elliott.
The 28-year-old, the only New Zealander to win an elite medal at the event, has made a strong return to the sport after taking time out to recover from the disappointment of the London Olympics, where she missed out on a bronze medal by less than two seconds in the time trial.
Villumsen has won three bronze and a silver medal in the past four world championship time trials.
"She was riding a tour in the Tuscany area where the worlds is and she crashed and banged an elbow up. Elbows can be funny things and can take some time to settle in," Elliott said.
"She's had some good form and I guess the key thing for Linda is that she's been able to link in some good training blocks as well," he said.
"She's raced a little bit over this last phase, but she did crash a couple of weeks ago and she's been taking it a bit easier than she would have liked over this last week. I think, probably for Linda, she's a notoriously hard trainer so it's probably a good thing for her to have to back off just a wee bit."
The overall winner and stage winner of the La Route de France and 14th overall in the Giro d'Italia, Villumsen will be supported in the road race at the world championships by her Wiggle Honda team-mate Emily Collins, London Olympian Jo Kiesanowski and Dunedin's Reta Trotman, who has been riding her debut season with a German professional team.
BikeNZ had hoped to add two more riders to the women's team for the road race, but injury and illness limited their options.
The New Zealand's men's team is based around RadioShack Leopard rider George Bennett, a debutante in the Giro d'Italia this year. He'll be backed by Garmin Sharp rider Jack Bauer and Orica GreenEdge's Sam Bewley.
BikeNZ are hoping for a top-16 finish from Bennett, but even a strong performance on the demanding 272km men's course, described as the toughest world championship course in the past 30 years, would be an achievement for the small New Zealand team.
Elliott said BikeNZ was also hoping for some strong performances from the men's under-23 brigade, including North Harbour's James Oram, 20, who was fifth in the young rider category in the USA Pro Challenge in his second year with the Bontrager professional team.
"Oram just got a top-five placing in one of the top time trial events in France last weekend," Elliott said.
"He looks like he's got some good legs as well for the under-23s and it looks like Michael Vink, who did his preparation back in New Zealand, I know some of the data we are getting out of him shows he's in good shape as well. We are looking for good things out of some of those young blokes coming through [as well]."
The world championships start with trade teams contesting the team time trial on Sunday night.
Greg Henderson has been named in the Lotto Belisol squad, while Sam Bewley is in the Orica GreenEdge squad. Hayden Roulston and Jesse Sergent have been named in an extended Radioshack Leopard lineup.
Courteney Lowe has been named in the squad for United States team Optum, while Villumsen and Collins are included in the Wiggle Honda lineup.
- The Southland Times