Cycling centralisation pays Games dividends

NATHAN BURDON IN GLASGOW
Last updated 09:37 04/08/2014
Sam Webster, Ethan Mitchell and Eddie Dawkins
LAWRENCE SMITH/ Fairfax NZ

GOLDEN RIDERS: Sam Webster, Ethan Mitchell and Eddie Dawkins celebrate winning the men's team sprint in Glasgow.

Sam Webster
ROBERT KITCHIN/Fairfax NZ
TASTE OF SUCCESS: Sam Webster has a nibble on his second Commonwealth gold of the Glasgow Games.

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Cycling

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New Zealand's world class cycling programme has received a confidence boost ahead of the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Centralisation in the new velodrome at Cambridge was still relatively new for the BikeNZ programme, but it already appeared to be paying dividends.

European professional Greg Henderson has watched with admiration the progress made by the track riders.

''There's no question the Avantidrome has helped the sprinters along and that in-bred competition, every day down to the track, racing against your mate, living with your mate, it just breeds excellence.''

Cycling, and track cycling in particular, has been the success story of these Commonwealth Games, with New Zealand riders claiming 11 medals on the boards at the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome, including golds in the team sprint, sprint, points and scratch races.

Auckland's Sam Webster was the individual star, riding second wheel in the team sprint, winning the individual sprint and narrowly missing out on a third gold in the keirin, but the men's sprint squad in general was a force in Glasgow.

''The sprint boys, I remember those guys as kids coming up through the ranks just going faster and faster and now they're the world's best. It's fantastic. And that absolute domination in the scratch race and points race, it was lovely to watch,'' Henderson said.

''In the endurance events they took down some big scalps, world champions and Olympic champions. It's a stepping stone for New Zealand cycling, it's heading in the right direction and it has been for a long time."

While the Commonwealth Games obviously doesn't include some of the strongest European nations, including the French and German team sprint squads, the presence of the English and Australians ensured the standard was close to the highest level.

The team pursuit squad were disappointed with a bronze medal after finishing third at the world championships, but did have to overcome the disruption of Aaron Gates' shoulder injury during their buildup.

Of the pursuiters in Glasgow, only 31-year-old Marc Ryan would not be considered a lock for Rio, although he continues to ride well at international level.

The emergence of endurance rider Tom Scully in the elite squad, a silver medallist in the points race at the world championships and a gold medal winner in Glasgow, has added another weapon to the team's arsenal, although his future remains uncertain with no points race in Rio and a road career in Europe gathering momentum after several setbacks.

BikeNZ's target, linked to its funding, is three medals in Rio, including one gold.

Of the medals in Glasgow, the points race, Ryan's individual pursuit bronze and the 1000m time trial, which provided silver and bronze to Simon van Velthooven and Matt Archibald, weren't on the Olympic programme.

While Linda Villumsen was expected to medal in the women's time trial on the road, her victory ahead of England's sentimental favourite Emma Pooley amongst a career marked by minor medals was a nice bonus, along with the gold-silver from Anton Cooper, 19, and Sam Gaze, 18,  in the men's mountainbiking.

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Cooper's credentials as a former world junior champion were well known, but Gaze's impressive ride to fend off world No 4 Dan McConnell for silver have marked him as a star for the future.

The men's road campaign suffered issues with the unavailability of Hayden Roulston, George Bennett and James Oram.

With New Zealand only likely to qualify a small number of riders for the road race at the Olympics, the event was important in terms of the way the sport was viewed, but little else.

Jack Bauer's silver medal was a great bonus on the final day of the Games.

Villumsen was the only female rider to medal in Glasgow, a reflection of the resources BikeNZ has put into women's elite cycling since the London Olympics.

Head coach Dayle Cheatley has said the women's programme would be a priority over the next 12 months.

Steph McKenzie's fourth in the 500m time trial marked her as an obvious target for attention, although the Olympic programme only featured the keirin, team sprint and sprint.

McKenzie has ambitions to reform her Southland team sprint combination with Natasha Hansen with a view to next year's world championships.

Jaime Nielsen was fifth in the individual pursuit and fourth in the road time trial, while Linda Villumsen claimed gold in the time trial, to finally step onto the top of the podium after a long series of minor medals at major events.

- Stuff

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