It may be one Olympics too soon but New Zealand's young, bullish sprint team are vowing to start their track campaign with a bang.
Simon van Velthooven, Eddie Dawkins and Ethan Mitchell, average age 22, chase New Zealand's first track medal at the Olympic velodrome early tomorrow (NZ time).
Several factors will weigh heavily on the trio, not least their inexperience. A revered cycling knight, a heaving hometown velodrome and a feverishly expectant nation greets them as Sir Chris Hoy, Great Britain's opening ceremony flagbearer, looks to add to his four gold medals in his farewell Olympics.
Still, van Velthooven, a genuine medal hope when he meets Hoy and others in the keirin next Tuesday, was keen to lay down a marker for his sprint team-mates.
“When we came together our focus was on Rio [in 2016]. But after doing all the training the last couple of years since Commonwealth Games we're ready to ride through brick walls to get to the medals. We're not here to participate, we're here to do our job and do it properly,” he said.
“[Hoy] is looking pretty big and pretty lean; it's his home country, home track so there's a bit of expectation for him. It's probably his last Olympics and he's a living legend, so I'm just going to take it to him and see what happens. I'd love to spoil his party.”
The sprint team, with Sam Webster in for van Velthooven, won bronze behind Australia and France at the April world champs but Britain and Germany were relegated.
Van Velthooven won bronze in the kilo time trial in Melbourne but that event isn't on the Games programme, and he slots in as third wheel behind Mitchell and Dawkins. Their training in Bordeaux, and the forecast speed of the new velodrome, had them excited. “Eddie's a big boy and he puts out a lot of watts, so if you're on par with him then you're going well. He's dropped a lot of weight, he's strong and fit. Ethan is starting like a cut cat, he's going from zero to 60kmh in about 60m; he's lean, his calves are hanging off his knees. He's a man mountain. It's going to be good,” van Velthooven said.
The men's pursuit team also get their campaign under way tomorrow and remain New Zealand's best hope on the track. With Marc Ryan, Jesse Sergent and Sam Bewley back from the bronze medal winning lineup in Beijing, a medal looks a strong chance. But to snare anything more than bronze they need to find about 4sec to beat the British and Australian teams.
Van Velthooven, third across the line in the keirin in Melbourne, will be a strong hope in his top event, while the Alison Shanks-led women's pursuit team of Jaime Nielsen and Lauren Ellis can win bronze, but again need to make up lengths on Britain and Australia.
“We've had more time together as a team and we've come a long way. Our buildup's been solid,” Shanks said.
Shane Archbold, in the men's omnium, has also stood on the world championship podium and is ranked in the world's top six.
Jo Kiesanowski (women's omnium) and Invercargill air traffic controller Natasha Hansen (sprint/keirin) make up the squad and are medal longshots.
Men's endurance coach Tim Carswell said the velodrome surface was running at a high temperature which was conducive to fast times. Something close to a world record would be required to win a medal, he predicted.
NEW ZEALAND'S MAIN TRACK CYCLING MEDAL HOPES
- Men's team pursuit (Sam Bewley, Aaron Gate, Westley Gough, Marc Ryan, Jesse Sergent): qualifying 3am tomorrow; medal rounds from 3am Saturday
- Men's team sprint (Eddie Dawkins, Ethan Mitchell, Simon van Velthooven): qualifying, medal rounds from 3am tomorrow
- Women's team pursuit (Rushlee Buchanan, Lauren Ellis, Jaime Nielsen, Alison Shanks): qualifying from 3am Saturday; medal rounds from 3am Sunday
- Men's omnium (Shane Archbold): flying lap from 9pm Saturday; 1km time trial (final event), from 4am Monday
- Men's keirin (Simon van Velthooven): qualifying from 9pm Tuesday; medal rounds from 3am Wednesday
- Fairfax Media