Young bulls on the rampage in kierin final
It was billed as the race to watch at the National Elite Track Championships this week and the men's keirin final did not disappoint last night, as Olympic bronze medallist Simon van Velthooven powered his way to the title at the Stadium Southland velodrome.
For the uninitiated, the keirin resembles six young bulls trying to be the first out through a narrow gate.
They circle the velodrome behind a small motorbike, which slowly brings them up to speed before the final, furious chase to the line.
Last night the best sprint riders in the country reached speeds of nearly 70kmh over the last of six laps, with van Velthooven, who deadheated for bronze with Dutchman Teun Mulder in London, edging out his Auckland team-mate Sam Webster, with Southland's Matt Archibald third.
Away from the track, BikeNZ's men's sprint programme resembles a crew of university flatmates.
They spend a lot of their time together, are good mates, but when the starter's gun cracks, they are ferocious.
Which is why last year was so difficult in the leadup to the Olympics, when the likes of Sam Webster and Matt Archibald had to be left behind, van Velthooven, who also won the national sprint title earlier in the week, said. "Nothing that happens this week is anywhere near what happened during Olympic selection. That's the most pain our team's been through - we just felt gutted for each other because we all couldn't go," he said.
"I felt more pressure to bring a medal home for the boys than I did racing Sir Chris Hoy. I was scared of disappointment." New Zealand's progress in the keirin was exciting, van Velthooven said.
"Everyone really wanted it and it's nice to beat them when they have such great form.
"There's a bright future for keirin racing, for sure, not only in our race, but in the women, and junior men and women as well."
The consolation men's keirin final was marred by a crash, which saw Wellington's Angus Swartz taken to hospital with a broken femur.
Southland Olympian Natasha Hansen was able to climb to the top of the podium with victory in the women's keirin last night after occupying the lower steps during the time trial and sprint events this week.
Hansen said it had been difficult to focus in her first time racing in Invercargill since her best friend Nicola Stock passed away just before last year's London Olympics.
Hansen produced a strong ride for the national title, taking the last wheel and then riding the long route during the penultimate lap.
Although it looked as though she was going to smash her fellow finalists over the final 250m, Auckland's Paige Patterson produced a withering assault to finish just a half-wheel behind.
Sunday Star Times