New Zealand have claimed their second silver medal at the World Track Cycling Championships in Belarus this morning, with the men's sprint team finishing an agonisingly close second to Germany.
The Kiwis were pipped by 49/1000ths of a second by Germany, who won their third rainbow jersey in four years in the men's team sprint on the Minsk track.
New Zealand stunned the more illustrious and powerful sprint cycling nations when they topped the qualifying with a sea-level best of 43.580 to put them in the gold medal ride against Germany who clocked 43.731. This was significantly ahead of powerhouse teams of France, Australia, Russia and China.
The team silver came a day after Simon van Velthooven claimed a silver medal in the kilo time trial.
"It was a great ride but at the same time I knew we had to go faster in the final and I knew Germany would bring all their experience and talent to bear," said BikeNZ sprint coach Justin Grace of the latest medal-winning performance.
"Two of their three riders were in the Olympics team and they have not been off the podium in this event at the world championships for a long time."
Auckland's Ethan Mitchell, who celebrated his 22nd birthday two days ago, produced a strong 17.361 start, just 4/100ths behind the Germans. Close friend, 21-year-old Sam Webster, in blinding form, stormed around in 12.784 to put the Kiwis up by 15/100ths of a second before handing over to Invercargill's Eddie Dawkins.
The big Southlander clocked an excellent 13.399 to again lower their best sea-level time to 43.544s but a stunning lap by Maximillian Levy gave the edge to the Germans by the narrowest of margins.
"Half way around that final lap I thought we would hold it but Maximillian is not a world champion for nothing," said Grace.
"It's mixed emotions. The boys are gutted they could not win the rainbow jersey but at the same time they did another best ride and have a silver medal.
"We are still so young. Simon is the oldest in our squad of five riders at just 24, with Matt Archibald not here. We used to come to the world championships for experience and now we come to win.
"We set this programme up originally for Rio but they have advanced so quickly and continue to better our projections. We now have the respect of the world cycling powers from countries with 80 to 100 million people and massive budgets."
Earlier France edged out Australia to claim the bronze medal.
New Zealand's progress in the team sprint is easily graphed. They were fifth in the 2010 world championships in 44.450, sixth in 2011 in 45.032, third last year (after two disqualifications to other teams) in 43.742 and now they have lowered this to 43.544.
New Zealand's sprinters are back in action tomorrow with Olympic medallist Simon Van Velthooven and Dawkins in the keirin while Aaron Gate begins day one of the six-discipline omnium.
Men's Team Sprint, Qualifying: New Zealand (E Mitchell, S Webster, E Dawkins) 43.580, 1; Germany (R Enders, S Botticher, M Levy) 43.731, 2; France (J Palma, F Pervis, M D'Almeida) 43.792, 3; Australia (S Sutherland, M Bullen, M Glaetzer) 43.890, 4.
Gold medal ride: Germany 43.495, 1; New Zealand 43.544, 2. Bronze ride: France 43.798, 3; Australia 13.259, 4.
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