Aaron Gate wins gold at World Track Champs
New Zealand's Aaron Gate has won gold in the omnium at the World Track Cycling Championships in Belarus.
The 22-year-old won the gruelling six-discipline event with a magnificent display on the second day, winning two of the three events and beating his two key rivals in the other.
It was a stunning performance in his first omnium at international level, beating off the challenges from defending world champion Glenn O'Shea (AUS) and Olympic champion Lasse Norman Hansen (DEN).
Gate had a 10 minute wait for a re-ride by O'Shea who suffered a mechanical issue with his bike but the Australian was unable to match the time, meaning the Kiwi had won the gold medal and cycling's famed rainbow jersey.
"It's not sunk in. I was an unknown really because I've not really done one before so to come away with a world title is every cyclist's dream, so I couldn't be happier," Gate said.
It proved a nervous wait for O'Shea's re-ride.
"The heart was pumping. I knew he (O'Shea) was a team pursuiter too and would be able to ride a good kilo. I couldn't really celebrate until after that ride. He was holding second place really close right up to the last lap. It was a pretty nerve-wracking few minutes.
"Once he crossed the line and I saw the time I was ecstatic. It was great to have the support from the BikeNZ support staff and the sprinters in the pits that made it all worth it. I had a feeling of relief and I am just overjoyed."
It is the second omnium world title claimed by a New Zealander after Hayden Godfrey won in Manchester in 2008, and it is third medal won by the compact five-strong contingent in Minsk following the silver medals by the men's team sprint and Simon Van Velthooven in the 1km time trial.
There's one more chance for a medal tomorrow with former triple junior world champion Sam Webster through to the semi-finals of the men's sprint, after disposing of the Olympic champion Jason Kenny (GBR) in two straight rides in the quarterfinal.
Gate had the fastest time in the flying lap on the first day. He repeated that effort with a personal best 4:21:60 to be fastest in the 4000m individual pursuit which moved him to a share of second place overall.
While Britain's world junior champion Jonathan Dibben and Jasper De Buyst (BEL) lapped the field to dominate the scratch race, Gate outsprinted his two key rivals for fourth, which took him into a share of the lead with O'Shea with Hansen falling two points behind in third.
Hansen set the standard of 1:02.437 in the penultimate pairing of the final 1km time trial, while Gate had to get under the time of the second placed Lucas Liss (GER) of 1:02.949 and beat O'Shea in his first ever kilo in international competition in order to grab the rainbow jersey.
"I wasn't too sure what to expect about the flying lap as it was the first one ever at this level of competition. But I knew I had a good individual pursuit in me after the time I clocked at the national championships and the kilo is just everything else you have left in the tank and luckily I had enough left to post that time. It is such a great feeling," Gate said.
He is now hoping to add the omnium to the team pursuit - in which he won bronze in London - for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
"It is early days yet. I guess I have shown that I can ride it well and hopefully I can still improve in the other events. The points race I was quite disappointed because it is a race I am usually strong in, so there's a bit to learn there because it is different style of race in an omnium where everyone is trying to conserve as much energy as possible. I am definitely looking at it as an option going forward alongside the team pursuit."
National sprint champion Webster was in stunning form today, qualifying third fastest in 9.958s, the first time the 21-year-old Aucklander has gone under the 10 second margin.
It is the fastest time that a New Zealander has ridden at sea-level, pipping the 9.963s set by Eddie Dawkins in qualifying at last year's championships in Melbourne, although compatriot Matt Archibald went faster at altitude in January's World Cup meet in Mexico.
Van Velthooven was 11th fastest in qualifying in 10.103s before disposing of Australian Andrew Taylor and Great Britain's Matthew Crampton in the first two rounds.
However he was beaten by Germany's Stefan Botticher in the deciding third ride of the quarterfinals and settled for eighth place in the bunch ride for the minor placings.
Ethan Mitchell (Auckland), qualified 17th fastest in 10.164s but was eliminated by Australia's Matthew Glaetzer in the first round.
Webster is the only New Zealander in action on the final day of competition.