Southland quartet in NZ team for Track Cycling World Championships as men's sprint team look to defend their title
Four Southland riders will represent New Zealand at next month's UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Hong Kong.
Sprinters Eddie Dawkins and Natasha Hansen, along with endurance riders Nick Kergozou and Piet Bulling have been named in the NZ team for the event in April.
There is a mix of Olympians, with an injection of youth in the 16-strong New Zealand Elite Track Cycling team.
The focus will be on the current world champion men's team sprint of Southland's Dawkins, along with Sam Webster and Ethan Mitchell in their quest for back-to-back rainbow jerseys, in what would be their third in four years, when the championships take place at the Hong Kong Velodrome on 12-16 April.
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The Rio Olympic riders form the nucleus of the team with three additions. Eighteen-year-old Michaela Drummond, a silver medallist at last year's junior world championships, has been selected in the women's endurance squad. Drummond won the national elite women's omnium title in Cambridge recently.
Invercargill's Nick Kergozou and Palmerston North teenager Campbell Stewart have been selected in a six-strong men's endurance squad. Kergozou competed at last year's world championships in London, while Stewart, 18, has won four world junior championship gold medals.
"The men's team sprint trio have been the fastest squad in the world for the last three or four years and they have obvious motivation and form to press for the podium for the sixth straight year," said Cycling New Zealand head coach Dayle Cheatley.
"We have a good number of our Rio Olympians back again, but we are also excited with the healthy injection of youth into the squads who, along with others who impressed at the age championships, will be pressing our more experienced riders towards Tokyo 2020 and beyond."
"The squad will want to make a good account of itself in Hong Kong. At the same time we are just making a start on the build towards Tokyo. We have events with new formats including the team sprint, team pursuit and omnium, so this is an opportunity to test ourselves against the world's best on how best to prepare for these events."
According to Cheatley, the world championships are the only opportunity to ride some of the traditional cycling events like the 1km time trial, madison, points and scratch races that are no longer part of the World Cups or Olympics as the team looks to next year's Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
"We are excited about the likes of Michaela Drummond and Campbell Stewart. We won't be putting them under too much pressure but allowing them the opportunity to experience a world championship environment," Cheatley said.
"They are both outstanding prospects but it does take time to transition from junior to elite ranks."
The New Zealand elite sprint squad is led by the world champion trio of Dawkins, Mitchell and Webster, with Auckland's Zac Williams, while Hansen is the only female sprinter.
The women's endurance squad comprises the Rio quartet of Racquel Sheath, Jaime Nielsen, Lauren Ellis and Rushlee Buchanan, who performed with distinction in Rio, with Drummond the newcomer.
The men's endurance squad has Rio riders Bulling, 2016 Tour of Southland winner Aaron Gate, Regan Gough and Dylan Kennett, with the addition of Kergozou and Stewart.
They will prepare in Cambridge before leaving for Hong Kong early next month.
It is the first time the world championships have been staged in Asia since 1990, when New Zealand earned its first ever women's world championship title after Karen Holliday won the points race.