Velodrome comes up gold
Waikato's multimillion-dollar punt on the Cambridge Avantidrome is paying off, with New Zealand riders excelling on the world stage.
Cycling was the standout sport at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, snaring 15 medals - including six gold.
But it's not just cycling's elite who are singing the Avantidrome's praises, with Waikato leaders saying the $28.5 million facility was having a major positive spin off for the wider community.
Waikato regional councillor Lois Livingston said cycling's strong showing at the Glasgow Games, plus growing numbers of people taking up the sport, vindicated the council's $6m Avantidrome grant.
Waikato was now regarded as the cycling hub of New Zealand.
"It wasn't an easy decision politically at the time to make the grant but definitely I feel vindicated," Livingston said.
"It would have been crazy not to invest in it. The Avantidrome is a bit like the Claudelands Event Centre in that it will only get better now people release what a wonderful venue it is.
"As city fathers and mothers you have to try and make these things happen so the city and region can grow."
Waipa Mayor Jim Mylchreest said 80 per cent of the velodrome track hours were taken up by community groups, while the adjacent Gallagher bike skills park was popular with young riders.
Mylchreest said Waipa District Council's decision to grant $1m to the venue was the right one.
"If I had been on council at the time I would have supported it. From Waipa's point of view, a $1m investment to get a $28m asset build in the district was a no-brainer," he said.
Home of Cycling Charitable Trust chief executive Geoff Balme said the Avantidrome was a world-class cycling environment where champions inspired the wider community.
Having Waikato-based riders excel on the world stage encouraged the public to take up cycling, with people from as far away as Auckland, Tauranga and Taupo visiting the venue.
"People have worked out now that when the BikeNZ athletes are in residence if they come to the Avantidrome in the afternoon there is a very good chance they will see BikeNZ athletes training in their black and silver fern kit, going fast and riding at the very top of the track," Balme said.
Regional councillor Jane Hennebry and her Rates Control team opposed the regional council's $6m Avantidrome grant.
She said the Avantidrome did not represent council core business.
"Everybody loves a medal but unfortunately the Government keeps devolving more things down to ratepayers. We're not anti-velodrome but we don't think ratepayers should have helped pay for it."
Sport Waikato chief executive Matthew Cooper said the Avantidrome was a world class facility which the public could access at an affordable rate. New Zealand's top performing riders would inspire the next generation of cyclists.
"We need inspiration first, role models, and that leads to aspiration. We have this in an abundance with our Waikato-based HP [high performance] athletes," Cooper said.
With the Rio Olympic Games less than two years away, expectations were building for another cycling medal rush.
High Performance Sport New Zealand chief executive Alex Baumann said New Zealand cycling's 15 medals at the Commonwealth Games against a highly competitive field "bodes well for the future".
BikeNZ was a tier one targeted sport with a well-developed high performance programme and talented athletes and coaches.
"Bike NZ's recent results show they are tracking well towards Rio and we do believe that bike will be among the medallists at the Olympic Games," Baumann said. "Everything has to come together on the day and BikeNZ certainly delivered in Glasgow and across different disciplines - on the track, on the road and in mountain biking."
BikeNZ high performance director Mark Elliott said cycling's funding was targeted toward delivering three medals at the Olympics, including a gold. New Zealander riders had won a number of bronze and silver medals over the past two Olympics and the challenge for athletes to was to "take the next step" and grab gold.
"The Avantidrome has allowed us to bring all our key athletes and performance staff and coaches together," Elliott said.
"The great thing about the Avantidrome is it's not just a world class high performance facility but the public can access it too. That allows you to create momentum and cycling is a sport you can do whether you're five years old or 85 years old."