This year, more than any other in recent years, we have been on the receiving end of questions and queries around Cycling New Zealand’s selections for the UCI World Road Championships in Innsbruck. We’ve taken these questions amongst others to High Performance Director Martin Barras.
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RC: Last time we were in touch the roads team was yet to be announced. Now we have the team named. Can you tell us what you’re excited about when you look at the team across the elite men’s & women’s, and young rider categories?
Martin: We are excited that George Bennett is motivated to be competitive in this race and on a course that suits him – and that he will be well prepared coming off the back of the Vuelta a Espana.
We have some good young up-and-coming professionals in the under-23 race and in Georgia Williams we have a young rider out of our track programme who is developing into an excellent world-class professional.
RC: New Zealand qualified 6 riders for the women’s road race but have opted to send between 2 and 4 riders. While we have used all four available spots for the men’s team in George Bennett, Dion Smith, Patrick Bevin and Sam Bewley; why not approach the women’s road race team with the philosophy of providing the women’s team every opportunity to succeed by filling every spot appropriately?
Martin: We do not approach selection based on the quota. The quota is irrelevant. Filling a quota to turn up on the start line is not a goal of a high performance programme. We pick riders capable of being competitive, who have the proven capability on the terrain and at a world championship, and who come in on the back of a programme that will see them fit and capable of a race of this magnitude and distance. We do not subscribe to the philosophy that the world championships is a learning and development opportunity; riders that are selected have demonstrated performance potential based on their lead up to worlds from a racing and competition perspective.
RC: Of the men’s U23 team James Mitri is the biggest surprise, being a stranger to New Zealand cycling circles. What does Mitri bring to the table that has demanded his selection to the outfit?
Martin: James is not known as well as many because he has lived much of his life overseas. He has a three-year deal with Pro Continental Spanish team Burgos-DH which has a big reputation and a long history in cycling. He has enjoyed some very strong results this season which is very impressive in his first year at this level in Europe. In particular, having been exposed to top international hilly European racing in Portugal and Spain grants him a selection to the team.
RC: There has been some conversation around the omission of riders in the team; Sharlotte Lucas* and Luke Mudgway being two of them. We have been informed that in Mudgway’s case his American racing – as opposed to European racing – played against him despite achieving well on the American scene. Racing in the American calendar – for riders like Dion Smith, James Oram and Michael Torckler – has not been a deterrent in gaining world championship selection in the past, why has this been the case this time around?
Martin: You are not comparing apples with apples. This year’s world championship is on a renowned tough terrain in Europe and currently the standard of competition in Europe is considerably above that in USA. When the likes of Dion and James competed at this level, it was for a US-owned World Tour team development programme and in fact they regularly competed in Europe as well as major US Tours like Tour of California.
RC: Hamish Bond’s return to the time trial spot, on the back of his Commonwealth Games medal-winning performance, is a very exciting prospect. How do you anticipate Bond taking to the Innsbruck course compared to last year’s course in Bergen?
Martin: Hamish is a remarkable athlete which everyone is aware of. He has prepared very well. He has trained on the course and has been to Europe a couple of times for training as well as preparing at altitude in USA. He was in very good form last year but suffered a puncture. I am sure Hamish will get the most out of himself, and while it is not a course best suited to a power rider, it will provide a litmus test of his development in the sport at the highest level.
* Since posing our questions to Martin Barras, Sharlotte Lucas was granted selection to the elite women’s outfit.