The Vantage New Zealand team pursuit track cyclists had expected a baptism of fire but they came out on top when their international season began with the opening UCI Tissot Track World Cup in France.
The powerful European nations come into the competition in Paris off the back of their domestic season with significant competition in their racing legs, with the World Cup providing the first qualifying points ultimately towards the Tokyo Olympics.
The new women’s team pursuit combination, under new coaches Ross Machejefski and Alexandra Greenfield, were fastest in qualifying in the new World Cup format with pursuit qualifying on the day before the formal competition gets underway.
The new kiwi men’s combination, under their new coach pairing of Brendan Cameron and Matt Shallcrass, were second fastest in the men’s qualifying.
Cycling New Zealand high performance director Martin Barras said the Vantage Elite New Zealand team had come to Paris to use the competition as a litmus test of their winter training with podiums a pleasant surprise rather than expected.
“Our team as a whole are coming off a winter strength development phase, other than our hit-out at the Oceania Championships for our sprint squad, while many of our endurance riders are coming back from competing for their pro road teams.
“Some of the European teams like the Netherlands, France and Great Britain are here in real strength while some have development squads.
“For us it is a chance to get some racing under our belts and to determine just where we are at in terms of our winter training.
“The squad are in excellent spirits and raring to finally get to what they love doing most which is racing.”
As a prelude to the three competition days, both team pursuit squads had qualifying today. The New Zealand women’s squad, also combining in competition for the first time, were fastest in qualifying in 4:20.154, fractionally faster than Italy and Australia. They face Germany in their first round clash with the winner going directly to the gold medal round, while the two fastest of the remaining teams ride off for third and fourth.
“It was a pretty controlled ride in general. We did a simulated ride before we came over and it was within half a second of that ride,” said coach Machejefski. “We went out on a similar schedule but had a bit of a mishap with a few laps to go but the way they dealt with it was encouraging.
“Pretty happy and it sets up another round where we can use our advantage. There are still two rounds to go so it is about executing again and again so a good start.”
The New Zealand men’s squad, in their first outing together, were second fastest in a slick 3:55.327, only 0.1s behind top qualifiers Denmark and a fraction ahead of Great Britain, Germany and Italy. They will take on Great Britain in the first round on day one of racing, with the winners to proceed directly to the gold medal ride in the evening and the two fastest of the remaining six teams will contest for the bronze medal.
“Really good show today,” said coach Cameron. “We had quite a few new dynamics in the team. Jordan Kerby came into the team for the first time. He has been with us a few weeks, so it has been a massive culture shift for him to join the kiwi crew, learn the habits and the way we deliver our training.
“Campbell Stewart arrived late from Europe and was naturally quite tired but he has come back well, and of course I am new to the men’s group.
“We have not managed really consistent training yet so we are here on the back of some general track training and conditioning to get through these World Cups.
“It was a really good day and we have done a solid time that is competitive with others from around the world for this time of year.
“It is the first major Olympic qualifying race. It is early and a lot of teams won’t quite know how they will be able to back up and get through rides. Everyone has to recover as best as possible and re-present themselves tomorrow for two more rides.”
Sixteen riders are competing for the Vantage New Zealand team headed by Olympic team sprint silver medallists Eddie Dawkins, Ethan Mitchell and Sam Webster, who won the Oceania title in Adelaide at the weekend. While the trio bettered Australia last weekend, they face the might of several in-form European combinations.
There is interest in the New Zealand debut for 2016 individual pursuit world champion Jordan Kerby who has switched allegiances from Australia earlier this year, which has now been cleared by the UCI.
The women’s endurance squad welcomed the return of former junior world championship representative Holly Edmondston. The 21-year-old South Canterbury rider missed all of last year with a back injury but has made an excellent return including a win in the Torino six-day event in Italy.
It will be a big week for the squad who will pack up and fly to Milton in Canada on Monday to prepare for the second World Cup next weekend.
The Vantage Elite New Zealand team is:
Sprint, Male: Eddie Dawkins, Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster. Female: Emma Cumming, Natasha Hansen.
Endurance, Male: Regan Gough, Jordan Kerby, Nick Kergozou, Campbell Stewart, Harry Waine. Female: Rushlee Buchanan, Bryony Botha, Michaela Drummond, Holly Edmondston, Kirstie James, Racquel Sheath.
Team Pursuit qualifying, men: Denmark 3:55.197, 1; New Zealand (Nick Kergozou, Campbell Stewart, Jordan Kerby, Regan Gough) 3:55.327, 2; Great Britain 3:55.538, 3; Germany 3:56.319, 4.
Team Pursuit qualifying, women: New Zealand (Racquel Sheath, Holly Edmondston, Kirstie James, Bryony Botha) 4:20.154, 1; Italy 4:20.892, 2; Australia 4:21.543, 3; Germany 4:23.803, 4.