New Zealand cyclists crank into action for the first time in the all-important UCI Track World Cup with the third round starting in Hong Kong tonight.

Cycling New Zealand has sent a team with a mix of proven riders and up-and-comers with the Kiwi group taking on the European and Asian riders for the first time this season.

The three-time world champion men’s team sprint trio of Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster and Eddie Dawkins are looking for a strong start to their season and to grab valuable ranking points. With the Europeans already with two world cups under their belt and a season of competition, it means New Zealand are currently ninth in Olympic rankings.

They face some strong opposition from the likes of China, Czech Republic, two German combinations, France, world champion Netherlands, Poland and Trinidad & Tobago among the fancied teams.

The Vantage New Zealand men will return home immediately after the team sprint to ready for the home leg in Cambridge next weekend leaving hugely promising young sprinter Callum Saunders to contest the individual events.

There is real competition for places in the men’s endurance squad with the grouping of Dylan Kennett, Nick Kergozou, Tom Sexton, Campbell Stewart and Corbin Strong to contest Hong Kong where they face major competition from Denmark, Italy, Switzerland, Russia, Canada and Japan.

New Zealand is currently fourth on Olympic rankings in the omnium, where world champion, Campbell Stewart will be looking for important qualifying points.

The women’s sprint group of Ellesse Andrews, Olivia Podmore and Natasha Hansen will compete across all disciplines against world championship quality competition.

The women’s endurance group is built on Cycling New Zealand’s development combination of former junior world champions headed by Michaela Drummond who will race the omnium and may also ride in the team pursuit.

“This is a test to see where we are at. They have been training really well but it will be a different thing in this white-hot atmosphere of a World Cup and with so much on the line with Tokyo only eight months away,” said Cycling New Zealand high performance director, Martin Barras.

“Clearly we are looking for a good return from the likes of our men’s team sprint against extremely strong opposition, while our men’s team pursuit combination has the opportunity to reach the medal rounds.

“Most of the world’s best sprinters will line up this weekend so that will be a good test for our female sprinters where we are looking for further improvement in times in the team sprint following a very auspicious start at the recent Oceania Championships.

“The women’s team pursuit group is young and developing so this presents a fantastic opportunity for them to again show they are on an upward path.”

The team pursuit qualifying is raced tonight local time with racing proper underway on Friday late afternoon and finishing on Sunday, with the competition broadcast live on Sky Sport.

The Vantage elite team for the Hong Kong round of the UCI Track World Cup is:

Female, Endurance: Michaela Drummond, Jessie Hodges, Emily Shearman, Nicole Shields, Ally Wollaston. Sprint: Ellesse Andrews, Natasha Hansen, Olivia Podmore.

Male, Endurance: Dylan Kennett, Nick Kergozou, Tom Sexton, Campbell Stewart, Corbin Strong. Sprint: Eddie Dawkins, Ethan Mitchell, Callum Saunders, Sam Webster.

Photo: Dianne Manson

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