Medals have poured into the New Zealand team’s hands at the Hong Kong round of the UCI Track Cycling World Cup.
The Vantage New Zealand team won two gold medals and one silver on a memorable third day of their opening UCI Track World Cup campaign in Hong Kong.
The biggest cheer was for Callum Saunders from Blenheim, in his first World Cup, winning the keirin final ahead of the Olympic champion Jason Kenny and current world champion Matthijs Buchli.
World champion Campbell Stewart took out the men’s omnium over a classy field, winning the elimination race and controlling the final points race.
Earlier Nicole Shields and Jessie Hodges joined to finish second behind Denmark in the women’s Madison, which has been added to next year’s Olympic programme.
It was a remarkable first World Cup for the 24-year-old Marlborough rider in the keirin competition. One of the burgeoning young riders in Vantage Elite New Zealand team under sprint coach Rene Wolff, Saunders earned his opportunity in the individual events with the team sprint trio having returned to Cambridge to prepare for their home World Cup this week.
The competition was stacked with the current Olympic champion, and current keirin and sprint world champions along with 11 of the world’s top 20 ranked keirin riders.
No surprise then that Saunders could only place third in his heat to send him into a winner-take-all repechage, but the Kiwi held off a strong group to win and progress to the semifinal. There he drew the No 1 spot to slot in behind the derny and while swamped early when the pace went on, he recovered around the outside to edge his way into third place in a bunch sprint to claim the last place in the final.
He again drew the No 1 slot for the final with Olympic champion Kenny behind. This proved a key because when Kenny opened up his sprint to push to the lead with two and a half laps remaining, his speed was such that the Kiwi maintained his place in the trail.
Saunders held off the threat by world number 2 ranked Malaysian Mohd Awang on his outside and in the final straight the kiwi pushed past Kenny for the win with world champion Buchli flying home for third.
“We are all absolutely thrilled for Callum and Rene who has worked so hard with our development sprinters. This is a reward for their hard work and our belief to give our young riders their opportunity at this level,” said Cycling New Zealand High Performance Director, Martin Barras.
Throughout the evening programme Stewart took on a classy field in the four-discipline omnium competition that included madison world champion Roger Kluge (GER) and current world cup leader Mark Stewart (GBR).
Campbell Stewart, still just 21 years old, was sixth in the opening scratch race and fourth in the tempo race, where there are points on every lap. He took out his favoured elimination race, where the last rider is eliminated in sprints every two laps until a final two-rider match race.
This left the Kiwi with a two-point lead on Kluge going into the final 25km points race, with Stewart biding his time, going with a group to put a lap on the field for the 20 point bonus and winning three of the last five sprints. He secured the overall honours on 142 points with Kluge on 133 and Switzerland’s Thery Schir third on 125.
“Campbell is an outstanding young rider who has worked so hard in the last few months and is in great shape. He matches that with his cycling intelligence which greatly belies his years,” said Barras.
There was also excitement for a new combination of Shields and Hodges in the 30km madison, which is scored like a points race but involving two riders, with one in play at all times via a hand-sling between them.
Both Shields from Alexandra and Hodges from Hamilton were part of the winning team pursuit on the opening day. The New Zealand pair was sixth at the midway point with the Danish pair winning three of the opening six sprints.
With no teams able to get a lap on the field, the Vantage New Zealand combo showed their strength to win the fourth to last sprint, place second in the penultimate sprint and then win the final double points dash to secure second placing.
“Their success in the pursuit showed they were in good form, strong and confident under coach Alex Greenfield who has done a terrific job with this group. They rode with real intelligence and scored some valuable points for us.”
While this is the third of six world cup competitions, it is the first for New Zealand who jumped to 12th in both the keirin and men’s omnium world rankings and 14th in the women’s madison.
Earlier Natasha Hansen started her international season qualifying ninth in the sprint in 10.918s, winning her first-round match sprint against Lithuania’s former world champion Simona Krupeckaite in the first round but eliminated by Olympic team sprint gold medallist Tianshi Zhong (China) by just 3/100ths of a second in the second round.
Fellow Kiwi sprinter Ellesse Andrews qualified 25th in 11.190s but lost to Zhong in the opening round.
News got better on the final day as two more medals were added to the tally.
The pairing of omnium world champion Campbell Stewart and Tom Sexton won the silver medal in the men’s madison behind world champions Germany, while Corbin Strong won the bronze in the scratch race.
While New Zealand won more points from sprints in the Madison competition, the Germans secured top spot as the only combination to gain a lap on the field.
New Zealand’s Michaela Drummond missed out on the bronze medal in the women’s omnium on countback, decided on the final sprint in the 20km race.
The focus now shifts to home territory with the fourth round of the Tissot UCI World Cup set for Cambridge starting this Friday with over 500 riders and staff from 45 countries competing.
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