Cycling New Zealand’s men’s team sprint trio have created history with victory on the first day of the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Hong Kong.
The trio of Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster and Eddie Dawkins, coached by Anthony Peden, prevailed over the Netherlands in a tough battle following a gruelling new format, with three rides in two hours at the UCI World Championships.
It is their third world championship title in five years along with two silver medals, and the first time that New Zealand has won back-to-back track cycling world titles in the same event.
New Zealand will be assured of another medal on the second night, after the men’s team pursuit qualified for the gold medal ride against Australia, following their outstanding semifinal win over Italy.
The team sprint were in impressive form from the start of the session, as the fastest qualifiers in 43.267s, which was 0.1s ahead of 2015 world champions France, followed by Rio Olympic champions Great Britain (43.416) and Poland (43.419).
New Zealand went faster in the first round ride an hour later, with the best of the championships in 43.183. However it was the Netherlands, sixth fastest in qualifying, who jumped up to be second fastest in 43.481 ahead of Poland and France while the likes of Great Britain and Australia could not respond.
While the first two rides were faultless, the Kiwis had to overcome a less-than-perfect combination in the final against the Netherlands. However they showed their poise and determination to lead throughout. Mitchell opened with a 17.2 first lap, Webster pushed to a half second buffer and Dawkins brought them home to win in 44.049. Netherlands claimed the silver in 44.382 while France edged Poland for the bronze medal.
“As a team we showed a lot of grit in that last ride. The final was one of the messiest rides we’ve done but sometimes the hardest fought battles are the most rewarding,” Mitchell said.
“To come out on top reassures us how tight we are as a squad and proud we are of eachother to do it a second year in a row.”
Mitchell, who set a world’s best time in the first lap at Rio, was again the fastest throughout the competition. However he warns that there is more to come from the sprint trio.
“We took a step back and broke down what happened in Rio and how we could improve, not just for this year but for the four years leading into Tokyo. We took a little less focus on these world champs than we would have in the previous four year block and I think to come here and come out on top and prove it to ourselves is something special.
“I think it has given us more fire in the belly for the next four years and certainly redemption post Rio.”
Mitchell said their third set of rainbow jerseys has been more special.
“This is a stepping stone for us. But it is a chance to realise how well we work as a team, how incredible our coaching staff are and how lucky we are to be doing what we are doing. To have this team around us is something huge for us and if anything the win is more motivation for the next four years.”
Meanwhile the men’s team pursuit also bounced back from their foibles in Rio with two outstanding rides, to put them into the final against hot favourites Australia.
The quartet of Piet Bulling, Dylan Kennett, Regan Gough and Nick Kergozou, with an average age of just 21 years, set the standard with an excellent ride of 3:53.422 in their qualifying, which was the second fastest.
Australia led the way in 3:50.577 with Italy third fastest two second behind New Zealand, followed by France.
The Kiwis returned for the evening session for a second gruelling effort over the 4000m distance, but withstood the challenge from Italy to win in 3:54.363. They were behind over the first 1500m but took control by mid-race, and went on to win by 1.6 seconds.
Meanwhile Australia were less troubled in beating off the challenge from France to win in 3:54.125 and set up a final against the Kiwis on the second night of the championships. Italy will take on Great Britain for the bronze medal.
The new women’s team pursuit combination of teenager Michaela Drummond, and Rio Olympians Racquel Sheath, Rushlee Buchanan and Jaime Nielsen managed sixth fastest time in qualifying.
They were competitive to be fourth fastest through 2000m but could not finish as strongly with 1:04 and 1:05 for their final two kilos to place sixth.
They compete on the second day where they will need to be one of the two fastest times from the two losing semifinalists and remaining four qualifiers to secure a spot in the bronze medal ride.
Men 4000m Team Pursuit, qualifying: Australia 3:50.577, 1; New Zealand (Regan Gough, Piet Bulling, Dylan Kennett, Nick Kergozou) 3:53.422, 2; Italy 3:55.755, 3; France 3:56.357, 4.
Round 1 (semifinals): New Zealand 3:54.363, 1; Italy 3:55.945, 2. Second semifinal: Australia 3:54.125 1, France 4:00.198, 2.
Women 4000m Team Pursuit, qualifying: USA 4:17.722, 1; Australia 4:18.659, 2; Canada 4:19.515, 3; Italy 4:19.838, 4. Also: New Zealand (Michaela Drummond, Racquel Sheath, Rushlee Buchanan, Jaime Nielsen) 4:22.776, 7.
Men Team Sprint, qualifying: New Zealand (Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster, Eddie Dawkins) 43.267, 1; France 43.390, 2; Great Britain 43.416, 3; Poland 43.419, 4; China 43.878, 5; Netherlands 43.970, 6.
Round 1: New Zealand 43.183, 1; Netherlands 43.481, 2; Poland 43.834, 3; France 43.645, 4.
Gold medal ride: New Zealand 44.049, 1; Netherlands 44.382, 2. Bronze medal ride: France 43.536, 3; Poland 43.698, 4.
CAPTION: The men’s team pursuit in action led by Nick Kergozou; the men’s team sprint start their final, celebrate the win and sport their rainbow jerseys as back-to-back world champions.