Looking resplendent new Santini Cycling Wear team kits which were unveiled on the eve of the Championships, the Australian cycling team glittered on the opening day of the 2017 UCI Track World Championships in Hong Kong.
Three-time world champion Kaarle McCulloch (NSW) and Rio Olympian Stephanie Morton (SA) powered to grab Australia’s first medal of the Championships with an emphatic silver in the women’s team sprint.
Morton was quick to dedicate her maiden world championship medal to coach long-time sprint coach Gary West who is unfortunately absent his first championships in over two decades as he battles Motor Neurone Disease.
“I know I speak for Kaarle and myself that we are really happy to get the silver medal tonight, but it would have been nice to have had coach Gary West here, and his support,” said Morton, 26.
“We all know the battle he is going through, and as much as we did this for ourselves, this is for you Gary.
In their debut as a team sprint combination at any level, the duo clocked the second fastest time in qualifying with 32.785secs. Just one hour later they returned to the track to post an Australian record of 32.570secs, eclipsing Meares and Morton’s previous mark from 2015 (32.588).
In the final, the reigning world champion Russian pairing of Anastasia Voinova and Daria Shmeleva (32.520) was too good for the Australians (32.649) as they claimed their second straight gold in the event.
“We had been training really well back home in Adelaide so I just knew tonight I had to do my job, we managed to lift every time, we executed the plan we wanted to,” said Morton. “It was all the little things we got right, our mindset going into each race, that is going to put us in really good stead heading into Tokyo.”
For McCulloch, the medal takes her world championships medal haul to six in the team sprint event including three rainbow jerseys (with Anna Meares).
“I was a little nervous to start off with, as I haven’t done any start work since Rio,” remarked McCulloch.
“It was actually something Simon Jones said to me this week, he said ‘You might not have done many starts lately, but you have done many starts during your career. I just remembered that and I absolutely nailed it.
“Plus, this (silver medal) is pretty special, particularly as I don’t think we were expecting to ride off for the rainbows tonight,” revealed McCulloch.
“So to come out here and execute it is really good.
“We lifted, we just missed out on the rainbows, but I think it is a very exciting time as we head into this new Olympic cycle.”
The women’s sprint begins on Thursday with McCulloch and Morton joined by debutant Holly Takos in the field.
In the men’s event, 2012 team sprint world champion Matthew Glaetzer (SA), plus Nathan Hart (ACT) and Jacob Schmid (VIC) formed the fourth new-look team combination for Australia on the opening day.
The trio posted the seventh best time in qualifying (44.136) before shaving almost half a second off the mark in the first round against France. However, they were edged by France in the first round and out of medal contention by one-tenth of a second. They finished sixth overall.
The men’s keirin begins on Thursday with Glaetzer Australia’s lone charge in the event.