Peter is a sports writer at the Bay of Plenty Times

Schoolboy cyclists make national squads

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The Tokyo Olympics in 2020 are too far away to excite sports fans so soon after Rio.

But for a group of highly talented Tauranga cyclists the Land of the Rising Sun is a constant inspiration.

Matthew Lochhead, 16, Jack Wilson, 17, Fergus Hamilton, 15, and James Johnson, 16, have all taken the first step towards that ultimate goal by making national development squads.

Wilson is in the NZ Mountain Bike National Performance Hub with the other three as part of the Cycling NZ Under-19 Development programme. Johnson attends Aquinas College and the others Tauranga Boys' College.

Mount Maunganui-based Cycling NZ accredited coach, Shane Kaio, says the selections are a big step for them.

"Now they are on the radar on the programmes and it is really going to help their building towards their high performance goals," Kaio said.

"Cycling New Zealand has a pathway development for them so they go from youth development to pre-elite, elite and international. So if they put in the work and get the results the support structure is already there for them.

"The three roadies are with the Tauranga Road Cycling Club so they get a lot of support through that which has helped their development as well.

"They have got to do the work though."

The four cyclists all put in outstanding performances at last weekend's Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge.

The highlight was the sprint to the finish line between last year's winner Lochhead and Hamilton in the 80km Half the Lake race.

Hamilton took it in a photo-finish in what he said was a good tactical race in the end.

"It was about the last 100m and I heard Matt's gears go and I just went for it. Me and him were touching and getting into the sprint and I just managed to get him at the line."

Lochhead said the competition between all of them was helping drive the standards up.

"We all like to compete with each other I suppose. We're good friends but always want to beat each other," he said.

Kaio was thrilled to witness the final sprint home.

"For a couple of 15,16-year-olds to do that well was very pleasing to see. It was very rewarding to see the effort and training they have been putting in is starting to produce results.

"Their key race period is not until January, February and March which is when they want to be peaking so to get the results they all got [Taupo] was very pleasing."

For Johnson, being crowned first under-17 rider home and fourth overall in the 160km Around the Lake event was a personal triumph.

"I was pretty happy as I was up against some pretty tough competition and I wanted to win the Mathew Dryden Memorial as my brother Charlie won it the year before," he said.

Sam Thompson, coach of the mountain bike performance hub based in Rotorua, is pleased with the progress shown by Wilson and Shania Rawson, also from Tauranga, who are in the development programme.

"Jack has shown some really good results over the last two to three seasons and he is one of those who has come through the ranks and showed some good results at nationals and Oceanias," Thompson said.

"Shania is a really exciting prospect on the women's downhill side of things."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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