Cycling: Number OK but colour not

By Andrew Alderson

Alison Shanks. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Alison Shanks. Photo / Brett Phibbs

BIKENZ has grounds for satisfaction with a record-equalling nine medals on the track at the Delhi Commonwealth Games - yet the result has left some of the team feeling hollow and frustrated at the chasm between them and Australia.

Australia won 12 gold medals out of a possible 14 this week. The national anthem sound technician had the easiest job at the velodrome, closely followed by the flag raiser, as Advance Australia Fair reverberated ad nauseam.

Despite what must be classed as an overall success, New Zealand could cause a gold hiccup only once - when Alison Shanks triumphed in the individual pursuit final.

The downside is that the individual pursuit has been dropped from the London Olympic schedule and she beat key Northern Irish rival Wendy Houvenaghel rather than an Australian.

New Zealand squeezed Australia out of medal contention just once when Simon van Velthooven edged out Jason Niblett for bronze in the kierin.

On the upside, the result equals the most medals won by a New Zealand track cycling team at a Commonwealth Games - although one gold, five silver and three bronze could not match the four gold, two silver and three bronze earned at Auckland in 1990.

Kuala Lumpur and Manchester also brought two gold medals, compared to this year's one.

Sparc allocated $3.25 million for cycling this year in a performance-related package to get the sport some medals in London.

That money looks set to continue but the expectation was New Zealand might have featured more at the top of the podium rather than one step either side.

BikeNZ high performance manager Mark Elliott says it was good to get in the medals but they had hoped for better: "I don't think we really hit our straps. We will find out the reasons why in the de-brief.

"We need to ascertain where we can make improvements because Australia has set a new benchmark."

Elliott cites the men's team pursuit: "If those guys were happy with a silver, I'd be extremely surprised. That is not to belittle hard-earned silver medals from our team, but those guys are capable of gold.

"Likewise [bronze medallist] Eddie Dawkins can do a lot faster than 1m 03s for the kilo [his personal best is 1m 01.372s at last year's world championships] but it was still a great effort from the men's sprinters in their first major competition, medalling in every event."

Head track coach Tim Carswell says sprint cycling is an ideal area for growth: "They are so young - last year two of them were juniors. It was only about a year ago those guys came to their first camp. The amount of improvement we could make in another two years is huge but we need more depth to keep pressure on the top athletes and provide cover for World Cup events."

Sparc high performance general manager Martin Toomey agrees: "A nine-medal haul indicates a useful campaign, especially with the emergence of the sprinters who were genuinely competitive. But when it comes to sitting down and discussing funding in November we have to take into account the lack of a strong British contingent, who were the benchmark in Beijing, and the incredible dominance of Australia who took the meet by the scruff of the neck.

"Track cycling's real benchmark is not the Commonwealth Games either, it's the world championships."

The men's team pursuit, featuring professionals Jesse Sergent and Sam Bewley, is a hope for a London 2012 medal yet they were lapped by the Australians with a lap of the 4000m race to go.

The team make-up is similar to that which won bronze at the Beijing Olympics but with Westley Gough replacing Hayden Roulston and Peter Latham coming in as a reserve.

Bewley got pinged off the back with seven laps remaining in the final as the team employed an all-out attacking plan which saw them go at a withering pace over the first two kilometres.

The result has hit the 23-year-old hard, knowing their options for future gold medal success are limited against an unbeatable-looking Australian chain gang.

"We felt we had one chance to go out hard but couldn't hang on. Still, if we'd taken a conservative approach we wouldn't have survived at all. We need to re-evaluate after our three-week build-up in Bordeaux. We tried something new, now we can put it behind us.

"Any outsider seeing our medal tally might think that's successful but our mentality is we are capable of better," says Bewley. "It is going to require more hard work and another look at how we prepare."

Bewley was to compete in the road race today as support to Roulston and, possibly, Jack Bauer.

- NZ Herald

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