Cycling: Medal haul presents Olympic selection headache

By Dylan Cleaver

Picking the right pursuit team for the London Olympics will not be easy for BikeNZ.  Photo / Getty Images
Picking the right pursuit team for the London Olympics will not be easy for BikeNZ. Photo / Getty Images

Cycling selectors have two weeks to wrap their heads around a couple of conundrums before forwarding their nominated riders to the New Zealand Olympic Committee.

The track team have come off their most successful world championships with five medals - four bronze and a gold.

Stars of the show were Alison Shanks, who won gold in the individual pursuit, and Westley Gough, who won two bronzes in individual and team pursuit.

Not far behind was the sprint team, headlined by Simon van Velthooven, who won bronze in the kilo time trial and finished third in the keirin before being relegated on a tenuous technical infraction.

Meanwhile, the young sprint trio of Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster and Eddie Dawkins won bronze after Great Britain and Germany were relegated for a rules breach.

The sprint team will be causing the most selection difficulties, with only three pegged to attend London unless one is selected as a transfer rider between road and track.

Otherwise, five has to become three. Despite an impressive 200m time trial, Matt Archibald's lack of experience means he is the most likely to drop out, leaving Mitchell as the one specialist starter out of the gates and a virtual certainty. That would leave Webster, Dawkins and van Velthooven fighting for the second and third wheel spots in the team sprint.

Van Velthooven's proven ability to place high in the keirin could give him the edge in the London approach.

There's a similar problem on the endurance side, with Gough's outstanding week making him difficult to drop for the incoming Jesse Sergent, New Zealand's strongest pursuiter who was unavailable for the world champs.

Sam Bewley, Aaron Gate and Marc Ryan combined with Gough in the team pursuit last week.

Shane Archbold is likely to go. He was only a half-decent points race away from being a medal contender in the six-discipline omnium, and besides, BikeNZ wants to have a competitor in every male discipline. That would leave no spot for a back-up pursuiter, unless somebody like Ryan was selected as the rider who can transfer between track and road.

There are just eight track spots available to the men, with one transfer rider. Things are clearer on the women's side. In the team pursuit Shanks, Lauren Ellis and Jaime Nielsen - who were a disappointing fourth in Melbourne - are all but selected, unless Rushlee Buchanan can quickly convince the selectors she's better than the latter two.

BikeNZ will also make a case for Natasha Hansen to be taken for experience. The young Southland sprinter has made giant strides in the past six months, though she is some distance from the podium just yet.

"We came here to get medals and do personal bests," said BikeNZ high performance director Mark Elliott. "I think 70 to 80 per cent of the team did PBs, so that's what you need to do at pinnacle events.

"It shows us we're gaining a bit of momentum.

"The best result ever at a world champs - it's going to build from there and momentum is what you want in Olympic year.

"There's a lot of guys that took confidence from these championships, knowing they're up there on the world stage now."

There is a cautionary note for those expecting this to translate into a similar haul in London.

Of the five medals, only the men's team pursuit and team sprint are Olympic disciplines.

"One should have been a medal [the keirin], so that's three," Elliott said. "We were targeting four across four different sports [road, track, mountainbike and BMX] and we've shown here we have the capacity to nail three already.

"There's still work to do but we're tracking in the right direction, not the wrong direction."

Elliott said the world champs had given them some clarity around selection for the simple fact that they got to see the results of months of hard work.

While there were some hard decisions to make, that was a far better position to be in than it becoming a simple rubber-stamping process.

"There's plenty of options but it all comes back to us winning medals."

- NZ Herald

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