Cycling: Strong track team named for Olympics

New Zealand has named its biggest and arguably strongest track cycling team ever for the London Olympic Games.

The New Zealand Olympic Committee today announced a 15-strong team plus reserves for London.

The team is built around the riders who achieved podium performances at the recent world championships in Melbourne and reflects Bike NZ's continual gains on the world's stage.

The men's team pursuit, that rode their third fastest time in history at the world championships, will lead New Zealand's track campaign with the same quartet that won the bronze medal in Melbourne, along with the addition of Radioshack Nissan Trek professional Jesse Sergent.

The women's team pursuit, fourth at the world championships, is led by pursuit world champion Alison Shanks and includes cover from 2010 national road champion Rushlee Buchanan, subject to the confirmation of quota spots in June.

The strongest competition for selection came in the men's sprint group that won two bronze medals in Melbourne, with only three spots available.

Auckland's Ethan Mitchell has cemented himself in the start position with Southland's Eddie Dawkins picked for the wheel two position, while former triple junior world champion Sam Webster has been named as the reserve.Both omnium riders Shane Archbold and Joanne Kiesanowski were selected after top-seven finishes at the world championships.

The team also includes women's sprinter Natasha Hansen, the 22 year old from Invercargill who has emerged in the top10 sprinters for the Olympics.

BikeNZ's High Performance Director Mark Elliott said the team was capable of medal winning performances across as many events as possible. "We are also aware of the enormous challenge ahead," he said.

"The bar was raised significantly in a number of events at the world championships by the superpower teams of Great Britain and Australia but we believe we have the talent and support to mount a world class campaign."

Mr Elliott said the selection had been a challenging process with the quality of the riders in the programme and also the quota process in place by the sport's ruling body, the UCI and the IOC.

Nations were recently advised that the teams were limited to eight men and six women, although one rider may be transferred from another cycling discipline. New Zealand is also entitled to one male and female reserve rider to cover in case of injury or illness.

"That has been a difficult process. However our focus is on medal-winning potential as a clear priority.

"The team pursuit in both men and women is a key opportunity for London. They have to ride three times in two days and we believe an additional rider is an integral factor in producing optimal performances. Our intention is to transfer of a spare spot from the women's road quota, with the men's spot to come from another discipline. These will be decided once all Olympic quotas are finalised by the UCI in June."

New Zealand Olympic Track cyclists have won a total of four Olympic medals including Sarah Ulmer's gold medal at Athens 2004 in the Individual Pursuit, Hayden Roulston's silver in Men's Pursuit in Beijing 2008 and bronze medals from Gary Anderson (1992 Barcelona Men's Individual Pursuit) and the Men's Team Pursuit at Beijing 2008 (Gough, Bewley, Roulston, Ryan, Sergent).

New Zealand's first Olympic track cyclist was George Giles who represented New Zealand at the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936.

New Zealand's Olympic BMX and Mountain Bike teams will be named at the end of May and the Road team in June.

The naming of today's cycling team brings the total number of athletes selected to the New Zealand Olympic Team to 80.

The New Zealand Olympic Track Cycling team is:

Men: Shane Archbold (Timaru), Sam Bewley (Rotorua), Eddie Dawkins (Invercargill), Aaron Gate (Auckland), Westley Gough (Waipukurau), Ethan Mitchell (Auckland), Marc Ryan (Timaru), Jesse Sergent (Feilding), Simon van Velthooven (Palmerston North).

Reserve: Sam Webster (Auckland).

Women: Rushlee Buchanan (Te Awamutu) - subject to quota confirmation, Lauren Ellis (Hinds), Natasha Hansen (Invercargill), Joanne Kiesanowski (Christchurch), Jaime Nielsen (Hamilton), Alison Shanks (Dunedin).

Reserve: Katie Schofield (Dunedin) - subject to acceptance of final qualifiers.

- Hamilton News

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