Cycling: Oceania champs loom as Olympic trial

Hayden Roulston. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Hayden Roulston. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Next week's Oceania cycling championships in Invercargill loom as a virtual Olympic trial and a shadow New Zealand Olympic squad will be named after the event.

Cycling are targeting four medals in London - they won two in Beijing - and the depth in the sport means competition for places is intense. A New Zealand squad will be chosen after the Oceania championships to compete at next month's World Cup meeting in Cali, Colombia, which will give a strong indicator of who New Zealand are likely to send to next year's Olympics.

Each country is limited in the number they can send to London and it will be a challenge for BikeNZ to narrow down their squad.

There are just nine slots available for each of the men's and women's track teams and, when you consider there are four in the men's team's pursuit, three in the men's team's sprint and Shane Archbold is the world's top-ranked omnium rider, there's not much wriggle room.

Even within each squad there is significant competition with 11 guys competing for a spot on the men's pursuit team, six women battling for three spots on the women's team pursuit and Hayden Roulston has stated his intention to also challenge Archbold for the omnium.

The arrival of a world-class sprinting programme has put pressure on spots and BikeNZ might need to be creative about how they do it this time around. They might even select someone like a Jesse Sergent, Roulston or Sam Bewley, who are all professional road riders, for the road race with the intention of using them mainly on the track.

"It's going to be a really difficult juggling act," BikeNZ high performance director Mark Elliott said. "It's going to be one of the more complex selection processes any sport will go through.

"When you go into an event like this you want to know you can cover all eventualities. The worst thing would be for us to go in with only four pursuit riders and have one of them crook and not have a back-up. One of the sprinters might pull a quad the day before the event and we might not have a backup sprinter. It's a good problem to have, but not an ideal one when it comes to selecting the side.

"We are looking at our key teams to be selected from the Oceania championships. We are looking at shadow teams because we want to make sure those guys have time to compete, train and build up together as a unit. It would be an indicator of Olympic nomination, but there will be a pathway for other riders to come through."

BikeNZ have taken advice on whether they could face a legal challenge if a rider isn't selected for the Olympic team even if they win a world championship medal.

It's a possibility, given the entire cycling programme has five riders in the world's top three (Sarah Walker and Marc Willers in BMX, the women's team's pursuit, road rider Linda Villumsen in the time trial and Archbold) and another four in the world's top seven (men's team's pursuit, men's team's sprint, mountainbiker Rosara Joseph and Eddie Dawkins in the keiran).

"We have to make a decision based on what we think is the best Olympic medal potential," Elliott said. "If there's not a really clear process around selection, any rider would feel aggrieved if they had won a world championship medal and still couldn't get to the Olympics. We have been really open about that and sat them down three weeks ago and said, 'anyone in the room could be going to London but it's not just going to be dependent on your performances but on the performances of your teammates'."

BikeNZ will get a good gauge of where their cyclists are at next week, especially as Australia, one of the world's best cycling nations, will send a strong squad to Invercargill.

- APNZ

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