Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Cycling: Riders get a dose of reality

BikeNZ's leadership deserves plaudits for helping the sport make a transition to expecting rather than hoping for medals at the London Olympics.

It is too early to gush and offer a round of jovial back slaps; medals still need to be won. What can be admired is that a plan was agreed (with suitable taxpayer investment) and executed clinically to get to this point with considerable success on the international stage. Like rowing, cycling is a key example of how Olympic sports need to operate in New Zealand.

Before Beijing, cycling had hauled in just two Olympic medals - Sarah Ulmer's 2004 gold and Gary Anderson's 1992 bronze - both in the individual pursuit. That collection was doubled with Hayden Roulston's 2008 IP silver and team pursuit bronze. Now there are expectations the booty will double again when New Zealand's pedallers go at it in London. Four medals have been consistently touted as the demand.

The leadership has come in various forms.

Athletes are picked as the best potential medallists, not deserved triers. It is a paradigm shift and, with the current programme cemented, looks set to continue. Strong results since the Athens Olympics have brought significant investment from Sport New Zealand (there has been $15.1 million over this Olympic cycle, only surpassed by rowing's $15.51 million).

That sort of cash injection demands podium finishes at London. The government is also providing $7 million to develop the cycling centre of excellence in the Waikato-Bay of Plenty.

The up-front nature of the Olympic team decision was also refreshing. Disappointment goes hand-in-hand with such occasions; none more so than Sam Webster. Webster was left out despite helping ride his sprint team-mates to a bronze medal earlier this month in Melbourne. Yet his name and number were on the media release; a man willing to talk and confront the issue despite the decision going against him. Such fortitude earns respect.

The selectors made bold decisions with their track team but were justified. While the women's team largely selected itself, the men's team (maximum eight riders) posed a problem as New Zealand looked for representation across all five disciplines. The Olympic plan translates to medals; sacrifices had to be made under the current International Olympic Committee provisos.

The key examples were the men's team pursuit and team sprint.

The team pursuit has been bolstered by five riders to fill four spots because it is the best medal hope. The road race will be the victim with a track rider expected to transfer to do a spell helping whoever is selected as the sole New Zealand road rider from Jack Bauer, Greg Henderson, Hayden Roulston or Julian Dean (if his fractured leg recovers in time).

New Zealand has a limited chance against six-rider teams from other nations like Australia and the selection priorities reflect that. Likewise in the sprints, the feats of Simon van Velthooven with third in the keirin (later relegated to sixth on a technical breach) at the world championships show he is an Olympic medal contender. Ethan Mitchell is the specialist lead out man for the sprint which meant Eddie Dawkins or Webster had to be omitted.

There is also a view to the future. Several future Games contenders, including Webster, will be taken to Bordeaux for the final Olympic training camp and some are expected to go on to London just for the experience. Another bold investment gambit.

The BMX and mountain biking teams will be named next month with the road team announced in June.

- Herald on Sunday

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