Cycling: Cut from the sqad, but still in the saddle

By Dylan Cleaver

Sam Webster. Photo / Getty Images
Sam Webster. Photo / Getty Images

For every Olympic dream realised there are those that are dashed - and then there are those that are left in limbo.

That's where Auckland cyclist Sam Webster finds himself after being named as a reserve for London. After racing second wheel in the team sprint in nine qualifying events, Webster could be forgiven for thinking that the punching of his ticket to the greatest show on Earth was a mere formality.

"I was actually round at Justin's [Grace, BikeNZ men's sprint coach] house doing some erg training. I'd just finished a session when he told me and it took a long time for it to set in," Webster says of the day he learned he had missed the three-man team.

Grace, a fellow Aucklander, was not a selector but said he felt the news was better coming from someone who was alongside him nearly every day.

"I have a tight relationship with these guys, all of them, and thought in or out, it was best it came from me," Grace says.

Ethan Mitchell, Eddie Dawkins and Simon van Velthooven will instead ride, with Webster reserve and Matt Archibald the unlucky man to miss out altogether (though he will travel to Europe with the team next month to train).

In a high-risk selection strategy, the trio that will race the team sprint in London has never competed together before. Of all the permutations possible between the five riders, Mitchell, Dawkins and van Velthooven have never even raced together in training.

"It was disappointing. I felt like I had done everything to put myself in the best position to be eligible for the Olympic team sprint.

"The selection has gone against me, but I'm still a reserve so I'm counting myself as being in the Olympic squad and I'm still preparing as if I'm going to the Olympic Games and am still contesting for the team sprint."

Webster, 20, sees his role in fairly simple terms now: he has to go as fast as he can now. It serves two purposes: to show to himself, if no one else, why he deserved to be in the squad; and to push his teammates to go even faster.

He had his time of self-reflection and, if we're being honest, a bit of self-pity, but it's over now.

"I had to let the emotions come," Webster says. "The list of questions were endless but they were questions to something that doesn't exist."

Webster shone the spotlight on himself as much as the selectors. What could he have done differently? How could he have gone faster? Why did the selectors value one aspect more than another? He asked himself if things would have been different if the Melbourne world champs had been a week later. He was still feeling the after-effects of a heavy crash at a world cup meeting in Colombia and was still improving when he got to Australia.

As it was, Webster was the only one not to set a PB in the sprint qualifying. After Simon van Velthooven medalled in the kilo - a non-Olympic discipline - and was relegated from bronze to 6th in the keirin, suddenly Webster's spot was vulnerable.

"I needed to ask those questions even if there were no answers. I needed to have those frustrations out there so I could move on as quickly as possible.

"I haven't let this take away my Olympic dream at all. Nobody, no selection is ever going to do that," he says defiantly. "I'm going to show them there's a reason I rode in all nine qualifying events."

If New Zealand's promising young team reaches the podium at London, whether it be the team sprint, or in individual events, Webster said he'll be there to celebrate. Then just as quickly he'll recalibrate his goals for upcoming pinnacle events, the world champs and Glasgow Commonwealth Games among them.

Twinkling a long way in the distance, too, is the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, when this young sprint team is expected to be peaking.

"I'm a stronger bike rider now, but more than that I'm a stronger person. If everything goes in your favour - that's not sport."

- NZ Herald

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