Cycling: Ring, ring ... it's the call to international success

By David Leggat

One of New Zealand's brightest cycling hopes will be racing the national criterium in Takapuna tonight, but already his eyes are looking further afield.

Aaron Gate (left) believes mixing road and track work is benefiting him in his quest for a cycling career at the top. Photo / Supplied
Aaron Gate (left) believes mixing road and track work is benefiting him in his quest for a cycling career at the top. Photo / Supplied

Funny things, phone calls. They can be life changing.

Take the one Aaron Gate received during a lecture in his first week in pursuit of an engineering degree at the Auckland Institute of Technology in early 2009.

"I sneakily answered it, and it was (former national track coach) Tim Carswell asking me to go to Europe with a BikeNZ under-23 team.

"The next day I was back at the enrolment office trying to get a refund. That's where it kind of all started," Gate recalled with a laugh.

Gate, 21, hasn't looked back since. The bronze medal he won as part of New Zealand's team pursuit quartet at the London Olympics is the cherry on top of his still fledgling career, at least thus far.

Or, if you prefer, you could identify a key point a few years earlier when he switched to Auckland Grammar from Year 10. That's where the cycling bug caught hold.

He got into track riding and did well enough at junior level to earn a trip to the world junior championships in Cape Town four years ago.

A bronze in the team pursuit and a fifth in the individual version led to him moving into the BikeNZ programme.

Gate remembers those championships were shortly before the Beijing Olympics, so he was back in time to watch the cycling in China from home.

"That was obviously pretty inspiring. But it's still surreal that it only took four years after that to get there myself," he said.

Now Gate is about to embark on the next step of a career he hopes will eventually have him riding the big road tours as a professional.

Gate and fellow New Zealand rider Shane Archbold have won spots on the An Post Sean Kelly team, based in Merchtem, north of Brussels for next year after negotiations between BikeNZ and the team.

It is a well-regarded outfit, regularly invited into the big races of Europe. Opportunity beckons.

The pair are off in late March, and will live the fulltime riding lifestyle for close on six months by which time they will hope to have caught important eyes.

It says something for Gate's talent and resolve that having missed a spot for the opening qualifying ride in London, he won a place for the second ride, bumping out squad mate Westley Gough, and retained it for the bronze medal rideoff, in which Jesse Sergent, Marc Ryan, Sam Bewley and Gate beat Russia for third place.

The team for the qualifying round was named a few days beforehand and Gate had to train alone while the other four trained together. That requires a high level of concentration, and ability to keep his chin up at a time when, as Gate freely admitted, it looked as if he might be in London but not get a chance to ride on the biggest stage.

"It took a while to sink in, what it meant," he said of the bronze success. "I guess it still is now. It's a memory I'll hold for the rest of my life."

Cycling has been dragged through the mud of late, courtesy of Lance Armstrong, and the spotlight has been harsh on the International Cycling Union's handling of the doping issue.

At An Post, Gate believes, "it is a given" that riders will be clean.

"I've never really been exposed to it. In my experience racing on the road in Europe and North America I've never come across anything suspect or dodgy.

"An Post looks at BikeNZ and other national organisations that they know are clean run and have a big emphasis that all athletes going through are clean, so it's not a concern for me in the slightest."

An Post, set up initially as the Sean Kelly Academy six years ago, and named after, and run by, the Irish rider who finished fourth and fifth on general classification in the Tour de France as well as winning four green jerseys as sprint champion, have had Gate and Archbold on their radar for a while.

Team manager Kurt Bogaerts made it plain they like what they've seen.

"Aaron has a great track record. I watched him at this summer's Olympics and his level of performances were very high. I've been keeping my eye on him for a while now and I think he will be a great addition to the team," he said.

Gate says blending track and road activities has had benefits in both directions.

"They go hand in hand. You need racing on the road to be able to perform at the top level on the track, but then the track has done great things for my road cycling, upping the short power stuff, bunch sprints or leading out."

He's in no hurry to choose a specific pathway and has more ambitions for the track but ultimately a pro career on the road is in his sights.

Ride the Tour de France one day? Now you're talking.

Gate's more immediate focus is the track nationals in February in Invercargill. First he's got the criterium nationals at Takapuna today, then the Lake Taupo challenge, a couple of criteriums in New South Wales early next month, and "various bits and pieces" before he heads for Belgium.

The world track championships in Minsk, Belarus, in late February are a goal, but BikeNZ is waiting for funding confirmation from Sport New Zealand, due late next month.

That will help determine what events it can target, where it should be spending its money and how many riders can be sent.

There are also changes in how qualifying points can be attained for world cups and world championships to come out of the UCI.

For now though, life is looking good for a young man making his way in his sport in a hurry.

Aaron Gate's big year

Road
* 1st stage 5, NZ Cycle Classic
* 3rd stage 4 (individual TT), Fleche du Sud, Luxembourg
* 3rd, Herselt Kermesse, Belgium
* 3rd stage 3 (individual TT), Tour de Dordogne, France

Track
* 3rd team pursuit, 4th points race, 2012 World Championships, Aus.
* 1st team pursuit, Cali World Cup
* 3rd team pursuit, London World Cup
* 1st team pursuit, Oceania Games, NZ
* 1st omnium, National Championships.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 24 Oct 2014 22:44:56 Processing Time: 531ms