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Cycling: Women dumped

Despite $3.9 million in funding, BikeNZ is leaving its women's squad at home.

The New Zealand women's pursuit team of Lauren Ellis, Jaime Nielsen and Alison Shanks will not be going to the world champs. Photo / Getty Images
The New Zealand women's pursuit team of Lauren Ellis, Jaime Nielsen and Alison Shanks will not be going to the world champs. Photo / Getty Images

The New Zealand women's track cycling team will not compete at another major event until the Commonwealth Games in July 2014 - in spite of the sport likely to enjoy almost $8 million in high performance funding over the next two years.

News of the lay-off, which stretches back to February's world championships in Colombia, comes despite governing body BikeNZ being allocated $3.9 million in high performance funding for 2013, with another $3.9 million forecast for the following year. Bike is a government tier one targeted sport after securing three Olympic medals in London.

BikeNZ is partly hindered by the world governing body's restrictive rules. The Union Cycliste Internationale adjusted them this season. They now require teams to send athletes to all three World Cup events to qualify for the world championships. Previously two were enough. The proposed World Cup venues are understood to be in Kazakhstan, Mexico and England. The logistics of getting to each has put a strain on many team travel budgets.

The men's endurance track programme (team pursuit Olympic bronze) and sprint programme (keirin Olympic bronze) will proceed. The women's best Olympic result was a fifth for the team pursuit, meaning they're sacrificed. The women's track team met management via Skype on Wednesday to hear the decision.

Two-time individual pursuit world champion Alison Shanks was in the women's team pursuit in London. She acknowledges it's a setback: "It will be bloody hard not going to the world championships for two straight years. We were disappointed with our London result but I still felt we were gaining momentum in an event which other countries are throwing money at. A number of other countries will get the jump on us."

Shanks is to have surgery on a troublesome hip next month with a view to being back to full fitness for the World Cup season starting in October. The Oceania Championships, also starting in October, have now become the initial goal.

"Fortunately the squad can still focus on a domestic programme. That enables you to get a lot of data off the bike but the lack of international competition is worrying. It is hard to maintain the motivation to train if you are not going to race the best in the world.

"To be fair to BikeNZ, the UCI dictates so much of what we do and the travel budget would be massive."

The budget would also balloon with the UCI decision to increase the women's team pursuit distance to 4000m and add another rider so it is the same as the men's event.

Complicating matters is the decision by Commonwealth Games organisers not to include a women's team pursuit. The individual pursuit, 500m sprint, points and scratch races are registered instead. A decision on the Olympic programme for Rio is also due in July which will dictate further BikeNZ plans.

Kieran Turner resigned as BikeNZ CEO last week as the sport's governing body prepares to relocate to the new velodrome in Cambridge.

He says the intention behind the women's squad decision was to skew their funding so more would be available in the last couple of years of the Olympic cycle.

"That's the plan we pitched to High Performance Sport New Zealand when we applied for funding last year. BikeNZ has to live more within its means and prioritise our medal chances on a leaner programme [in post-Olympic year]. We even decided not to send any pursuit teams to February's world championships [in Belarus]."

Turner says they can't make excuses about the UCI changes to world championship eligibility or the costs of travelling around the globe.

"We get used to it. With the help of Australia, we're trying to bring a World Cup Downunder, but setting that up is financially challenging. A permanent European base could also be cost-effective."

Another reason behind the decision to cut women from its 2013 programme is the drive to correct an estimated $251,000 of overspending from the high performance budget in the previous Olympic cycle.

In December, Turner preferred to treat the extra spending as an overdraft-type situation, saying $80,000 of the fee could be accrued to 2013 which he expected to be a quiet year. However, the scenario set an awkward precedent in sporting fiscal management.

- Herald on Sunday

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