As members of Cambridge's cycling community contemplate snuggling under the duvet for the night, a number of their phones beep with one word test messages.

Are they "riding" or "hiding"?

That's code for whether they spring out of bed and throw on the lycra ready to pedal the boards of the Avantidrome... or push snooze and double down on their kip.

The velodrome's pre-dawn silhouette is surrounded by cars. A stroll through the concrete tunnel into the interior is prefaced by the whir of track bikes across the tight grain of Siberian spruce.


The venue has proven a community hub since opening in 2014, bringing networks of people together through exercise, discipline and banter.

"That's the stuff that makes this place special," general manager Scott Gemmill says.

"Medals are great from the elite athletes, and we are partners with Cycling New Zealand and High Performance Sport New Zealand, but there are three programmes I want to grow: the juniors, the trike and the para.

"They need to be the crown jewels here. The elite stuff is somebody else's job."

Gemmill has a favourite example of integration within the building, gleaned from his trackside office.

"One guy was out there having a ball on his trike and letting everyone know. He cruised over to the corner where the elite sprint trio of Ethan Mitchell, Eddie Dawkins and Sam Webster were seated, and convinced them to get on the trike so he could take them around one-by-one.

"Eventually Sam decided he wanted to be more than a spectator. So the pair of them ended up hooning around the in-field. Sam was in his New Zealand kit and the kid was holding on.

"I thought, 'I wish the world could see this' because that's what's unique about this facility. It's not an environment of preciousness."


Gemmill cites getting ambushed by parents telling him how much the programme has influenced their children's attitude for the better.

"I admire the athletes and congratulate them on their accomplishments, but it's the support network behind them that enables those moments," he says.

"The average person only sees the big moments but there's a huge chunk of a 'berg below the surface that enables those things to happen."

MICHAEL BLAND is part of that 'berg, devoting seven or eight hours a week as a coach, particularly in the para programme.

Originally a Lancastrian, he and wife Janet emigrated from Britain 13 years ago, intent on providing a better childhood for their two primary school daughters.

Bland's lean and lithe stature suggests he's no stranger to dancing on the pedals or, as he puts it, "French stepping". He lives "five minutes away" and has been part of Cambridge's cycling community since arriving. As a nurse, he commutes to his job as services manager for mental health and addictions at Rotorua Hospital, but that bedside manner also helps para-athletes transition to the track.

"In my job, you know what rehabilitation looks like for people who are severely injured or carrying disabilities," he says.

"It's great seeing athletes enjoy being part of the sporting community rather than living in the shadows.

"Paracycling is maturing in the national psyche. You can turn up and ride safely and enjoyably and blank out your disability."

One of those is Jack McSweeney. The former second five-eighths lost his left arm after complications from two rugby injuries in 2006 which he says "pulled the nerves right out of my spine".

McSweeney's had further surgical setbacks too, such as the fusion of his C1 and C2 spinal vertebrae, and the insertion of a pacemaker to deal with phantom limb pain. He says three fingers on his invisible left hand "hurt 24/7" and, as it gets worse, it goes to his index finger and thumb. When the pain reaches his forearm he struggles to converse.

Finding a suitable para sport proved tough because so much is wheelchair-based and, as McSweeney notes, "they don't go that well with one arm". After a dalliance with triathlon, he settled on cycling. He is aiming to reach the world championships next March in the kilo time trial, with the Tokyo Paralympics on the horizon.

Several seconds need shaving off his current best, and that's where Bland is instrumental.

"My cycling has gone forward in leaps and bounds under him. I didn't have the finesse with the pedal stroke and gear changes, but his knowledge is second to none.

"I tell Blandy in layman terms how I'm feeling, and he converts it into bike savvy stuff and vice versa.

"On the track it's been harder to start with cornering, but I've learned to adapt."

Gemmill says with McSweeney and a host of others developing, he can't see why they can't create a centre of excellence around paracycling.

"With the right people and support, the sky's the limit, and that sends a strong message to the wider community about changing perceptions and breaking down stigma."

Expect even more riding than hiding in years to come.