A number of New Zealand cyclists made big statements to their Olympic rivals this week with some hugely impressive performances at the Oceania track cycling championships but the biggest one Simon Van Velthooven made was with the New Zealand Olympic selectors.

The 22-year-old sprinter won titles in the team's sprint and kilo time trial - setting new national records in both - and followed it up with a blistering ride to win the keirin. He beat a quality field that included fellow Kiwi Eddie Dawkins and Australia's highly-rated Commonwealth Games kilo time trial champion Scott Sutherland, who had ventured to Invercargill especially for the race.

What made his results and times even more impressive was the fact he fractured his shoulder earlier in the season and had his appendix removed just six weeks ago.

"He's very mentally tough and very driven," sprint coach Justin Grace said of a rider who goes by the nickname Rhino.


His goal is a ride at the Olympics. It looked doubtful earlier this year even though he was part of the fast-improving New Zealand sprint cycling programme. With only three sprinters guaranteed rides at London, and the three-man team's sprint the priority, Van Velthooven had virtually resigned himself to be the backup rider.

But if the Olympic team was picked today, it would be hard to leave him out.

Grace challenged him to become the fastest third wheel rider in the team's sprint at next year's Olympics and it's a challenge Van Velthooven accepted. It will also help his chances of also riding the keirin and the kilo time trial in London.

"Any training I do for the team's sprint is perfect training for the keirin," he said. "I have all the experience I need from [racing the professional keirin circuit in] Japan and racing all over the world and I'm not going to lose any experience overnight.

"My goal now is to ride the fastest third lap in the team sprint at the Olympics. I have been training all year for that. And things are on track."

BikeNZ will get a good indication of how well things are progressing when they line up at next week's World Cup meet in Cali, Colombia. Many of the top sprinting teams from Great Britain, France, Germany and Russia will be competing there and New Zealand will be able to measure themselves against the best.

The New Zealand sprint team is likely to have moved up one place to fourth in the world rankings after their ride in Invercargill and they have clearly made incredible strides since the sprint programme was established two years ago.

BikeNZ have sent a powerful 13-strong New Zealand squad to Cali and the men's lineup of nine riders is an early indication of possible Olympic selection.


The men's pursuit quartet (Jesse Sergent, Sam Bewley, Aaron Gate and Marc Ryan) that set the fastest time in the world this year to date will compete along with world omnium silver medallist Shane Archbold. Four sprinters are heading to Cali - Sam Webster, Ethan Mitchell, Eddie Dawkins and Van Velthooven - but they might not have the luxury of a backup sprinter in London.

It might even come down to a straight choice between Van Velthooven and Dawkins for the third wheel, although there is also a chance the one who misses out on the team's event will ride the keirin instead.

"At the moment, it's not one above the other," Grace said, "but there is certainly healthy competition for that spot."

New Zealand squad for the Cali World Cup: Shane Archbold, Sam Bewley, Eddie Dawkins, Lauren Ellis, Aaron Gate, Joanne Kiesanowski, Ethan Mitchell, Marc Ryan, Jaime Nielsen, Jesse Sergent, Alison Shanks, Simon van Velthooven, Sam Webster.