Winning a country's first gold medal at any Games is special and cyclist Sam Webster has the chance to achieve that on Friday morning (NZT).

The 23-year-old will line up with Ethan Mitchell and Eddie Dawkins in the team sprint on the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome on the opening day of the Commonwealth Games cycling programme and are seen as the team to beat. Everyone will see that as they wear the distinctive rainbow jerseys as world champions.

Their progression has been evident. They won world championship bronze in 2012, silver in 2013 and gold in Cali, Colombia, this year when they finished 0.45s faster than the powerful Germans.

For all Valerie Adams' prowess and dominance of her discipline, it remains rare for New Zealand to start a Games event as clear favourites. This is one.


Germany obviously won't be in Glasgow, but England and Australia will, and New Zealand will have a bullseye on their backs.

It's something all the New Zealand riders will be comfortable with. BikeNZ high performance boss Mark Elliott said when the track team was named that every track cyclist chosen was expected to win a medal.

Webster, who found international success early through his exploits at the world junior championships in Moscow in 2009, when he won three titles, can trace the progression to world championship gold.

"To be 100 per cent realistic, in 2012, we were a bit off the mark in terms of winning times," he says. "We put in a lot of hard graft, made some changes, so to fall short that year was quite painful. That definitely helped motivate us for the 2013-14 season. It was the closest any of us had come to a rainbow jersey.

"We didn't deserve it because we didn't cross the line first but we felt it had been snatched away [by winners Germany] because we'd been top qualifier.

"When you're in Struggle Street, population one, in some training sessions you bring it back and say, 'right, I've got to give it everything so we don't let this happen again'."

When Webster speaks of the joy at the victory in Colombia, you remember he had known the feeling, albeit at junior level. But this was different.

"If I had a career with silver medals from every world champs but no gold I would feel like I had not potentially spent my time the best. It was a very special event to win, not like a rugby team with 15 guys. It's feels like an individual win but you're celebrating with a couple of guys. It was a really cool feeling.


"We sat down and said, 'it's not enough -- now we've got to defend it'. We've got the new kit made up and doing our first race in a rainbow jersey, that's cool. Now we never want to let it go."

There's an intriguing dynamic at play in the sprint group. There's an acceptance that some riders are going better than others at certain times of the year and, therefore, get a chance. There's no right to a spot, it needs to be earned, and it has seen the likes of Matt Archibald and Simon van Velthooven come into the team on occasion. A philosophy wherein riders insist a position has to be theirs doesn't fit.

"Every time the team goes forward, heads are on the chopping block," Webster says. "We all accept that's the way the team is run. It's all about ensuring we have the best combination on the day."

Mitchell, Webster and Dawkins combined to win all three world championship medals and are likely to be chosen again in Glasgow.

Webster and Mitchell, both Aucklanders, have trained together most days since November 2008, and Southlander Dawkins is the most boisterous of the three. Webster has recently moved from Auckland to Cambridge, where the Avantidrome complex is a terrific advance for the sport.

It's a good time to be part of New Zealand's sprint group but they know the old line, the one about being only as good as their last race.

Stamping their mark on the Games and becoming New Zealand's 35th gold medal cycling champions, that's next for these high achievers.