New Zealand's gifted sprint team faced a conundrum when they returned from last year's Rio Olympics.

The trio of Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster and Eddie Dawkins had won two of the last three world titles, and crossed the line first in 2015, only to be relegated to silver because of an illegal change in the running of the race.

Having arrived in Rio full of confidence, with performances to show they were among the leading contenders, New Zealand did everything right during the event.

They produced times in the 42-second mark in all three races - 42.673s in qualifying; an Olympic record 42.535 in the first round, then 42.542 in the final. Faster than they'd ever ridden.


Only problem, Britain's quality trio clocked 42.440s to win gold.

A few months before going to Brazil, Webster had insisted the only result they wanted was winning gold. Nothing less would do.

"Certainly it took a transition period from being disappointed at not getting the results we wanted," Mitchell said ahead of next week's world championships in Hong Kong.

"We'd aimed for 42.5s, we rode that, rode an Olympic record and got beaten by two-hundredths of a second. To get that close and not coming away with the gold, took a bit of a process, taking that on board and moving forward."

It was not until the three got home, sat down and studied the racing from Rio they got some resolution.

"We watched the videos, watched out splits, looked at our numbers and we were pretty impressed with how we'd gone. But it took sitting down as a group and going 'holy heck'."

There's another angle to this, and applies to all sport. As well as the team had trained, the times they had put up, there's no accounting for what other teams might do.

It's the great unquantifiable, or to use the popular terminology, an uncontrollable from New Zealand's point of view.

"We rode the best team sprint we'd ever done, three times. So we're immensely proud of each other and the coaching staff around that.

"There was literally nothing else we could have done on that day and we got beaten by a better team, so we have to say hats off to that team. They're three-times Olympic champions now, and that's pretty impressive."

Mitchell is magnanimous, but the resolve remains firmly in place. Hong Kong and the world champs are a stepping stone. His view, with Webster and Dawkins, is that Tokyo 2020 is all that truly matters.

The trio had two months completely off the bike after Rio, but retained fitness in their own individual ways. The first racing back was at the Oceania championships in Melbourne in late December.

They have decided to try new approaches in training, freshening up and introducing strategic changes, such as more time in the gym. Mitchell likes what he's seeing.

"I think we're going the best we have, on a par with Rio.

"Things are going really well and it's encouraging that we've done a bit different style of training and still managed to come collectively at a high level."

They have not done full piece workouts in training. That will be happening this weekend in Hong Kong, a venue they've not raced at.

The word is it might be a slightly slower track than others around the circuit. A relatively new track means the wood won't be as hard as elsewhere but it should be warm, which will help.

So this trio are off on their bikes again, a bit like pulling on an old, well-worn and familiar pair of gloves. They have been together since the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, and enjoy each other's company.

"I think we feel at home when we're away racing as well. It's easier to get caught up in training and the outside world when we're home.

"Once you go away you're in your hotel room for seven days before racing starts. It feels comfortable and almost like second nature for us now. It's easy to get rid of the noise when you're overseas and just focus on the performance."

The men chase their third world gold in the last four years on Wednesday.

NZ squad

New Zealand squad for the world track cycling championships, starting in Hong Kong next Wednesday:

Men, sprint:

Eddie Dawkins, Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster, Zac Williams.


Dylan Kennett, Piet Bulling, Regan Gough, Nick Kergozou, Campbell Stewart, Aaron Gate.

Women, sprint:

Natasha Hansen.

Endurance: Racquel Sheath, Michaela Drummond, Jaime Nielsen, Lauren Ellis, Rushlee Buchanan.