One of the youngest prospects in professional cycling could soon be representing New Zealand.
James Mitri, 18, is the world's third youngest pro cyclist, having this week signed a three-year deal with Spanish team BH Burgos.
Born in Britain to New Zealand parents, Mitri's uncle and aunt both represented New Zealand in hockey, and Mitri wants to join them by switching from Britain and pulling on the silver fern.
"I would like to do the same. I'd be proud to represent [New Zealand], it would be great," Mitri said.
Getting Mitri to change allegiance would be a coup for New Zealand cycling. A climber with aspirations of being a general classification contender, Mitri would be a rare breed among Kiwi riders, and he picked up some strong results last year to earn his contract with BH Burgos.
"I won the Vuelta Pamplona, had an eighth in the Tour of Basque Country. That sort of got me on the radar, they came back later and started talking and it worked out."
Now, with his short-term future secure, Mitri will gather years of top-level experience before he turns 21 - an age at which most riders are yet to earn their first pro gig.
BH Burgos are a pro continental team - one step down from the World Tour, where six Kiwis ride - but they still get to compete in some of the biggest races, and are hoping to earn a wildcard into the Vuelta a Espana.
Mitri is ready for the step up in competition.
"I've trained with a lot of professionals from a young age. My trainer is Vicente Reynes, who had 15 years on the pro tour, so I've got an idea of how quick they go, having been to the training camps, but racing is different."
Mitri will get a taste of the big time next week, but is also set to compete in under-23 races, such as the Tour de l'Avenir, which is the under-23 Tour de France, and the world championships. There, Mitri hopes to represent New Zealand, if he can get cleared by Cycling New Zealand.
"There were some good discussions, but then the high performance director changed, and it's been difficult to make some contact. We've just got to see, try and work things out," said Mitri.
"The reasons I chose England was because I was brought up there.
"Without it, I couldn't race and develop, so I had to have a British licence, but it's not who I want to represent."
He will be the youngest rider in the field when he makes his professional debut next weekend at the Vuelta Murcia, where he will be in the same peloton with the likes of Spanish icon Alejandro Valverde, and former world champions Tony Martin and Phillippe Gilbert.
There, Mitri is hoping to have free reign to ride alongside the best. Soon enough, he could be doing that in New Zealand colours.
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