New Zealand's Olympic medal winning cyclists will return to the venue of their success in Beijing, China, for the third round of the UCI World Cup starting Friday. The World Cup will provide the first major shakedown for the BikeNZ squad ahead of their goal of the world championships in Poland at the end of March.
Seven members of the Olympic team are competing in Beijing, including the men's team pursuiters Jesse Sergent, Wes Gough, Marc Ryan, Sam Bewley and Peter Latham together with Alison Shanks, fourth in the Olympic individual pursuit, and Catherine Cheatley.
There's also considerable interest in the World Cup outing for the women's team pursuit, with the squad including Shanks, Cheatley, Lauren Ellis and Kaytee Boyd, who earned her spot from the recent Power to Podium women's talent identification programme. Simon Velt Voothoven will compete in sprint events while world omnium champion Hayden Godfrey will race in the scratch race, 200m time trial and Madison with Ryan.
BikeNZ national track coach Tim Carswell said he is looking for a solid first-up effort from the squad although he is not expecting Olympic-standard performances. One reason is the weather in Beijing is considerably colder than at the Olympics.
"It's certainly a lot more low-key this time," Carswell said. "It is very cold here. It was six degrees below today and they have not turned on the track heating this time, so it was only 15 degrees Celsius on the track surface. So the times will be slower as a result."
"For the Olympians, this is their first competition since Beijing. We are nine weeks out from the world championships so this signals the start of the final build-up to the worlds. For instance, if the men's pursuit is within two or three seconds of their Beijing time, I will be happy. To go under four minutes is probably asking too much in these conditions."
The team is overcoming a crash during training that occurred on the eve of its departure for Beijing. "We snapped one of the bikes, and there were some injuries to Sam and Pete, and Wes had lost a fair bit of skin. But they are training just fine here which is great."
Sergent, who emerged as the strong man in the squad at the Olympics, has earned his chance in the individual pursuit in the absence of Hayden Roulston.
Carswell is especially excited and challenges with the new women's track programme. "We are all feeling our way at present as we work out just which combination works best. As well as the four women here, we also have three others back in New Zealand who have been training with us including Jaimee Nelson, the ex-rower, who has come through the power to podium programme. Kaytee (Boyd) had never ridden on a track 10 weeks ago, and Lauren (Ellis) has stepped up from the junior ranks."
"They are showing some good progress and Alison (Shanks) has really stepped up as the leader on the team. I am not expecting too much at this level quite yet. The group went 3:40 in Melbourne so it would be good to go under that time." Shanks and Sergent are first up on Friday in qualifying for the individual pursuit, followed by the points race and Ellis and Cheatley in the scratch race.
The men will do their team pursuit on Saturday, along with Van Velthooven racing the keirin, Godfrey the scratch race, Cheatley the points race and Boyd the 500m time trial. Val Velthooven and Godfrey will race in the 200m time trial on Sunday with the women's time trial and Godfrey and Ryan in the Madison.