After narrowly missing a berth in the gold medal race in the men’s Team Pursuit, New Zealand lined up against Australia to battle for bronze at the Tokyo Olympic Games, but just as they started to edge into the lead their chances ended with a fall.
New Zealand and Australia were neck and neck through the early stages of the 4000 metre long Team Pursuit, with Australia going out fast and getting a slim early edge while around the 1500 metre mark New Zealand looked to be turning the tide. However, when the race was more than half-way through experienced three-time Olympian Aaron Gate suddenly slid across the boards, having just touched his teammate's wheel.
“It was a blur,” said New Zealand's Gate. “I knew it was close and I think I glanced up to check where Australia were and I came down just under the wheel in front so when we started to turn I brushed it.”
“I have brushed wheels so many times and nothing happened. So for it to happen at a crucial time at the Olympics is gutting.”
What’s more it was revealed today that Gate broke his collarbone in the crash so will be out of the Omnium, to be replaced by Campbell Stewart who won the event at the 2019 Track World Championships.
New Zealand’s competition, Australia, were all too familiar with what it felt like for things not to have gone to plan, as Alex Porter fell heavily after his handlebars broke in qualifying, so while their delight at securing a medal was enormous they kept their celebrations subdued.
When the fall happened, the New Zealand squad of Gate, Stewart, Jordan Kerby and Regan Gough, had a lead of 0.3 seconds over Australia's Sam Welsford, Leigh Howard, Kell O’Brien and Luke Plapp.
“We expected them [Australia] to go out fast, which they did and we did as well but we were up on them even for a little bit there and then we got two tenths up and then three tenths up and that seemed to be growing,” said Craig Palmer, head coach of men's track endurance at Cycling New Zealand. “At that point I was really comfortable. We thought they were going to be with us till about 3km’s, based on the data from the last couple of days.”
“We were just really about to launch into the last 1,500 metres and everything was looking good. We had set it up exactly how we wanted to. I feel for the boys at the end of the day, they were the ones that have done the work and been out there.”
The timing of the fall was particularly difficult for New Zealand as Gough had just swung off, spent after his big effort on the front. That left New Zealand short of the three riders they needed to come across the line to try and salvage the run as at that point the rider couldn't easily just latch back on with the remaining duo. Australia ultimately caught Gough and with that secured the bronze.
However, Palmer said after the event that even if Gough still had been in contact, taking victory without Gates would have been a tough task.
“This was going to be won or lost by the finest of margins ... even if we managed to keep the other three riders together that was going to be hard,” said Palmer. “We needed Gatey for that last kilometre. At that stage it was going to be pretty tough to win it from there.”
Now the men’s New Zealand track endurance team is looking ahead to the Omnium and Madison.
“One medal down, we didn’t get across the line, but there are two left,” said Palmer.
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