Kiwi cyclist Aaron Gate signalled he is on track to defend his world title after winning the omnium at the UCI Festival of Speed event at Invercargill today.
It is the first time New Zealand has hosted a UCI Tier One event which began the qualifying process for the 2016 Rio Olympics, attracting riders from six nations against a strong Kiwi contingent at the SIT Zero Fees Velodrome.
Gate was the odds-on favourite for the men’s omnium title, while fellow London Olympian Lauren Ellis put her hand up for Rio consideration with a solid effort to win the women’s six-discipline event.
The men’s sprint offered plenty of hope when three New Zealanders finished in the top four in qualifying, but Olympic bronze medallist and Commonwealth Games champion Shane Perkins from Australia ruled the roost. He took out the final in two straight rides over young compatriot Jacob Schmid, who won the world junior title at Invercargill last year.
Best of the Kiwi chances was with local star Eddie Dawkins who set a new national record in topping qualifiers in the morning. However Dawkins withdrew from the semifinals on medical grounds, after a splinter from his crash in the recent Manchester World Cup caused irritation.
“We thought we had them all. But one was still there and caused issues today and he could not have continued. He will get it lanced to be ready to ride in the Oceania Championships,” said sprint coach Anthony Peden.
Earlier Dawkins clocked 10.002 seconds in sprint qualifying, agonisingly close to be the first rider to break the 10 second barrier in this country. He did break the national record of 10.058 set by Auckland’s Sam Webster in the national championships earlier this year. This followed his outstanding ride to win the men’s keirin final in spectacular fashion last night.
Perkins showed the class that earned him an Olympic medal in London, dominating the semifinal over Olympic keirin medallist Simon van Velthooven in the semifinal and Schmid in the final, both in two straight rides.
Gate enjoyed another solid day, finishing second behind Australian Tirian McManus in the 4000m individual pursuit, second behind compatriot Kennett in the scratch race and fourth in the 1000m time trial.
He finished well clear on 16 points ahead of young Kiwi prospects Dylan Kennett and Pieter Bulling, who both enjoyed strong second day performances, and believes he is on schedule to defend his world crown in Cali, Colombia in February.
“I think I am in a better position that I was at this time last year leading into the world championships so that’s pretty positive. If I can continue to build from here it should be a great world championship in February,” Gate said.
“My shorter timed events are still lacking but it’s something we know what we have to do and work on in the coming months.”
It was the first chance for Gate to compete in the rainbow colours of a UCI world champion on home turf.
“I’ve done a lot of racing on this velodrome so it was great to be able to line-up in the rainbow skinsuit. It’s a pretty special feeling and good to finally do it eight months after I won the title. It’s been a fun couple of days.”
Ellis, a member of the team pursuit at the London Olympics, signalled her potential for Rio when she took out the omnium in impressive fashion. Leading overnight, the Mid-Canterbury rider won the individual pursuit, was seventh in the scratch race and third in the time trial.
“That is only my third omnium that I’ve ever done and I really enjoyed it racing against the other girls and other competitors,” Ellis said.
“Potentially I would like to consider omnium. From what we have heard about Rio is that the omnium rider may come from the team pursuit. If that’s the case I would like to put my hand up and have a go at it if I can.”
In other races young Te Awamutu professional Hayden McCormick won the men’s 15km scratch race from Kiwi teammate Shane Archbold, while Australian Kimberley Wells outlasted Malaysia’s Jupha Somnet in the women’s scratch race.
Brilliant young Australian prospect Taylah Jennings, who won three world titles at the junior championships on this track last year, added the keirin title to the sprint victory on the first day.
Talented Christchurch teenager Olivia Podmore timed her run perfectly to win the under-19 scratch race while Australian Alex Rendell took out the under-19 men’s points race ahead of compatriots Rohan Wight and Matthew Holmes.
The UCI Festival of Speed continues this afternoon, with the four-day Oceania Championships beginning on Tuesday.
Sprint qualifiers: Eddie Dawkins (NZL) 10.002, 1 (NZ Record); Shane Perkins (AUS) 10.112, 2; Matt Archibald (10.123, 3; Sam Webster (NZL) 10.213, 4; Jacob Schmid (AUS) 10.244, 5; Simon van Velthooven (NZL) 10.279, 6; Mitchell Bullen (AUS) 10.329, 7; Andrew Taylor (AUS) 10.413, 8.
Quarterfinals: Dawkins bt Taylor 2-1, Perkins bt Bullen 2-0, Van Velthooven bt Archibald 2-0, Schmid bt Webster 2-1.
Semifinals: Schmid bt Dawkins (walkover), Perkins bt Van Velthooven 2-0.
Final: Perkins bt Schmid 2-0.
5th-8th: Bullen 5. Archibald 6, Taylor 7, Webster 8.
Omnium, Men, 4000m individual pursuit: Tirian McManus (AUS) 4:27.263, 1; Aaron Gate (NZL) 4:30.082, 2; Dylan Kennett (NZL) 4:30.938, 3.
Scratch race 15km: Kennett 1, Gate 2, Cameron Karwowski (NZL) 3.
1000m time trial: Karwowski 1:02.775, 1; Kennett 1:03.190, 2; Pieter Bulling (NZL) 1:04.466, 3.
Final points: Gate 16 points, 1; Kennett 24, 2; Bulling 28, 3.
Omnium Women, 3000m individual pursuit: Lauren Ellis (NZL) 3:41.698, 1; Jaime Nielsen (NZL) 3:42.655, 2; Rushlee Buchanan (NZL) 3:42.862, 3.
Scratch race, 10km: Kimberley Wells (AUS) 1, Jupha Somnet (MAS) 2, Racquel Sheath (NZL) 3.
500m time trial: Nielsen 36.701, 1; Sakura Tsukagoshi (JPN) 36.905, 2; Ellis 37.357, 3.
Final Points: Ellis 16 points, 1; Nielsen 22, 2; Buchanan 31, 3.
Men’s 15km scratch race: Hayden McCormick (NZL) 1, Shane Archbold (NZL0 2, King Lok Cheung (HKG) 3.
Women Keirin final: Taylah Jennings (AUS) 1, Stephanie McKenzie (NZL0 2, Paige Paterson (NZL) 3.
Women scratch race, 5km: Olivia Podmore (NZL) 1, Bryony Botha (Auckland) 2, Nina Wooaston (NZL) 3.
Men Points Race 15km: Alex Rendell (AUS) 33 points, 1; Rohan Wight (AUS) 30, 2; Matthew Holmes (AUS) 29, 3.