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After a strong performance by their sprinters in this week’s UCI Festival of Speed, the Australians have further reinforcements led by cycling superstar Anna Meares for the Oceania Championships starting tomorrow in Invercargill.
The four-day Oceania Championships provides crucial ranking points for February’s UCI World Championships in Cali, Colombia as well as Continental titles.
While Australians contested both men’s and women’s sprint finals at the Festival of Speed, they have been bolstered this week by the mighty Meares, fellow London Olympic medallist Matthew Glaetzer and in-form Peter Lewis.
Glaetzer, Lewis and yesterday’s sprint winner Shane Perkins all went under the 10 second barrier for the flying 200m at the recent Manchester World Cup, although the Australians were pipped by the Kiwis in the team sprint.
Perkins, the London Olympic medallist, believes the burgeoning standard of sprinting on both sides of the Tasman is a key to its world class development.
“With the growing depth of Australian sprinting and also the New Zealand team have stepped up, it makes for some fantastic racing,” Perkins said.
“It is so good that we have all stepped up, and now we don’t have to travel so far to get this really intense racing. The European countries have been at a high level for some time, and that’s why. Every race they go to is at a high level. Now we can do it as well.”
Meares, the London gold medallist, returned to racing at the Manchester World Cup after several months away from the sport following her dramatic win over British hope Victoria Pendleton.
The 10-time World Champion, double Olympic gold medallist and five-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist, made a recent decision to commit for a further campaign through to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
"I took five months off after London to ensure it wasn't just the hype of the Olympics that gave me that feeling. I love this sport, I love the challenge,” Meares said recently.
It will be the second time that Meares has competed at Invercargill, having won an Oceania Championship title there seven years ago.
“We are delighted that a rider of Anna’s qualities will be competing at this event,” said Cycling Southland CEO, Nick Jeffrey.
“It has been a busy and successful time for cycling in Southland, having hosted the Junior World Championships last year; we’ve just staged another successful SBS Bank Tour of Southland, the first UCI Tier One event and now the Oceania Championships.
“These two events are very important for those riders who aspire to make it to the Rio Olympics. It is superb for fans to be able to witness so many class riders competing here, especially Anna Meares who is one of the most successful riders in history.”
Meares said she wants to lower the 500m time trial world record under-33 seconds while a further world championship would make her the most successful female track sprinter.
Meanwhile the New Zealand contingent is expecting the in-form Eddie Dawkins back in action after he withdrew from the sprint semifinals at the weekend with an irritation caused by a splinter following two heavily crashes at Manchester. The 24 year old broke the national record with his 10.002 second qualifying in the sprint.
There’s a big start to the championships tomorrow with the team sprint and team pursuit, which for the first time features the women moving to match the men with four riders over 4000m. Previously they competed with three riders over 3000m.
Other action includes the time trials for women over 500m and men over 1000m and scratch races while the under-19 competition includes the omnium and individual pursuit for men while the women will do battle in 500m time trial and scratch race.
The championships continue until Thursday.
Details: www.cyclingsouth.org.nz or www.bikenz.org.nz