The New Zealand track cyclists, with new combinations, were back at the top of qualifiers on the opening day of the second UCI Nations Cup in Cairo today.
Three UCI Nations Cup competitions replace the previous world cup programmes, and are mandatory for nations seeking rankings to qualify for the world championships and ultimately, the Paris Olympics.
The New Zealand team were buoyed by encouraging performances in the opening Nations Cup in Jakarta last month, their first targeted international campaign since the Tokyo Olympics.
On the day that marked 500 days until Paris, the New Zealand women, with a new combination, began where they left off in Jakarta by topping qualifiers in the 4000m team pursuit.
The men, with their two most experienced campaigners in Aaron Gate and Campbell Stewart having joined their respective professional road teams in Europe, were second fastest in team pursuit qualifying behind Jakarta winners, Denmark.
Bryony Botha, Ally Wollaston, Samantha Donnelly, Emily Shearman were top seeds and last to run. They started conservatively to be fourth fastest after the first 1000m, second through the 2km and 3km markers and saved energy to finish strongly, moving to the top of the standings in 4:19.616.
They were half a second ahead of France, with a distance back to the rest. The kiwis take on Canada tomorrow in the first round with the winner going directly to the gold medal final.
They had three riders from the line-up in Jakarta with Canterbury’s Donnelly, who won an individual medal at a Nations Cup late last year, joining in the quartet today.
The men had a new line-up with George Jackson and Tom Sexton from the Commonwealth Games squad, joined by rowing convert Dan Bridgwater, who rode in Jakarta, with Nelson’s 21-year-old Keegan Hornblow making his debut.
As silver medallists from the first round, the kiwis were the penultimate team to ride. They were a fraction behind France through 3000m before ripping the final kilometre in 57.69 seconds to move to the top in 3:59.362, the first team under the four minute barrier.
They were eclipsed by Jakarta winners Denmark, who have the same combination in Cairo, as they proved their status with a stunning 3:56.619 to be the team to beat.
New Zealand face France in the first round tomorrow with the winner going to the gold medal ride later in the night.
Women’s coach Paul Manning said the open sides of the velodrome had a discernible affect.
“Conditions were quite challenging with some blustery winds here and temperatures were only around 16C degrees,” said Manning. “The track, which is quite new, is nice enough but the conditions call for a different approach and the girls dealt with it admirably as did the guys.”
Tomorrow’s racing includes the team pursuit for men and women, qualifying for the women’s team sprint, with Tokyo Olympian Jesse Hodges making her return to compete in the elimination.
4000m Team Pursuit, Women: New Zealand (Bryony Botha, Ally Wollaston, Samantha Donnelly, Emily Shearman) 4:19.616, 1; France 4:20.027, 2; Italy 4:30.284, 3; Canada 4:30.519, 4; Great Britain 4:31.305, 6; Ireland 4:32.464, 7; USA 4:32.764, 8.
4000m Team Pursuit Men: Denmark 3:56.619, 1; New Zealand (George Jackson, Tom Sexton, Dan Bridgwater, Keegan Hornblow) 3:59.170, 2; France 4:00.170, 3; Great Britain 4:00.720, 4; Germany 4:01.937, 5; Switzerland 4:02.280, 6; Canada 4:02.451, 7; Japan 4:03.593, 8.