New Zealand will boast arguably their deepest overall talent to compete in this month’s UCI Road Cycling World Championships in Belgium.
All riders in the Vantage Elite Cycling New Zealand team, in both female and male, compete on the UCI World Tour while half of the men’s under-23 are signed with World Tour teams with the remainder riding for UCI Continental professional teams.
This is despite several top-line riders unavailable, including Tokyo Olympians George Bennett and Patrick Bevin, along with fellow World Tour riders Dion Smith and Georgia Williams, withdrawn with illness or injury.
The world championships run from 18 to 26 September, with the event returning to a traditional Belgium base to celebrate 100 years since the first world championship.
The time trials start at the North Sea town of Knokke-Heist and finish in the medieval city of Bruges, while the road races begin in the historic port city of Antwerp and finish in Leuven, and incorporate a typically relentless Belgian climbs.
The women’s team is led by world number 45 ranked Niamh Fisher-Black (SD Worx), currently the leading young rider on the Women’s World Tour. There will be support from the Canyon SRAM pair of Mikayla Harvey and Ella Harris and the BePink duo of Michaela Drummond and Henrietta Christie.
The Vantage Elite men’s team comprise Tom Scully (EF Education-Nippo), Shane Archbold (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Jack Bauer (Team Bike Exchange) and Connor Brown (Team Qhubeka NextHash).
Scully will also compete in the individual time trial, after some outstanding recent results over the timed test, including fourth (Stage 1) and 15th (Stage 21) at the Vuelta a España and fourth in the opening time trial in the Tour de Suisse.
There is genuine excitement in the men’s under-23 line-up that includes Finn Fisher-Black and Reuben Thompson, both recently signed for WorldTour teams UAE Team Emirates and Groupama-FDJ respectively; Jack Drage (Groupama-FDJ Conti), Logan Currie (Black Spoke Pro Cycling Academy) and Tokyo Olympic track rider, Corbin Strong (SEG Academy).
Fisher-Black will have confidence in the time trial after placing third in that discipline in June’s Baloise Belgium Tour which was staged nearby.
Southland’s Mitchel Fitzsimons, Waikato’s Jack Carswell and Auckland’s Lewis Bower, all currently based in Europe, will compete in the junior men’s line-up with Carswell and Bower to also contest the time trial.
“We have had some talented young riders come through the system both on the road and track in recent years and now they have pushed through to international level which is extremely exciting,” said Cycling New Zealand high performance director, Martin Barras.
“In terms of the Vantage Elite women, Niamh is currently the number-one ranked young rider on the WorldTour and will be supported with some exciting young riders like Mikayla Harvey and Ella Harris, who are both in their second year on the Women’s World Tour.
“The elite men are all World Tour riders in what will be a brutally tough race over typical Belgium terrain, and we line up a strong combination despite being without several leading riders.
“The under-23 men are exciting. Finn Fisher-Black has been progressing impressively and will be a clear contender in the time trial and collectively they have a strong team with the likes of Reuben Thompson having proved himself particularly when the roads go uphill.
“New Zealand has never been able to put up collectively strong and proven professionals across the three categories at the world championships, which is something to celebrate on its own.”
The time trials are on Monday 20 to 22 September (NZ time), the male junior and under-23 road races overnight Friday 24 September; female elite road race overnight Saturday 25 September and elite male overnight Sunday 26 September.
All elite races will be live on Sky Sport.
CAPTION: Brother and sister act set for the UCI Road Cycling World Championships in Niamh and Finn Fisher-Black. (Credit: SD Worx & Robert Jones)