Champs key marker for Olympic riders

The top track cyclists in the country will be at the national championships which start in Invercargill today.

The Olympic track cycling squad will enjoy some much-needed race competition which marks the completion of its last training block before its final Olympics training phase.

They are among 131 riders to contest the elite, under-19 and para cycling competitions at the indoor velodrome in Invercargill until Saturday.

Cycling New Zealand high performance director Martin Barras said the championships would be an important opportunity, not just for the Olympians.

‘‘Globally, we continue to be in challenging times but in New Zealand, in the main, we have been able to train over recent months and these championships represent the opportunity to express that in competition,’’ he said.

"We are still far from certain on the nature of competition internationally.

‘‘Nonetheless, the championships will be a guide for selectors looking at the Hub programme and potentially for the world junior championships.

"It is an important marker for the progress for the Olympians and Paralympians as those athletes move into the final phase for Japan."

The female endurance group of Holly Edmondston, Jessie Hodges, Kirstie James, Bryony Botha and Jaime Nielsen will compete across the range of events comprising individual and team pursuit, points race and scratch race.

The final member of the team, Rushlee Buchanan, will bypass the championships as she continues to return to full fitness following a track crash before Christmas.

This group will be tested by the likes of fellow elite squad rider Nicole Shields as well as criterium national champion Olivia Ray, Southland’s Emily Paterson and Rhylee McMullen, Waikato BOP’s McKenzie Milne and Olivia King.

Olympic sprinter Ellesse Andrews has a full schedule of sprint races in which she will face Rio Olympian Emma Cumming, of Invercargill, returning to competition after a lengthy injury-layoff, Tasman’s Shaane Fulton and Waikato BOP’s Tahlay Christie.

The men’s Olympic squad of Aaron Gate, Regan Gough, Campbell Stewart and Corbin Strong is racing along with fellow elite squad riders Hugo Jones, Nick Kergozou, Josh Scott and Tom Sexton.

They will face threats from the likes of Scotland’s Mark Stewart, the 2018 Commonwealth Games points race gold medallist, now domiciled in New Zealand, and emerging stars Jackson Ogle (Waikato BOP), George Jackson (Wellington) and Kiaan Watts (Waikato BOP).

Star sprinters Ethan Mitchell and Sam Webster are joined by elite team-mates Sam Dakin and Callum Saunders, with stern competition expected from Bradly Knipe (Southland), Jayden Fleming (Waikato BOP) and Jordan Castle (West Coast NI).

There are 12 riders competing in the para programme led by Emma Foy, a double Paralympic medallist and multi-world champion who is joined by pilot Nina Wollaston in the tandem time trial and individual pursuit.

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