22 Jul 2016

NZs World-Beating Cycling Team

5:52 pm on 22 July 2016

Five World Champions headline the New Zealand cycling team bound for Rio.

Natasha Hansen, Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster and Eddie Dawkins at the NZ Olympic sprint cycling team naming.

Natasha Hansen, Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster and Eddie Dawkins at the NZ Olympic sprint cycling team naming. Photo: Photosport

New Zealand's track cycling team is spearheaded by the world champion sprint trio Eddie Dawkins, Ethan Mitchell and Sam Webster.

The sprint team recently won gold at the World Championships in London and have a wealth of experience at both the Commonwealth Games and Olympics.

Two years ago in Glasgow the trio won gold in the team sprint, while Webster won gold in the men's individual sprint and Dawkins silver.

The other two world champions are road cyclist Linda Villumsen and mountain biker Sam Gaze.

Villumsen faced a career turning point when she finished fourth at the London Olympics, beaten 1.83sec for bronze after being in the top-three for every time check.

Fighting back tears she vowed she would be back in four years as she switched focus to Rio.

After so many near misses she beat England's favourite Emma Pooley in the Commonwealth Games time trial in Glasgow in 2014 to claim gold.

Then Villumsen, who was born Denmark before becoming a New Zealand citizen in 2009, won the individual time trial at the UCI Road World Championships in Virginia last September.

The Christchurch rider had been on the podium five times in the time trial at the world champs before her breakthrough victory last year.

2015 world time trial champion Linda Villumsen.

2015 world time trial champion Linda Villumsen. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Gaze claimed the sole mountain bike spot for New Zealand at Rio after taking out the under-23 world championship cross-country title in the Czech Republic in July.

The 20-year-old won silver at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, finishing second to fellow New Zealander Anton Cooper.

Natasha Hansen was the first female cyclist to be confirmed for Rio and she will be attending her second Olympics after a stunning rise in international rankings over the last 12 months.

The 26-year-old left the sport after her London Olympic debut but returned full-time last year. She was sixth fastest in qualifying in the individual sprint and finished fifth overall at this year's world championships.

Most of the competition for places in the track team, limited by cycling's ruling body to eight men and seven women, centred on the endurance squads to compete in the team pursuit and six-discipline omnium.

The squads of seven riders, who have been preparing in USA and Europe, have been trimmed to a final five for Rio.

The men's team pursuit combination is Piet Bulling (Invercargill), Regan Gough (Waipukurau) and Dylan Kennett (Waimate), all part of the winning team pursuit at the 2015 worlds, along with London medallist Aaron Gate (Auckland) and double Beijing medallist Hayden Roulston (Ashburton).

The women's endurance group has settled on the five riders who were third fastest in qualifying at the 2016 world championships. The Waikato trio Rushlee Buchanan, Jaime Nielsen and Racquel Sheath, are joined by mid-Canterbury's Lauren Ellis and Auckland's Georgia Williams.

Nelson rider George Bennett will make his Olympic debut as the only New Zealand rider in the men's road race.

The LottoNL-Jumbo World Tour rider is a noted climber which will be a key asset on a course in Rio that is reported so tough that the likes of world champion Peter Sagan has decided not to race.

The team is rounded out by Canterbury teenager Olivia Podmore, a junior world championship medallist, who has been added to form a team sprint combination with Natasha Hansen.

New Zealand has only won seven cycling medals at the Olympics with the sole gold won by Sarah Ulmer (Individual pursuit) at Athens in 2004.