7 Apr 2016

World Champs headline Olympic cycling team

11:51 am on 7 April 2016

The World Champion men's team sprint trio of Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster and Eddie Dawkins will headline the New Zealand cycling team for the Rio Olympics.

The New Zealand men's sprint team of Eddie Dawkins, Ethan Mitchell and Sam Webster.

The New Zealand men's sprint team of Eddie Dawkins, Ethan Mitchell and Sam Webster. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Joining them will be women's sprinter Natasha Hansen.

The quartet are the first riders confirmed for the New Zealand cycling team for August's Rio Games.

The men's sprint team finished second at last year's world championships before turning silver into gold at this year's event to claim back their world title.

The Commonwealth Games gold medallists will enter the Rio Olympics as favourites.

New Zealand Olympic Committee chief executive Kereyn Smith said she is delighted to welcome the sprint cyclists into the New Zealand Olympic Team.

"The sprint cyclists named today are outstanding athletes and their performances at Rio will be stand-out events at Rio," she said.

"With selection into the New Zealand Olympic Team confirmed for these cyclists, the athletes can now knuckle down and focus on the final 120 days leading into the Olympic Games," said Smith.

"We look forward to continuing to support our athletes on their journey towards the Rio Olympic Games and know they will be an inspiration for all New Zealanders."

Cycling New Zealand high performance director Mark Elliott is confident the strong form the men's sprint team have shown over the past six years can be maintained going forward.

"The team sprint trio have raced together since 2010 and for the last three years they have been the fastest team in the world," said Elliott.

"They have a unique relationship as friends but also individuals who gel together to form an outstanding combination under the direction of coach Anthony Peden. This announcement means they can now get on with their preparations for Rio to further enhance their performance as a team."

While Mitchell and Dawkins competed in London where they finished fifth, it will be the first Olympics for Webster, the former triple junior world champion, who has dedicated every day since 2012 to make this team.

"Sam missed out on London because of the limitation on numbers. Since that time his dedication and professionalism has been outstanding and he is a real driver for this group," said Elliott.

Hansen 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 where she has improved rapidly under coach Peden.

She was sixth fastest in qualifying in the individual sprint and finished fifth overall at the recent world championships.

"Natasha has dedicated herself after returning to the sport and is now achieving the level of international performance that we always knew she was capable of. It was considered prudent for her to be named now so she can focus on continuing this improvement through to Rio," said Elliot.

With the New Zealand Cycling team qualifying for a full quota of places in every Olympic track discipline, the selectors will consider nominations for a further male rider for individual events and the potential for one female to form a women's team sprint combination.

As well as the team and individual sprint New Zealand has qualified places for the men's and women's team pursuit, men's and women's omnium and the men's and women's keirin.

"We will only consider nominating further sprint riders subject to performance in training, competition and allocation of final team numbers over this next phase."

The New Zealand Olympic Team to Rio 2016 now sits at 52 with the four riders today joining athletes from Rowing, Sailing, Taekwondo, Triathlon and Canoe Sprint already named to the team. Selection announcements will continue through to July 2016.