11 Jul 2016

Roulston back in Olympic cycling team

11:56 am on 11 July 2016

Five current world champions will spearhead the New Zealand cycling squad at next month's Olympics, with the full team for Rio confirmed.

Indoor pursuit silver medallist Hayden Roulston pictured in the Olympic Village the day after his win at the Beijing Olympic Games. 17 August 2008. Photo: Lawrence Smith/PHOTOSPORT

Hayden Roulston won silver in the individual pursuit at the 2008 Beijing Olympics Photo: Photosport

The world champion men's team sprint trio of Eddie Dawkins, Ethan Mitchell and Sam Webster - named last month along with female sprinter Natasha Hansen - will be joined in Rio by current time trial world champion Linda Villumsen.

The other world champion is mountain biker Sam Gaze, also confirmed last month, who recently took out the under-23 world champs cross-country crown.

Most 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 at the Olympics.

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 competition within this squad has been exceptional as they have pushed each other every day in training," said Cycling New Zealand coach Dayle Cheatley.

"I can't say enough about the efforts of Hayden Roulston, who gave up a career on the road to realise his dream of completing his career back on the track. After eight years away, the sport had moved on and he has worked tirelessly on the bike and been an invaluable leader off it."

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

"This group has continued to improve over the last 12 months especially, although we have had two younger riders really push them which helped to raise the bar," Cheatley said.

Buchanan, the current national road and time trial champion, Nielsen and Ellis competed at London while Sheath and Williams will be attending their first Olympic Games.

New Zealand qualified one spot for the women's road events which predictably went to current time trial world champion Villumsen, who was fourth by two seconds in this event in London. The Christchurch rider has been on the podium five times in the time trial at the world championships before her breakthrough victory in USA last year.

She will also compete in the road race as a key preparation ride two days before the time trial.

"Linda has been preparing well for her United Healthcare team under the direction of her personal coach Marco Pinotti, and has produced some encouraging performances," said Cycling New Zealand Director of High performance, Mark Elliott.

"The course in Rio is certainly more suited to her skills than was the case in London and we are leaving no stone unturned in her preparations."

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, currently competing in his first Tour de France, 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.

New Zealand has qualified two spots for the men's road, but selectors ultimately have to select a team that has the strongest ability to win medals, which has meant that Commonwealth Games medallist Jack Bauer has not been nominated.

"Jack is an outstanding rider and served us so well at London and Glasgow, but due to a number of significant injuries and crashes over the last 18 months we were unable to put his name forward to the NZOC," said Elliott.

There are two other riders who will join the track sprint group. Canterbury teenager Olivia Podmore, a junior world championship medallist, has been added to form a team sprint combination with Hansen.

Young Auckland rider Zac Williams has also been added as a reserve for the men's sprint team after an impressive trial in Europe last week.

This has meant that London medallist Simon van Velthooven and Southland's 2015 world championship medallist Matt Archibald have not earned selection.

The team will continue with preparations around Europe before the whole track squad converges on Bordeaux for the final staging preparations next week.

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.