Track trio aim to bounce back
There’s been plenty of drama off the track for them to contend with, but New Zealand’s star track cycling men’s sprint team are also needing to rectify their on-track performance, at this weekend’s World Cup meet in Cambridge.
A messy 2018 which involved a damning review into Cycling New Zealand, the resignations of chief executive Andrew Matheson and sprint coach Anthony Peden, was also less than memorable for the glittering trio of Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster and Eddie Dawkins.
They finished sixth at the world championships in the Netherlands early in the year, and now have gone medal-less in the opening two World Cups of the new season.
Things started well in winning the Oceania champs for a sixth successive time in Adelaide in October, but the three-time world champions and two-time Commonwealth Games gold medallists then suffered a mechanical mishap – Webster’s foot slipping off his pedal – at the first World Cup in Paris a week later, to finish 12th of 15 teams, before the equipment complications continued in the second round in Milton, Canada, the following week, where they placed fourth.
Having sat out the next World Cup rounds in Berlin and London, the pressure now ramps up on the team for big performances in Cambridge and the final round in Hong Kong next week, with points vital in the two-year qualification period heading into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and world champs revenge looming in Februarymarch in Poland.
So there was one big thing to address on arrival back to New Zealand in the first week of November – what on earth happened with Webster’s bike?
‘‘That’s the nature of sport, if it all worked out how you wanted it to on the whiteboard, it’d be quite easy,’’ Webster quipped of his tribulations.
The 27-year-old first had the foot slip in the warmup in Paris, then it happened again in the first ride. They were able to get a restart of the race and tried on the fly for a makeshift solution but that didn’t work, and with no more restarts he had to do the whole ride with the foot ‘‘not clipped into the pedals, just floating around’’.
‘‘It was a massive disadvantage for us,’’ Webster said. ‘‘We were able to find the not very elegant but effective solution for the World Cup in Canada, that meant I had to get on my bike almost a minute before the other guys and start strapping in to keep my feet in the pedals, and running two pairs of straps rather than a single set.
‘‘That was a little bit testing, but that got us through and we were able to fight for the medals.’’
Back home, confusion only grew as to what the actual issue was though. ‘‘It was very strange, because after that we had no issues,’’ Webster said.
‘‘When we came back to Cambridge to try and isolate what the actual issue was, we used the same shoes and the same pedals and the same cleat-clip mechanism that goes onto the shoe, and I didn’t pull my foot at all.
‘‘So that was very hard for us to try understand, but we opted to completely change everything, starting new. I think just by taking a complete step back and looking at it from a very openminded approach we’ve found a solution that should keep the foot in the pedal a lot more effectively than what we were using before.’’
The New Zealand men’s sprint team Ethan Mitchell, left, Eddie Dawkins and Sam Webster are seek to return to their gold medal-winning exploits from last year’s Commonwealth Games at the World Cup event in Cambridge this weekend.