The medals just keep coming for the New Zealand track cycling team competing at the World Championships in Hong Kong.
New Zealand cyclist Aaron Gate went within a whisker of a second rainbow jersey while teammate Ethan Mitchell created history on the penultimate day of the UCI Track Cycling World Championships.
Gate, the 2013 omnium world champion, was just two points off what would have been a remarkable victory, settling for a silver medal in the new format omnium competition.
Mitchell, part of the world championship winning men’s team sprint, became the first New Zealander to win an individual sprint medal, claiming the bronze against Great Britain’s Ryan Owens.
It brought the New Zealand tally to five medals, to equal the best achieved in Melbourne in 2012, Cali in2014 and Paris in 2015, with one day remaining.
Gate, 26, came to the omnium competition off the back of mostly road racing in Europe for his new professional Aqua Blue Sport team, managing just five track sessions before the world championships.
He had success with the new format, with the timed events removed and now decided over four bunch races in one day, with victory at the Oceania Championships.
“I wasn’t really sure what to expect coming into the competition as it was the first time it had been run under this format at the world championships,” Gate said.
“I have had a blank canvas after Rio back working with my personal coach Simon Finnel and he has got me to this level. I’ve taken a completely different approach and so to come here off only five track sessions and get a silver is a credit to the work that Simon has done behind the scenes and the team at Cycling New Zealand.”
Gate was sixth in the scratch race and then won the tempo race, after putting two laps on the field and winning the last three sprints. That good work was undone when he managed only 10th in the elimination race.
However Gate produced a stunning effort in the 40km points race, winning that competition after putting two laps on the field. It came down to the final sprint on the last lap when he was pipped by Benjamin Thomas for third which gave the Frenchman to overall title by just two points.
“I was keen to give it a nudge and race as hard and honestly as I could. That was good enough for silver on the day but gold would have been nice. Hopefully I can come back in the future and get the rainbows again,” Gate said.
“It’s been great to jump back in with the team. It’s cool to see the team pursuit guys come away with a medal and I am sure they are as hungry as me to keep chasing gold and look ahead to Tokyo as well.”
Mitchell has been largely a specialist starter in the men’s team pursuit triumvirate, with teammates Eddie Dawkins and Sam Webster shouldering most of the individual sprint success.
Coach Anthony Peden has worked closely with Mitchell over the last 18 months to develop his one-lap speed and his sprinting ability, which finally blossomed when he was second in qualifying at the final World Cup in Los Angeles.
After finishing fourth fastest in a personal best in qualifying, Mitchell pushed into today’s quarter finals after accounting for Australian rival Matthew Glaetzer in a deciding third ride.
With all three Kiwi riders into the final eight there were high hopes, which were dashed with overwhelming favourite Denis Dmitriv (RUS) beat Webster and Dutchman Harrie Lavreysen beat Eddie Dawkins, both in two straight rids.
Mitchell also found Dmitriv a bridge to far in the semifinals, with the Russian going on to win his first world crown after many years of trying.
But the Kiwi regrouped to dominate Owens in two straight rides to become the first Kiwi to win an individual sprint medal.
“As for making history, our whole sprint squad is going really well and it could have been any one of us tonight,” said Mitchell.
“I’m pretty new to the whole sprinting thing. I am fortunate to have mentors like Sam and Eddie, Anthony and the coaching staff to pave the way really.”
In other action Jaime Nielsen finished sixth in the women’s individual pursuit in 3:31.653, with Kirstie James 14th in 3:36.250. American Chloe Dygert was the class of the field, dominating the competition.
Sprinter Natasha Hansen finished 12th in the 500m time trial in 34.375, won by former junior world champion Daria Schmeleva (RUS) in 33.282.
The pairing of Racquel Sheath and Michaela Drummond finished powerfully to place fourth in the women’s Madison, after grabbing points in four of the last five sprints to overtake Italy. Belgium won from Great Britain and Australia.
The competition finishes tomorrow with Zac Williams, Nick Kergozou and Dylan Kennett in the 1000m Time Trial, Hansen in the Kkeirin and Sheath in the Points race.