We left Palmerston North Airport on Monday to embark on another mission down to the deep southern town of Invercargill, just before leaving we were given a warning that the weather was not going to be on our side once we got there but that’s the beauty of an indoor velodrome, you can ride whatever the weather. After arriving it was straight to the motel to build up bikes and then we were off to the track to give it a whirl and get used to the boards. Tuesday involved more of the same which was great because for most of the riders it was either their first time on the track or they hadn’t been on the Invercargill boards since last year’s nationals.
Wednesday was the first of the 5 race days with the 500m TT in the evening. This was not my best event and so I wasn’t fussed about a bad result but was still going to give it all I had. It’s definitely a surreal experience when you’re in the start gates with only 2 people on the track and you know everyone is watching you. The countdown to the start is when the nerves really start to kick in. But I managed to block everything out and came out of the event with a pb. With Campbell Stewart finally winning the gold that has eluded him for the past 2 years.
Thursday was the pursuit day. This is by far one of the hardest days as you put your body through its paces over 2km to post the fastest time possible. It started with qualifying in the morning and finals were in the evening. I was in the first heat in the morning and set the bar for the others with a respectable time and personal best of 2.26.4. This time would be close to the 4th place qualifying time from last year’s nationals however this year the times were much faster and my time was only good enough to get me 9th position. This was a disappointment for me as if I did not have to pass a rider in the last lap I would have saved a second and moved into around 5th but that’s just the way it goes. Carne Groube came out with a great ride narrowly missing out on the gold medal ride off and going on to win bronze that evening. Campbell also had a great ride as he qualified 1st and topped it of in the evening with the gold.
Friday was a day to forget for me. The day of the scratch races and the sprints. The morning started off with sprint qualifying, which consisted of a flying 200m sprint. My legs didn’t feel very speedy and the time showed as I only got 12.286 which is a personal best but nowhere near fast enough to qualify in the top 8. Both Carne and Campbell making the cut. Next up was the scratch race heats. I was put in the harder of the two heats but I knew all I had to do was get top 8 to qualify for the final that would take place in the evening so that’s what I did as I ended coming 7th knowing I had a lot more in the tank to smash it in the evening. As the evening rolled on the legs were feeling great. The gun sounded and the final had started. 30 laps of pain is what it would become as one of the Southlanders attacked and no other teams wanted to take up the chase. The gutsy little Southland rider wouldn’t let down. As West Coast took up the chase but we just couldn’t seem to bring him back. Every time one of our riders went to the front there was a Southlander right behind us disrupting the chase, making sure we didn’t catch their teammate. With 3 laps to go I was absolutely shot from chasing and I knew I had to find a good wheel to follow if I was going to do any well in the final sprint. The Southlander ended up staying away to win the Scratch race but there was a tight tussle for the minor placing’s and I got up for 5th only to find out I had been dq’d because another rider had pushed me onto the blue in the final straight. That’s alright though because no one remembers 5th anyway. Going to bed knowing I had missed the opportunity to win my favorite event by letting a move slip really annoyed me and I was determined to smash the racing the next day.
Saturday I was a completely different person, I woke up determined. I knew there was a job to be done and I was there to do it. It was the day of the points races. Qualifying in the morning. Finals in the evening. Top eight go through, it’s that simple. I knew all I had to do was get 1 point to get on the board in order to qualify. But qualifying was not what I was there for. I wanted to prove I wasn’t just there to qualify, I was there to race and race hard. So that’s what I did. With the race consisting of 3 sprints at 10,20, and 30 laps I was out to get points from the get go taking 3rd in the first sprint which gave me 2 points so I knew I had qualified already. Everyone sat up after the first sprint and I knew I had a small window of opportunity so I took it. I put my head down and rode away. It was 10 laps till the next sprint so I paced myself but the gap kept increasing and soon enough I had half a lap on the field and I held that gap until the next sprint where I picked up the maximum 5 points on offer. After this sprint I sat up as I had proven my point that I wasn’t there to muck around and went back to the bunch to help my teammate Carne get some points in the last sprint so he could qualify also. So back to the motel it was to have an ice bath and prepare for the smash fest that would be the points race final. With all four of the West Coast boys not wanting southland to take another title of us we decided we would set Campbell up for the win. The gun sounded and the final had started. We controlled the whole race to perfection. Start to Finish. Cody chased down any move that went early and eventually found himself swinging on the back which meant it was my turn to start some chasing and pace making. With Campbell sitting top of the leaderboard half way through we knew we were doing our job right. I continued chasing down every move that went and keeping the pace high as I swear I went from the back of the race to the front so many times just to end up at the back again. With 3 laps to go I made my last ditch attempt to help the boys out and then pulled up to the top of the track and left Carne and Campbell to finish the job. Campbell had a narrow lead going into the final sprint and we knew he had to win overall as the Southlanders were right behind him on points. Carne hit the front with 1 and a half laps to go and got the pace high with Campbell sitting 4th wheel he was in the perfect position to overtake the Southlanders in the final lap and take maximum points which is exactly what he did. We had just executed a near perfect race and although there was only one of us on the podium it was a true team medal. Gold for all of us that night. Then home to rest up for the Teams events the next day
Sunday was the hardest day of all. After a long week we were required to put our hearts out on the track once again and burn every last bit of energy as we fought for the most prestigious title. The team pursuit. We were all so tired and you could tell by the lack of enthusiasm from the team but we knew we were some of the strongest riders in the age group and all we had to do in the morning was qualify. Because we won this event last year there was even more pressure to perform however we did not let this break us and used it as a positive because we got to start last and knew the time that we would have to beat to qualify for the gold medal ride. Our coach Mike McRedmond gave us a schedule which would get us the time we would need and even though we lost a rider early in the 3km event we stuck reasonably close to the schedule and were able to qualify 2nd fastest behind the Southland team which were only half a second off the record. We knew we were going to have to pull something big out of the bag if we were going to be able to compete with the southlanders that evening. The evening rolled around once again and you could tell how focused our team was. If we were going to win we would have to go under the NZ record time and we believed we could do it. Focused. We entered the starting gates for the last time of the week. It was a big ask. We took off fast and we held a fast pace but after 4 laps we had already lost one rider and another one of our riders was starting to feel the hurt. We still carried on constantly doing 16 second laps but it just didn’t seem to be enough. I remember hearing the Commentator say “they’re coming into the same straight” I looked up and I couldn’t see the other team and that could only mean one thing. They were catching us. It was Carne, Campbell and I left with 4 laps to go as we picked up the pace again but it was too little too late. They were already too far ahead. We crossed the finish line absolutely guttered but knowing we had left it all on the track. It was a hard thing knowing we had lost but they were the better team on the day. Our time wasn’t slow either as we broke the NZ record however the Southland team absolutely smashed it, lowering it by 3 seconds. A silver medal at nationals isn’t too bad after all.
Overall it was an extremely hard but fun week. I would like to thank all the handlers and coaches that were down in Invercargill making sure all we had to worry about was riding fast, the parents and supporters who made the atmosphere so much better, mum and dad for your continuous support and funding of these trips and my gear.