September 2022, Articles

Teamwork key to Birmingham sprint cycle success

Working together as a team was a critical factor in the Kiwi cycling team's sprint successes individually and collectively at Birmingham, according to coach and athlete alike.

HPSNZ talked with Cycling NZ lead sprint coach Nick Flyger and three times Birmingham gold medallist Ellesse Andrews about what can only be described as a stellar campaign at the Lee Valley Velopark in London, and their goals for the upcoming World Championships and looking further ahead to Paris 2024.

Birmingham was the first time with the New Zealand cycle sprint team at a major competition for new sprint coach Nick Flyger, who can be forgiven for the measured but undoubted pride he shares regarding his team’s performance.

Nick, who joined Cycling NZ’s coaching team firstly from Australia in February and in New Zealand from April, says Birmingham was one of the most enjoyable campaigns he has been a part of and it wasn’t just the results on the track.

“I was naturally very focused on seeing how the team came together, especially after everything the athletes had been through.  What was so evident to me was that I was lucky to be working with a group of talented athletes who had worked hard, worked through their challenges and did so in a way that brought out the best in their teammates as well as themselves.

“Birmingham was not just about the medals, although the results were outstanding.  It was about what we need to do to shape the sprint team for the next two, five and 10 years and a big part of that was how empowering the culture was becoming in an organic, rather than planned manner,” says Nick.

Birmingham, where she won three gold medals, was the first big international competition since Tokyo for Ellesse Andrews who says the challenge was to get back into the international mindset which, in her case, was made more difficult when she tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks out from the Games.

“A highlight for me in the build up to competition was how the team worked together to overcome adversity.  COVID-19 really threw a spanner in the works of my race preparations and I was worried as we only had three of us in the women’s sprint team and I knew I couldn’t let my team mates (Rebecca Petch and Olivia King) down.

“Rebecca and Olivia were amazing and helped me enormously to get well and focus on the job at hand. If ever there was an example of team strength and growth that was it,” says Ellesse.

Looking ahead both coach and cyclist are focused on building on the progress made in Birmingham.

“The World Champs are in Paris next month and are being held on the same track which will be used for the Olympics,” says Nick.

“It is a great chance for us to race there and also to gauge where we are at as it is the first major international competition since COVID where all the very best athletes will be at the same place at the same time.”

While this year’s Word Champs are not a qualifying competition for Paris 2024, they will provide the team with a benchmark to assist with their planning for 2024 which includes three qualifying events in 2023.

“Ellesse is a fantastic case in point,” says Nick.  “She knows the keirin event well and it suits her mentally and physically, however the sprint event is quite different.  It is a difficult event, there’s just you and one other rider on the track and you have to deliver multiple times each day to get through to the business end of the event.”

Birmingham has given Ellesse some real confidence racing overseas in both events.  “Paris is exciting and an opportunity for me to strengthen processes which started to come together In Birmingham,” says Ellesse.

“In Paris I want to put my head down and head into racing with some massive ambitions.  It’s a chance to put myself up again the very best in the world and start the journey towards the Olympics.

“This will be a whole new level, mentally and physically, to prepare and develop confidence in myself which I will need when going to the line.”

The Paris World Champs are, according to Nick, not only an exciting benchmarking opportunity but the team will be chasing rainbows (rainbow armbands).  “It is the start of our journey towards 2024 and beyond.  We have the opportunity to reset and rebuild for Paris after the challenges of the last few years and to do so through a healthy, sustainable programme that delivers results but, equally importantly, is fun.”

The Cycling NZ track team heads to Paris for the World Championships on 6 October with competition at the Saint-Quentin, en-Yvelines Velodrome from 12 to 17 October.

Ellesse Andrews and Nick Flyger celebrate the gold medal performance in the keirin