Former world champion Greg Henderson, competing in his fifth Olympic Games, will head a three-strong road cycling team for London, it was announced today.
Henderson will be joined by fellow European-based professional Jack Bauer to compete in the mens road race on the opening day of the Olympic Games on Saturday 28 July. Linda Villumsen will make her Olympic debut on the road for New Zealand after competing for Denmark at Beijing in 2008.
There was strong competition for the two spots for the men, with four-time Olympian Julian Dean and Beijing track double medallist Hayden Roulston selected as reserves.
Kereyn Smith, New Zealand Olympic Committee Secretary General says she appreciates the tough call the Bike NZ selectors had to make in nominating the three athletes to the New Zealand Olympic Team. There is extraordinary talent within the Bike team and we congratulate the athletes, coaches and management for their contribution to Olympic sport. We know our road cyclists will make us proud at London 2012.
It is the most competitive environment we have had at BikeNZ with at least four very strong candidates all performing at the pinnacle of the sport for World Tour professional teams, said BikeNZ High Performance Director, Mark Elliott.
New Zealand riders have very distinct roles within these teams, which makes it difficult from a selection standpoint, and is also the reason why we do not get the opportunity to secure more ranking points to qualify more riders.
With only two spots in the men and one in the women, we had to consider riders who can best deliver without any team support and work off other countries objectives, as well as opportunities in the individual time trial in London.
Henderson has been a form rider on the World Tour for the last three years, earning his first start in the Tour de France that begins this week, for his Lotto-Belisol team. The 35 year old has enjoyed a glittering career on the track starting at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, with his Olympic best a fourth placing in the points race at Athens in 2004. He won a gold medal in that event at the Manchester Commonwealth Games and the world title in the scratch race in 2004. He turned to the road in 2004 and blossomed as a key lead-out rider at Team Sky in 2010-2011, before switching to Lotto-Belisol this year. He has won stages in the Tour of Spain, the Paris-Nice (twice), Tour of Britain, Tour of Catalunya and Tour of California.
Greg has been in the professional peleton for a number of years and his elevation to the Tour de France is arguably something he has deserved for the last two years. This will provide him with the ideal platform for the Olympic road race, Elliott said.
Bauer, 27, was plucked from a Pro Continental team in England to the glamour Garmin-Barracuda World Tour team this year, where he was selected for his first Grand Tour, the Giro dItalia where he played a key role in the team time trial victory and was 14th in the individual time trial. He won the national championships in 2010 and enjoyed a top-20 finish in the individual time trial at last years world championships.
Jack is an immensely talented athlete, a big, powerful rider whose abilities have been well and truly recognised by the top teams. Jacks abilities are suited to this type of circuit where he will be required to play a key support role for Henderson. Added to that Jack is an accomplished time triallist and he is a top-15 prospect for London in that event.
Both Dean and Roulston have been selected as reserves.
Julian is coming back from a horrendous injury and it is a testament to his fortitude and commitment as a professional that he has recovered so quickly.
Hayden is a world class rider who has been in excellent form this year for Radioshack Nissan Trek. However just like the track programme we simply do not have the allocated spots to select more riders into the team.
Road racing is a sport where crashes and injuries are unfortunately part and parcel of the sport. Therefore we need to be prepared for that eventuality and both Julian and Hayden have all the abilities to step into the team if required.
Villumsen, 27, was fifth in the womens road race in Beijing riding for her native Denmark before becoming a New Zealand citizen in 2009. She has been a professional rider since 2005, this year moving to the Australian-owned Orica GreenEdge team. Villumsen won the bronze medal in the time trial at the world championships in 2009 and 2010, and silver in 2011 as well as a silver medal in this event at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
She has been in outstanding form this year, winning the time trial against the Olympic and world champions on her way to claiming overall honours in the Giro de Trentino in Italy this month as well as winning the individual time trial in Emakumeen Euskal Bira in Spain.
Linda is a brilliant bike rider and outstanding person. She will be handy on this road race course and will be able to work off a number of other teams. She is a clear contender in the time trial and this is her targeted event in London.
About Olympic Road Cycling
Road Cycling featured at the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, with an 87km race that started and finished in Athens. There was no Road Cycling event at the next three Games, but the discipline was reintroduced in 1912 and has been a permanent part of the Olympic programme ever since. Women have been competing in road cycling since the Los Angeles 1984 Games.
New Zealand first sent a road cyclist to the Olympic Games in 1932 (Los Angeles Ron Foubister). The first female road cyclist to represent New Zealand on the road was Madonna Harris in 1988 (Seoul).
While New Zealand is yet to be officially awarded a medal in the Olympic road cycling discipline, in 1972 Kiwi cyclist Bruce Biddle was promoted to third place after initially finishing fourth at the Munich Olympic Games. A Spanish rider who finished third tested positive for doping but Riddell could not officially receive the bronze medal as he was never drug tested.
The road team is:
Men: Greg Henderson (Dunedin, Melbourne), Jack Bauer (Golden Bay). Reserves: Julian Dean (Rotorua), Hayden Roulston (Christchurch).
Women: Linda Villumsen (Auckland).