The fates, which had already dealt harshly with the New Zealand men’s teams pursuiters in Tokyo, had one more cruel twist in store for them today.
The New Zealanders – Aaron Gate, Campbell Stewart, Regan Gough and Jordan Kerby – were eliminated in their bronze medal race against Australia after Gate crashed out midway through the 4km journey.
In yesterday’s racing New Zealand did everything but earn a ride for the gold medal. They beat the previous world record by two seconds, which under normal circumstances would have marked them as gold medallists.
But they were up against a super Italian quartet and after a titanic, see-sawing battle, the Italians pipped New Zealand on the line by half a click of the fingers.
The New Zealanders regrouped and targeted today’s bronze medal ride-off.
The lead swapped back and forwards in the early stages, but just before halfway, it was all over.
Gates’ wheel went from under him and he fell heavily. That left the three remaining New Zealanders in disarray and in an event where hundredths of a second are critical, Australia were gifted the bronze. They lapped New Zealand shortly after and the race was over.
It was a terribly unfortunate way for the New Zealanders to finish their team pursuit campaign because they had ridden superbly until the unfortunate accident at the end.
Italy produced another stunning performance, and another world record, to pip Denmark in the closing metres of a pulsating final.
Men's endurance coach Craig Palmer summed up the New Zealanders' thinking when he said: "We didn't get it across the line, but we left here knowing what we were capable of. We lost to the Italians by one-tenth of a second and they go and win the thing."
He said the bronze medal ride was going as planned until the crash. "We set it up at 1500m and were just where we wanted to be. We knew they'd start out fast, but so did we."
In other racing yesterday, New Zealand’s entrant in the women’s keirin, Ellesse Andrews, was well beaten in the first round, but came back strongly to win her repechage and storm into the quarter-finals. She said she got it wrong tactically on her first ride, but was pleased with how she went on the second.
In the men’s sprint, Sam Webster prospered but his team-mate, Ethan Mitchell, was unable to progress.
Mitchell struggled to grab the 24th and final spot after the qualifying round, and then lost the round of 32 race and the repechage to be eliminated.
Webster, 30, qualified 18th and then produced a sharp performance to beat Pole Maleusz Rudyk to progress to the round of 16.
The New Zealander, a silver medallist in the team sprint in Rio in 2016, continued his fine riding by outsmarting Frenchman Sebastien Vigier to advance to tomorrow’s quarter-finals.
Webster said he used his knowledge of riding in Joan to his advantage.
"I used the knowledge I got from my time here to ride that track," he said, "I'm feeling good. Everything felt right. In my match racing, I made some good choices. I'm looking forward to tomorrow."Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games