Hawke's Bay rider Westley Gough had the weight of a nation on his shoulders to stop an Australian clean sweep in the individual pursuit at the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Melbourne tonight.
The 23 year old responded brilliantly with his second personal best of the day to claim the bronze medal over Australian Rohan Dennis in a courageous ride at the Hisense Arena, with Michael Hepburn beating world record holder Jack Bobridge in an all green-and-gold final.
It was New Zealand's fourth medal this week that matches their best haul ever achieved in the 2010 and 2011 world championships.
It looked like there would be a second bronze tonight when Aaron Gate produced a remarkably aggressive display in the 40km points race, finally going clear along with Commonwealth Games gold medallist Cameron Meyer (AUS) with 20 laps remaining to put a lap on the field. However he came up two points short and had to settle for the best fourth placing in the championships.
Gough enjoyed a great start to the 4000m pursuit before falling behind by 1.5 seconds with 1km remaining. The kiwi responded with fortitude to streak home to claim the bronze in 4:16.945 with Dennis more than a second behind.
"I knew what was at stake. My coach (Tim Carswell) said that there was no way we could allow an Aussie clean sweep of the podium," Gough said.
"I am totally rapt with that. I've really only trained for the team pursuit and so to come out and get two pbs in one day and come away with a bronze medal is pretty special.
"I knew from the afternoon ride that I needed to start better over that first kilometre and managed to do that. I knew I was behind but I finished strong in the qualifying ride and managed to do that again."
With Jesse Sergent to come back into the squad for the London Olympics, Gough is hoping his good form will pay dividends.
"It is very competitive with the team pursuit. I've ridden well today and have shown some good form and I will be doing all I can to get selected for that team."
Gate was at the forefront of virtually every attack during the points race, instigating the final decisive attack along with Meyer with 20 laps remaining. They pushed on with Meyer dragging the kiwi through to earn 20 points for putting a lap on the field. The Australian secured enough points to claim the gold but Gate fell an agonising two points away from the bronze.
"I looked up at the lapboard and that was the longest 20 laps of my life," Gate said.
"I felt I needed to be on every attack because the one I missed might be the one that stuck.
With my pursuit training I didn't quite have the sprint speed to match the others in those early laps to get more points.
"When I went clear with Cameron, I was thinking back to the Commonwealth Games when I tried to go with him and he gapped me which cost me a medal. So I wasn't going to let that happen today and gave it everything."
Earlier Christchurch's Jo Kiesanowski finished seventh in the women's omnium, two places higher than last year's world championships.
She finished 16th in the 3000m individual pursuit in 3:43.594, and a solid 10th in the scratch race to be in 10th place. The 32 year old finished strongly with a personal best 36.387 in the 500m time trial to move up to seventh.
"I am pretty happy with that overall, to be better than last year," Kiesanowski said. "I believe I am a better rider in this event now. I know I can improve because I made a technical error leading into the flying lap and if I can equal my best there and in the individual pursuit I can finish a few spots higher at the Olympics if I get selected."
Earlier in the day Gough took nearly a second off his previous best to clock 4:17.001 for the 4000m qualifying. Great Britain road star Geraint Thomas set the bar with a 4:17.265 but Gough showed his class, powering home strongly with a 2:05.434 over the final 3000m, second only to top qualifier Michael Hepburn.
Hepburn clocked 4:13.224, the third fastest time in history, to pip compatriot and world record-holder Jack Bobridge (4:14.783).
Waikato's Peter Latham finished sixth fastest behind Thomas with an excellent 4:18.152, a personal best by more than a second.
Southland's Natasha Hansen and Otago's Katie Schofield were eliminated from the women's keirin after both finished fourth in their respective heats and third in the repechage.
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