By Mark Etheridge
Track cycling is part of Team South Africa’s opening day action in their Commonwealth Games campaign here on Thursday, with 2012 Olympian Bernard Esterhuizen and the men’s team pursuit rolling into action.
Esterhuizen, a former junior world champion in the 1 000m time trial goes off in the sprint preliminaries late morning and the men’s TP is scheduled for around noon.
Pushed for medal potential among this squad, track coach Dean Edwards, himself a competitor for Team SA at the last Games in New Delhi, India says there’s definitely potential.
‘I’d say we can win between one and three medals here,’ said the Durban based coach.
‘Nolan Hoffman, because he’s part of the OPEX programme, has had the best preparation of the TP team and I’m really happy with his physical shape right now.
‘What we are looking at in the TP is to set realistic goals. This team is a relatively new project but we are looking at consolidating our place in the top five Commonwealth countries.
‘What we do have in our sights is to break the current SA record.’┬áThat stands at 4:19.408 while the previous records was a 4.31 set way back in 1998.┬á’Looking at the times the guys are riding, a sub 4.15 is definitely possible on the day.’
The world’s leading nations will be expected to ride anything between 3:55 and 4min to take gold here at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome. ‘It’s a lovely fast track,’ says Edwards, ‘but at the same time quite tight and technical and the turns are quite sharp. Some of the guys battle to hold their bikes down at times.’
Flying the green and gold flag for SA in the TP will be Hoffman (originally from Franschhoek but now based primarily in Johannesburg and Europe, Kellan Gouveris (from Port Elizabeth but now in Johannesburg), and the Cape Town duo of Theuns van der Bank and Evan Carstens. Morne van Niekerk will be the reserve rider.┬áAs for Esterhuizen, he’s more favoured in the one kilometre time trial but he’ll still give the 200m sprint a full go.
Originally from Durban the youngster spent a fair time at the UCI Centre in Aigle, Switzerland but now races out of Colorado Springs in the United States, where he is still coached by Andy Sparks.
‘Bernie’s in excellent shape,’ said Edwards. ‘The stopwatch never lies!’
A man of few words, Esterhuizen is quietly confident. ‘I’ve had a good month of training and my preparation has been really good. I’m definitely in even better shape than I was in the Olympics.
‘I’ve been doing more endurance, roadwork and mountain climbing… the speed is still there and although power is maybe a bit less I can hold it for longer now.’
Team South Africa and the nation back home will be hoping our track stars can hold on and boost the medal tally as the Games start on Thursday.