America's Cup: Cyclist Simon van Velthooven lured to sailing full-time

 
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Cycling has probably seen the last of Olympic medallist Simon van Velthooven - he's been well and truly bitten by the sailing bug. Van Velthooven, who took keirin bronze at the 2012 London Olympics, became one of the secret weapons in Team New Zealand's arsenal, as they snatched the America's Cup off Oracle Team USA off Bermuda this week. While rivals stuck to traditional arm-grinding systems to generate power around their high-speed catamarans, the Kiwis revolutionised the event by introducing a cycle system that proved far more efficient. Van Velthooven and Olympic rower Joe Sullivan were non-sailors recruited to the Emirates Team NZ engine room, but the former now plans to swap his bike full-time for something that floats. "It's a great sport and you learn the basics bloody quickly, when you're sailing these catamarans with Glenn Ashby and Peter Burling everyday," van Velthooven, 28, told Newstalk ZB's Tony Veitch. "Hopefully, I can put my skills to use and go out sailing with some of the guys in Auckland. "I've had offers from a few guys on the boat here to go sailing on their monohulls, so I'm looking forward to the Kiwi summer to do that. "It's a new challenge and times change. I didn't get bored with cycling, but there are new and exciting things you want to do with your life ... sailing's now one of them." While no decisions have yet been made about the format for future America's Cup defences, van Velthooven was enthusiastic about continuing with Team New Zealand, if the opportunity arises. "Absolutely, it's a great team and great banter and great guys," he told Veitch. "We all enjoy working here and, sure there are tough days, but if everyone chips in and gives 100%, you can end up winning the bloody America's Cup." He recalled the first day he turned up to the Team NZ compound to test their new ideas on cycle-grinding. "They just had a couple of containers and we were sweating away inside a 40-foot container in the middle of February ... the numbers were good and that was where it started. "It was just a matter of time, getting the hardware sorted. The idea was never going to go away, it was just a long process of physically building it and working out how the system was going to work. "We took our time and made sure it worked." In the early stages, crew members were sworn to secrecy about what was evolving behind closed doors, but van Velthooven admitted he wasn't totally discreet. "I didn't mention the bikes," he assured Veitch. "I did tell some people that America's Cup had reduced crew members to six and a weight of 525kg, so they wanted some lightweight grinders. "I told them my arms were pretty sore and they believed it. If they did question it, I just said bike grinding was illegal and dismissed it quite quickly." Out on the water, the "cyclors", as they became known, looked more like slaves from ancient Roman galleys - heads down, backsides up, pedalling as if their lives depended on it. "You do know what's going on," said van Velthooven. "I had a PDA [Personal Digital Assistant] strapped on my leg with the racecourse and the numbers that the boat had, the hydraulic fluid pumping ... I was looking down at that most of the time. "I looked around a few times, just to see where the other boat was, but you definitely find some demons when the pressure's on and the hydraulic fluid is a bit thirsty." As a landlubber, van Velthooven found the high-speed racing particularly eye-opening."It's more thrilling, because you've got no control at all. You're putting all your trust in the magician - Mr Peter Burling - so it's bloody scary, when there's another flying catamaran coming straight at you. "It's like a fly-by at an Ohakea airshow - your life's in his hands." The Feilding native was one of those left dangling in mid-air, when the Team NZ boat capsized in the challenger semifinal against Ben Ainslie Racing. "To be honest, all I was thinking was it would be a bloody long night for the b...

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