A FALL in numbers hasn't stopped the quality of riders at this weekend's Golden Wheel Track Carnival at Wagga Cricket Ground going through the roof.
After overcoming an eight month layoff with pneumonia and glandular fever, former Wagga rider Zac Marshall return will try and add another Golden Wheel pendant to the one he claimed in 2017.
The 19-year-old's biggest rival on paper looks to be Dubbo product and NSW Institute of Sport teammate Kurt Eather, who has recently returned from a strong showing at the DMZ Tour in Korea.
"The field's not as big in 2017 but there's some good competitors like Kurt and it will be a massively hard race," Marshall said.
"He's also my teammate so there's definitely a big rivalry there and we train together all the time.
"The Golden Wheel has a place in my heart,I've been watching it since I was five years old when I was living there. I always want to come back and do my best, and show my old club how I'm going.
"The Golden Wheel race was my first carnival as a junior and I remember getting a photo with (Commonwealth Games gold medalist) Ben Kersten after he won his and thinking 'I want to win this race'.
"It's unfortunate the numbers are down but people aren't willing to come to the country carnivals any more.
"But it's some of the best racing I've ever done and hopefully with Kurt and I coming and some of the strong women riders, it will help."
The 19-year-old was forced to take eight months off with illness and returned to racing about six months ago.
His Sydney Cup on Wheels victory last weekend was a moment of assurance he's on his way back to his best.
"It took a long time (to recover), I'm only just getting back to where I was before the time off and I've been working so hard to get back to my past form," he said.
"Winning the Sydney Cup on Wheels shows I'm getting there."
Wagga product Max Housden may also return as a late entry, while Sebastian Radburn (Wagga), Luke Britten (Illawarra) and David Mann (Victoria) are all considered strong contenders.
NSWIS rider Chloe Heffernan and Lizanne Wilmot are among the top fancies for the women's events.
The Golden Wheel will be held in the early evening on Saturday after the afternoon's junior events, while the NSW Penny Farthing Championships will also be held.
Sunday's program, which begins at 9am, is highlighted by the running of the Rules Club Wheelrace.